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UGBC Holds Town Hall Meeting Over Proposed Changes to Student Guide

On Tuesday, December 2, UGBC senators Thomas Napoli and Meredith McCaffrey held a town hall meeting to discuss proposed changes to the student guide with the student body. Napoli and McCaffrey covered the university’s Free Speech and Expression Policy, student rights and responsibilities and conduct reform.

The meeting, with an attendance of roughly 20 people, began with an outline of current university policy. Under the current system, officially recognized university clubs must get permission from the university before posting fliers, filming videos or congregating outside. For example, the recent Ferguson protests would not have been allowed if the protestors hadn’t gotten special permission beforehand. In addition, official clubs cannot stage demonstrations if they are against the university’s Jesuit values. The university has the power to dissolve clubs or refuse a club’s right to congregate or post fliers if it sees fit.

And the current policy affords even less freedom to unofficial clubs. Unofficial clubs do not have the ability to post fliers or banners, schedule speakers, rent tables or stage demonstrations. If they do, unofficial clubs could face disciplinary action or other consequences. Unrecognized clubs can essentially do nothing on campus.

The proposed policy seeks to address this. Under the proposed policy, all registered student organizations can post fliers and banners without content censorship, something that happens under the current policy. The proposed plan also seeks to expand the opportunities of students not in a registered student organization. If a group of five or more students—such as those in an unregistered club—sign a petition to post a flier or banner, then they would have the same posting rights as a registered student organization.

According to Napoli, the reason for this proposal is to put more responsibility in the hands of the student body.

“We feel that we need to have more trust in the student body to censor ourselves,” said Napoli. “We don’t think it should be a single person an office determining what is or isn’t offensive.”

One of the biggest departures from the current policy pertains to the policy on speakers, something both recognized student organizations and the UGBC have had to deal with.

“This is something that has been happening to UGBC and it’s something we really want to address,” said Napoli.

Image courtesy of UGBC / Facebook

Image courtesy of UGBC / Facebook

Under the current system, the administration reserves the right to either outright block a speaker from appearing on campus or to restrict what the speaker is allowed to say without giving an explanation why. An audience member offered the example of an unnamed comedy group at BC that the university restricted from saying certain things during performances. Under the proposed policy, the university would not have the power to restrict what a speaker says.

But the university would still retain the ability to outright reject a speaker from appearing on campus; however, it would have to include increased transparency. If the administration rejected a speaker, they would have to report the reason to the student organization, UGBC and the newly-proposed Committee for Free Expression.

While it is in no way a perfect solution, it is a step in the right direction. Several audience members asked why UGBC won’t push to remove the university’s right to reject a speaker. Napoli answered that, predictably, the university would never agree to it, but praised the proposed policy as the most reasonable route.

“We think it’s a very reasonable way to move forward with the maximum amount of free expression,” said Napoli.

If the proposed policy on speakers is the biggest departure from the current policy, the proposed change to demonstrations is potentially the most controversial. The proposed policy dictates that any demonstrators would not need the university’s permission before demonstrating; additionally, the university wouldn’t be able to shut down a demonstration because it conflicts with Jesuit values.

After the explanation of the proposed changes regarding freedom of speech and expression, Napoli and McCaffrey delved into the specifics of the proposed Committee on Free Expression. The committee would consist of the Vice President of Student Affairs, four tenured professors, one graduate student and four undergraduate students. The committee would hear appeals from students who believed their rights were infringed upon by the university.

Napoli and McCaffrey then quickly explained the proposed updates to students’ rights and responsibilities. Included in the proposal is the right to be notified immediately of changes to your record, the right to appeal decisions without fear of retaliation, the right to use campus facilities, the right to avoid self-incrimination in conduct hearings and the right for a student to review his or her records.

The right to review records is particularly important, because those records could be seen by future schools or employers. According to Napoli, BC writes students up the most out of any Boston-area school. For example, in the past year, BU had less than 400 write-ups for alcohol violations; BC had over 1,000. The right to review records grants students the opportunity to review any conduct issues and potentially appeal them.

The final topic covered in the forum regarded proposed changes to conduct policy. The proposed changes involve a more lenient system regarding probation, a more specific outline for the grounds to appeal a conduct decision, and a shift in how the appeal is heard.

The current conduct-hearing system is based on preponderance of evidence. If there is a 51 percent chance that a student committed the offense, then he or she is found guilty. The new proposal would change that to a system based on clear and convincing evidence, essentially a 75 percent chance that the student committed the offense. While several audience members commented that both systems seem vague, most agreed it is a welcome change.

The meeting concluded with final comments and answers from Napoli and McCaffrey. They expect the proposal to be taken very seriously, and they expect an answer after winter break, with the policy potentially being implemented next year. UGBC is meeting with the Office of Student Involvement on December 5, while at the same time, UGBC President Nancy Fiore-Chettiar will be meeting with the Board of Trustees. In January, they plan to present it to new Dean of Students Thomas Mogan, and Napoli is optimistic about the predicted response.

“He will be aware that this is the proposal that has been worked really hard on and is the voice of the students, and we expect to be taken very seriously.”

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