All eight members in attendance at a University of Maryland Senate committee meeting voted Wednesday to approve suggested revisions to the Code of Student Conduct.
The senate tasked the Student Conduct Committee last fall with reviewing the policy and gathering information from peer institutions to create "more expansive definitions" for prohibited conduct.
The senate proposed that the committee lower the burden of proof in cases from clear and convincing to a preponderance of the evidence, which means that it's more likely than not a code violation occurred.
The proposal also suggested revising the structure of the code by organizing it into three major components: student rights and responsibilities, prohibited conduct, and student conduct process and procedures, while removing "unnecessary [and] outdated information."
The committee focused on updating the code's language, which previously included legal jargon, to make it easier for students to understand, said Committee Chair Andrea Dragan.
"[The revised code] gives students a better piece of guidance to work with, so that if there are violations of the code, they are going to understand it a lot better," Dragan said. "The old code … was very difficult to understand, and I feel like that was unfair to the students to give them a document that wasn't easy to read and hadn't been updated since prior to their birth."
In light of recent hate bias incidents on the campus, the committee decided to remove "Intentionally and substantially interfering with the freedom of expression of others" as a listed prohibited conduct as it sends the "wrong message," said Director of Student Conduct Andrea Goodwin.
"It's giving the students the wrong message, like, 'Oh, we'll support the haters, but we're not going to support you if you disrupt the haters,'" Goodwin said. "[But] this gives the completely wrong message from what we're intending here, [which] is that we don't want students to feel like we're suppressing them if they're fighting back with somebody who is saying hate words."
Committee member Chris Rand, a senior electrical engineering major, called the protection of fighting words “counterintuitive.”
“Fighting words, that’s not protected speech — the Supreme Court’s already said that,” he said.
The committee also added phrasing to the code's student rights section that says students will be treated fairly and with respect regardless of factors such as race, sexual orientation or disability.
The committee agreed to add to the prohibited conduct section that any violation of the code motivated by discrimination — which is prohibited under this university's non-discrimination policy — will be considered an "aggravated violation" and may result in a stronger sanction.
Several other senate committees and task forces, including the Campus Affairs Committee and The Joint President/Senate Task Force on Inclusion and Respect are examining hate speech and hate bias incidents on the campus and deciding whether a solution can be put in place.
University officials told the Campus Affairs Committee at an Oct. 25 meeting that a proposed campuswide ban of hate symbols would not be possible as it would limit the First Amendment. The committee is reviewing this university's non-discrimination policy to determine its effectiveness and how it has been followed after hate bias incidents on the campus.
The Student Conduct Committee also reviewed how the code addresses violations by student groups and organizations. The code says individuals, groups or organization may be held responsible for a violation, and groups found responsible can be suspended or expelled.
If the group or organization is suspended or expelled, the involved students will not be suspended or expelled. However, the violation will be included on their transcripts, according to committee members.
The Senate Executive Committee will vote on Nov. 28 whether to include the revised code on the agenda for the next Senate meeting on Dec. 7. If it passes, the bill will be moved forward to university President Wallace Loh for approval. If the revised code is not included in the agenda for the Dec. 7 meeting, the last of the semester, the code cannot be implemented on its recommended date, Jan. 1, 2018.
At its next meeting on Dec. 8, the Student Conduct Committee will begin discussing revisions to the Code of Academic Integrity.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Paul Mavrikes. This story has been updated.