Student Organization Conduct Policy discussed at forum

Liz Conard, president of the Panhellenic Council, introduces herself during the Student Organization Conduct Policy Informational Forum Wednesday evening. Over 100 students attended the forum to learn more about the proposed policy.

Northwest has proposed a new Student Organization Conduct Policy, causing an uproar among students in opposition to the policy.

The proposed Student Organization Conduct Policy outlines the University’s behavioral expectations to all formally recognized student organizations. It also provides a structure for addressing policy violations, binding all organizations to be treated equitably and held to the same rules and policy.

Vice President of Student Affairs Matt Baker said that this policy has been on the University's radar for years now. Baker said the University has processes that are inconsistent, putting the University at possible risk.

Students have taken to Twitter to voice their concern and opposition to the proposed Student Organization Conduct Policy. A Twitter page, Our Vision Matters, was created Nov. 14 and has over 370 followers. The #ourvisionmatters hashtag has more than 420 total uses; it was created to spread the word to students about the proposed policy.

There are four main points students have voiced concerns about regarding the proposed policy: unequal representation on the Student Organization Conduct Board Hearings, strict probation sanctions, possibility of double jeopardy and amnesty.

Baker said he appreciates all the student feedback, as it is a positive thing to see students engaged. However, the level of frustration students are expressing is far beyond anything Baker had anticipated.

Baker, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Kori Hoffmann and a representative of Husch Blackwell met with student leaders Sept. 24, hosting several sessions highlighting what the proposed policy would entail. The proposed policy was then shared with student leaders Nov. 7, and another session with student leaders was hosted Nov. 12 to hear concerns.

Baker said feedback was sought from National Greek organizations, Greek chapter advisors and members of the University Foundation Board who are Greek alumni.

“If I had any inclination there was this much anxiety and frustration about it, we would have done things differently. It’s an art trying to figure out what is going to ignite passion in people. Cleary, we missed on this one,” Baker said. “The fact that people think we’re trying to pull a fast one, I get, I respect that opinion. It hurts because I truly didn't have any inclination that it would cause this much stress and anxiety.”

Baker said the proposed policy would only affect around 17 organizations. Formally recognized student organizations are already following the policies outlined in the proposed Student Organization Conduct Policy except for Greek-affiliated organizations.

There are currently three different groups to hear student organization alleged violations. The Student Code of Conduct oversees all organizations that are not Greek affiliated. Greek-affiliated organizations are heard by Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council. The Student Code of Conduct is responsible for 90 percent of all student organizations, the other 10 percent are Greek and are held responsible by Panhellenic and IFC.

Baker said the proposed policy will not change things for most student organizations and that the University is trying to create an equitable playing field for all organizations.

“In my estimation and my belief, nothing will be different in January if this policy is passed,” Baker said. “90 percent of our organizations have fallen under this policy for the last seven years. This isn’t a change to 90 percent of our student organizations.”

Student Senate President Alyssa Lincoln said the main concern from Student Senate is the unequal representation on the Student Organization Conduct Board Hearings.

The proposed policy now says the board will be comprised of five members - three University officials and two students - one student being Greek affiliated and the other student non-Greek. This gives faculty the simple majority.

“I think that not having equal representation on behalf of students is wrong every time, especially because we are the reason the lights are on in this place. We are the reason a lot of people have jobs in this building,” Lincoln said. “Our voices should be heard equally, minimally, I don’t think it’s that radical of a thought.”

Panhellenic President Liz Conard said the main fear from Greek Life out of the proposed policy is that it doesn't want all the judicial power to be stripped away. Conard said that most of the time, the Greek council is more strict on Greek students than what an outsider might be.

“We’re just trying to do whatever we can to make sure we still have those judicial powers and making sure that the students are fairly represented,” Conard said.

Baker said in a meeting with students Nov. 16 judicial power for both Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council would still exist because there are standards within Greek Life like recruitment violations and paying fees that are not a part of University policy.

“The University can’t supersede a national organization or a regional organization policy,” Baker said. “That’s the purview of the organization you chose to belong to.”

However, if there are alleged violations of the proposed University policy, those cases would be handled by the Student Organization Conduct board instead of by the peer panels within the Panhellenic Council and IFC.

“In the IFC and Panhellenic processes right now, decisions about the sovereignty of an organization are completely in the hands of students,” Baker said. “We’re moving from student-centric oversight to a balance of students and employees.”

Another reason students have expressed concern with the proposed policy is that it removes the Amnesty Provision of the Student Conduct Policy that is currently in the act.

The proposed policy says the student organization's willingness to contact authorities will be seen as a “mitigating factor,” meaning sanctions could be less severe. Baker reiterated this point in a meeting with students Nov. 16. Baker added that the University does not have to send the organization that called for assistance to the Student Organization Conduct Board, but this policy gives the University the option to do so.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on the proposed Student Organization Conduct Policy at its regular board meeting Dec. 13.

Baker will be speaking in front of the Board of the Regents at the Dec. 13 meeting. He said one of his roles is to represent students, and he plans on sharing that feedback with the board as well as conferring with the University's legal counsel, Husch Blackwell, for the best practices moving forward.

Baker said at the Student Organization Conduct Policy Informational Forum Nov. 28 that eight changes have already been made to the proposed Student Organization Conduct Policy based off of student concern.

Baker said during the informational forum that they will be redrafting the proposed policy. That draft will then be sent out for students to review and give feedback.

Over 100 students and faculty attended the Student Organization Conduct Policy Information Forum. Included in the audience was Board of Regent Member Marliou Joyner. Baker pointed out during the informational forum that this goes to show the Regents care about what students have to say.

Our Vision Matters movement has hosted several office hours and informational meetings to inform students of the proposed policy.

“It’s a great start. It’s peaceful, it’s not violent, it’s powerful,” Lincoln said. “The Our Vision Matters came from the Board of Regents page. The Regents mission statement essentially is that they hold the Northwest vision in the highest regard. And Northwest’s vision is every student, every day. So, our vision, students’ vision, matters to the Board of Regents. So let’s make that true in this policy.”

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