As the fall 2018 semester comes to a close, students wait for a vote from the Board of Regents that will decide the fate of a proposed Student Organization Conduct Policy.
A Student Organization Conduct Policy would be what all student organizations would be required to follow in regards to behavioral guidelines. The policy would hold all organizations to the same standards and would create a process in which all violations would be handled the same way.
According to Vice President of Student Affairs Matt Baker, the need for a new policy has been on the University’s radar for years. However, the Board of Regents asked for a new policy regarding student organization violations after Phi Sigma Kappa was suspended for hazing and risk management violations in the spring.
“I think recently the Phi Sig case that we went through last spring and summer is the tipping point now. We’ve had other cases similar in the last few years, but it just highlighted the need.”
Baker said student organizations that own property highlight the need for administrative oversight because while some of those organizations do handle their violations internally if there is a case of sexual assault or a case in which someone’s life is threatened, the legal risk falls back to the University, not the organization.
“We need one umbrella policy that all student organizations are under, that would reduce the risk to the institution by having some administrative oversight in those cases that could result in what we would call a major violation,” Baker said.
This policy was proposed to a group of student leaders in September. According to Student Senate President Alyssa Lincoln, at the time the policy was proposed, it had not yet been drafted.
“It was the Sept. 24 meeting in which they said, ‘This is going to be the proposed policy, we don’t have anything yet, but this is kind of the flow we see it going with. We don’t know about self-governance, we think that maybe its going to infringe on IFC and Panhel a little bit, but we don’t really have anything yet,’” Lincoln said. “They just wanted to kind of check a box it felt like.”
Baker said efforts to include students in the redrafting of this policy included office hours, informational forums, open door policies and several meetings with student leaders every time changes had been made to the draft.
However, Student Senate Vice President Shyla Kallhoff said those meetings and forums weren’t initially on the agenda.
“I think it is important to mention that now they are having the forums and office hours, but that was never in the works until we said, ‘We haven’t had any input, you guys haven't reached out to us.’ And then they, after the fact, started planning these things.”
Baker said it wasn’t until the Twitter movement, Our Vision Matters, appeared that he even heard much from students regarding the policy.
“We were like wow, okay we’ve met with you different times, had open door policies, and said come tell us what you want and it became a Twitter movement,” Baker said. “That's been sort of the funny part of it.”
Lincoln said as far as student input, students and administration have not been on the same page throughout this entire process.
“This is where we aren’t even in the same book. We aren’t on the same chapter, we’re in two different novels,” Lincoln said. “I would have started by informing students of a policy they want to change. What this means, why you shouldn’t be scared--just be completely transparent--we are going to work with legal, this isn’t something that we are going to necessarily have students write, obviously, we are going to come together and we are going to have a copy for each of you to hold in your hands and we are going to give you a red pen and we to see what are your concerns. We want articulate concerns and we want to know seriously what are the issues that you have a solid ground to stand on and why let us know.”
Instead Lincoln said the responsibility of informing students about the policy change fell on her and did not feel prepared to take on that responsibility.
“I’m going to be honest when Dr. Baker told me that he expected student senate to inform 6,000 students I wasn’t at all under that expectation. Ultimately, should I accept responsibility for dropping the ball, I can see how a finger could be pointed at me,” Lincoln said. “However, I will argue that the expectations were not clear from my standpoint. I also wouldn’t have felt comfortable trying to get a representative from every organization in a room and me presenting this, I’m a biology major, some of this goes right over my head.”
Regardless of communication issues, students leaders came together, looked over the policy, held several meetings with the University's legal team, Baker and President John Jasinski to get a better understanding of the policy and to identify any concerns.
Student leaders initially identified nine areas of concern.
Those areas included:
- Components of sanctions
- Student representation on the panel
- Student representation on the appeal board
- Double jeopardy
- Amnesty for organizations
- Individual accountability within organizations
- Roles of Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and Student Senate,
- Representation of National Panhellenic Council
- Too much power in hands of the vice president of student affairs
Lincoln said ultimately all of the major concerns brought forth by students have been addressed in the policy and that she is excited for the policy despite communication issues.
Lincoln said she is thankful for a student-centric environment at Northwest so that students can make their voices heard in situations like this.
“At other institutions, I don’t think at all that this would be the way that things are going,” Lincoln said. “But they’ve created this environment of trust between students and administration that I am so happy about it… That is something unparalleled to any other university. They’ve created this environment and so we’re riding it. We’re like yeah, lets talk. This is what you wanted, student communication, open doors, let's do this.”
Lincoln said despite concerns with the policy, students are excited about it.
“Its necessary, we’re excited to hold all organizations to the same standard,” Lincoln said. “That's something that excites me, and I think it is a step in the right direction for future Bearcats.”
The Board of Regents will vote on the policy Thursday, Dec. 13.