Gripes about university bureaucracy are a constant refrain on the Hilltop, but let’s set one thing straight: We can tolerate years of waiting for hot Grab ’n’ Go and campus Zipcars, but every passing day that the administration drags its feet on reforming the Code of Student Conduct adds to our doubts about how seriously it takes the issue of student justice.

Last April, the Disciplinary Review Committee — a group made up of students, administrators, faculty and staff — endorsed a long-overdue change to increase the student evidentiary standard from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing.” It’s a troubling statement about the power of student leadership and the responsiveness of the administration that, five months and countless student disciplinary hearings later, nothing has been done.

Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson has delayed his decision until the Office of Student Conduct undergoes an external review later this month. In response, the Georgetown University Student Association senate voted Sunday for a nonbinding student referendum on the issue, which will take place Sept. 27.

We fully support the proposed reform, and while we appreciate the GUSA senate for recognizing the urgency of this issue, a referendum is likely not an effective way to move things forward. The basis of elected government is that office holders speak on behalf of their constituents: GUSA calls its own authority into question by suggesting that it needs to check in on student support.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, this unusual type of referendum risks exacerbating student disenchantment with GUSA and the administration. Students will predictably vote in favor of reform, only to discover that the result of the referendum has the legislative authority of an opinion poll.

To be clear, a rephrasing of the evidentiary standard is entirely necessary. As it stands, the standard invites arbitrary interpretations from administrators and impedes justice for students. Peer institutions have adopted this higher standard, as has, astonishingly, the Georgetown University Law Center. If the branch of the university specializing in justice has adopted a different standard for administering justice, the rest of Georgetown would probably be well advised to follow suit.

Student advocacy often appears to fall on deaf ears here, but in this case we worry that the university has delayed its decision to avoid the perception that it is admitting to wrongdoing and bowing to student pressure. Olson and the administration should not have postponed a decision until results come in from an external review. There are times when it’s effective to consider outside input, but in this case, true leadership requires making an immediate, necessary decision.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*