Four months have passed since university senators and university President Wallace Loh approved an expansion of the university’s Code of Student Conduct jurisdiction, but officials have yet to exercise their new disciplinary powers.
Andrea Goodwin, the Office of Student Conduct director, said her office hasn’t prosecuted any students under the now-expanded jurisdiction, which empowers the university to pursue punitive measures against students who commit conduct code violations off the campus. The office decided it wouldn’t start charging students until the fall, “to give students an opportunity to know and understand a little bit more” about the change, Goodwin said.
Most off-campus violations committed before the bill went into effect have not been — and will not be — subject to university sanctions, she added.
“That [wouldn’t be] fair,” said Josh Ratner, Student Government Association student affairs vice president and former liaison to the College Park City Council, who advocated aggressively for the expansion. “Just like any other law, you almost never can retroactively prosecute someone for something.”
The university would have taken up some conduct violations, such as the case that landed Terrapins football running back Wes Brown a one-year suspension from the university, even without expanded jurisdiction, Goodwin said. The code previously allowed for university intervention in off-campus situations of extreme seriousness, and Brown faced charges of second-degree assault, theft and unlawful interception of oral communications. He was also a person of interest in a nonfatal shooting.
But for less serious offenses, such as underage drinking off the campus, Goodwin and Ratner have both insisted the code’s expanded jurisdiction won’t change much.
“I don’t think the intention was ever to penalize students for drinking a beer,” Ratner said. “This should be used for cases like sexual assault, where people are in real danger. It’s to protect students.”
Nonetheless, with the boundaries for university discipline expanded beyond the campus walls, Goodwin said her office is taking steps to accommodate a potentially higher caseload, including hiring a full-time coordinator over the summer and an additional part-time graduate student.
“I think we’re as ready as we could be,” she said.
Not all students are onboard with the change, however. Several student senators, wary that the new policy would result in double-prosecutions between Prince George’s County Police and the university, spoke out against the expansion before the senate vote.
However, Loh said the university’s new ability to handle some incidents that police might previously have dealt with has clear benefits for students.
“Let’s face it: The Honor Council will be more understanding,” he said. “It’s students judging students, as opposed to you going before a full-fledged judge. You don’t even want that on your record. It’s good for the neighbors, it’s good for the students, it’s good for overall safety.
“The advantage to the student is if you couple the two together and the student gets a citation, the student appears before the Honor Council, whereas if it were a Prince George’s police officer … they’ll still probably arrest or cite you, but you get called before Prince George’s courthouse.”
Before the Office of Student Conduct begins prosecuting violations, however, Goodwin said raising community awareness of the change is her highest priority.
“The big thing that’s left is to continue making sure that students are aware of it,” she said. “We’re in the process of developing an entire marketing campaign.”
University officials have already talked to resident assistants during training this summer and have spoken at freshman orientations. There will also be posters in dorms, along with magnets, as small reminders to students around the campus. An email about the policy has already been sent to parents of university students, Goodwin added, and an email was sent to students last week.
Vincent Novara, University Senate chairman, who presided over the vote for expansion, said he hopes the change will entice students to make better decisions.
“I know that it will make things safer for students in general, and I would hope that it would improve behavior,” Novara said. “I hope that this would inform students’ thinking when they’re going to make certain choices, especially when they are off-campus.”
Student cooperation under the extension of the code may not happen overnight, Goodwin said, despite the new campaigns to educate students and residents alike.
But by following in the footsteps of other system institutions, such as Towson, Goodwin said the university will see positive change over the long term toward developing stable student-resident relations.
“We will be able to change some of the culture in the city of College Park,” she said.