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Eight in SDS to face hearing for conduct

Separation from U. on table for actions at Corporation protest

Friday, November 14, 2008

Eight members of Students for a Democratic Society are facing the University’s most severe level of disciplinary proceedings as a result of events that took place during the group’s protest of a Corporation meeting last month.

Seven of the students are each being charged with four violations of the non-academic disciplinary code, and the eighth faces slightly different charges, said Carly Devlin ’09, one of the eight students. Proceedings were originally scheduled to begin next Monday but have been postponed to allow for necessary preparation, Devlin said. Students are given time to review evidence against them as well as to submit their own before a disciplinary hearing.

As the Corporation, Brown’s highest governing body, held its annual fall meeting in University Hall on Oct. 18, SDS members protested outside for open meetings, community referenda on decisions and control over the body’s agenda. While some members demonstrated on the green, five ran towards University Hall with a ladder, planning to use it to climb into the third-floor meeting. They were stopped by a Department of Public Safety officer before they were able to prop it against the building.

While attention was diverted, 20 SDS members attempted to enter the building. Eight made it inside.

Two of the charges the students face are concerned with entering University Hall without authorization and with injuries caused by their entrance, said Associate Dean of Student Life Terry Addison. Addison would not elaborate on the injuries.

Neither administrators nor SDS members would comment on what role the charged students played in the protest or what the exact charges are.

Alleged violations of the non-academic disciplinary code are resolved based on the severity of the charges, said Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn. The highest-level offenses – those which can result in separation from the University – are settled through either administrative or University Disciplinary Council hearings, depending on the student’s preference. Charged SDS members will have these two options, Klawunn said.

“If there has been any physical harm, then they generally go to that level,” Klawunn said. The offense must be “something exceptional” to be heard this way, she added.

The students have not yet decided what type of hearing they will have, said SDS member Chantal Tape ’09, who is among the students charged.

If any student chooses a UDC hearing, such a choice will be the first time a student has done so in at least four years, Klawunn said. The UDC consists of students, faculty and staff.

According to University policy, students must be given written notice of the charges and evidence against them at least seven days before their hearing. If students opt for a UDC hearing they must submit a list of witnesses four days before and written witness statements two days before the hearing. A hearing panel consists of administrators, at least one member of the faculty and some students, all of whom are selected from those previously appointed to the UDC.

The students have requested to have their cases heard as a group rather than individually because they “made a decision collectively and … would like (their) hearings to reflect that,” Devlin said. They expect to find out if their request will be granted by the end of the week.

Administrators told them that actions could be taken against the organization at a later date but the individual charges will still stand, Tape said.

“We believe that the actions that took place were the collective decision of the group and not of any individuals on their own,” said SDS member Julian Park ’12, who is not being charged in the case. “Our decision-making process is (by) consensus. Not a single person blocked what we did” in the protests.

Even if administrators do not honor SDS’s request for a group hearing, the students are confident that the evidence against them will not stand. “A lot of people were in the same location and are being charged for alleged actions that took place when we were in the near proximity,” Devlin said.

The eight students also raised questions regarding the integrity of the disciplinary process. A letter in Thursday’s Herald pointed out that the deans involved are paid by the Corporation and claimed a conflict of interests.

Klawunn said the Corporation is not involved in the matter. “The Corporation approves the policies, but the policies come out of committees of students, faculty and staff,” she said, adding that appeals go to the provost, not to anyone involved in the hearing.

SDS members said they are also concerned that the deans involved assume they’re guilty.

Devlin said the students were told by Addison, the associate dean of student life, that two of the charges against them were “inarguable – a clear indication of an assumption of guilt on his part.”

Though he was unsure of whether that exact language had been used, Addison said he would have been referring to the students’ forced entrance to University Hall and the resulting injuries.

“I am not in the position to assess if they are responsible or not,” Addison said.

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