On Monday, March 18, Dean of Students Mark Smith visited the Student Senate during their weekly general body meeting to discuss the issue of the Institute’s jurisdiction regarding off-campus misconduct. Upon approval, changes will be made to Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities 2012-2014.
The main change involves adding a fourth condition to page 10 of the Handbook, under the section titled “Jurisdiction Within the Rensselaer Student Judicial System.” The portion of the section that will be changed currently reads, “To be ‘Institute-related’ a case must involve: (I) a violation of the Grounds for Disciplinary Action (GDA) by a Rensselaer student or student group, with said violation occurring on campus; or (II) a violation of the GDA by a Rensselaer student or student group, with said violation occurring off-campus under one or more of the following conditions.”
The three current conditions are, according to Smith, “very straightforward.” The first involves any case between students or student groups. The second involves a case in which a student or student group uses his or her status as an RPI student or student group while committing the offense. The third involves any case that occurs during an event sponsored or sanctioned by RPI.
The new condition reads, “The violation is a serious infraction that is likely to cause severe damage to the reputation of Rensselaer or the Rensselaer community. (Examples include, but are not limited to, malicious conduct resulting in egregious harm to others, conduct that may be construed as a danger to members of the Rensselaer community, acts of violence affecting the public’s safety and welfare, or possession, sale and/or distribution of illegal drugs or weapons.)”
According to an e-mail sent by Smith to Grand Marshal Kevin Dai ’14, President of the Union Jonathan Stack ’13, Vice President for Student Life Timothy Sams, Secretary of the Institute and General Counsel Charles Carletta, and Associate Dean of Off-Campus Commons Cary Dresher, Smith and Carletta drafted the new condition, “with the advice and assistance of a committee of the Student Senate convened for this purpose during the spring of 2011.”
Also according to the e-mail, this committee of students determined how other institutions of higher learning dealt with the issue of off-campus jurisdiction. “Our collective observation was that many schools just assumed a blanket jurisdiction over student behavior no matter where it occurred,” the e-mail added.
The e-mail also outlined specific wording changes that would be made to the Handbook, specifically to Article VI, Section B, Page 7 and Paragraph 4, Page 8 of the “Student Conduct for Individuals and Groups” section. Smith assured the Senate, though, that these wording changes were just to allow the new condition to actually occur if necessary.
During his presentation of the information, Smith emphasized that the intention behind the condition was not to look at every single case that occurs off-campus, but rather to provide clarification regarding when exactly a case becomes “Institute-related.”
Smith said that the reasoning behind the addition is to prevent the integrity of a degree from RPI to be compromised, as well as RPI’s reputation. “A compromise of the Institute’s reputation does affect you,” he added.
Senator Elizabeth Anderson ’14 then asked Smith whether the Institute would become involved in a case if a student were to be convicted of a crime. Smith replied that, in such a situation, “the Institute would not invoke judicial action.” He reiterated that the point of the condition was to allow the Institute to protect itself or its reputation.
Both Dai and Interfraternity Council Representative Roland Judd ’14 asked whether an instance had ever occurred in which the new condition would have allowed the Institute to act. Smith said that there has not been such an occurrence, but that there have been several instances in which civil authorities have deferred to RPI “in order to allow the Institute to take action.”
Senator Erin McAllister ’14 asked whether the Institute would act if a student were tried and found not guilty of a crime. Smith replied that the Institute may do so. According to Smith, courts base their decisions on whether there is evidence beyond all reasonable doubt that the student committed the crime. RPI, on the other hand, bases its decisions off a “preponderance of evidence.” However, he added that this acting in such a situation “never would or will be an automatic decision.”
Senator Kyle Keraga ’15 asked if there was a formalized approach for institutional action. Smith explained that RPI’s judicial process is administrative and that, although the process is subjective, if there is an error, he “wants to err on the side of the student” involved in the case.
Senator Shoshana Rubenstein ’16 asked to what degree the change was modeled after other schools. Smith stated that most other institutions are “more black and white” about off-campus cases and that the Institute’s policy is on the more liberal side.
According to Smith, the changes should be enacted by the Fall 2013 academic semester. However, the changes must first go before the Board of Trustees at their Executive Committee Meeting on April 15.
The Senate also discussed motions regarding the CDTA 286 bus route and changing the GM Week Handbook to reflect the 3.0 GPA requirement to run for GM or PU instated by the Institute. The two motions passed 13-0-0 and 11-3-0, respectively.
Parliamentarian Frank Abissi ’14 then brought up the idea of lowering the required number of senators to be present for quorum from two-thirds of the voting membership to a simple majority. Anderson, Stack, Keraga, and Toth, though, expressed concerns about doing so. No motions were made regarding the issue.
The Senate’s general body meetings are held in RU 3202 every Monday at 7 pm. They are all open to students, who are encouraged to attend. For more information, contact the Senate via e-mail at JustAsk@rpi.edu or visit their website at http://studentsenate.rpi.edu/.