Posts tagged riot

Coming up next, on all channels: students behaving badly

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This month you really didn’t need to look far to find pictures of students somewhere in Canada appearing to break the rules.   The question is: what have their universities done about it?

The most obvious incident took place in London, Ontario, where students participated in an off-campus St. Patrick’s Day riot (CBC).  Late that day, parties in a dense student neighbourhood spilled out into the streets.  Over a dozen people were arrested, including many students of Fanshawe College

London is a relatively small university town, and the administration of Fanshawe College took action immediately, suspending six students.  But whenever students behave badly off-campus (consider this link), and their university imposes disciplinary measures independent of any action by police, many people ask whether the university is overstepping it’s authority.  Listen to this discussion on CBC’s The Current for some of the arguments on this issue.

The debate generally comes down to what the university’s internal rules say about off-campus conduct and whether those rules are consistent with the university’s powers.  For example, the Fanshawe College Policy Manual – Student Code of Conduct says that it applies to the following types of off-campus conduct:

  • at a “College sanctioned event or when the Student is acting as a designated representative… or under the… supervision of the College”; and
  • where the conduct “adversely affects the rights of a member of the college community to use and enjoy the College’s learning and working environment and facilities or conduct which could adversely affect the health and safety of a member of the College Community”.

The first one is a no-brainer.  The second one is where it gets complicated.  Would Fanshawe have the right to take out its gavel if two drunk dudes happen to get into a bar fight across town and they both happen to be Fanshawe students?

In BC, this issue arose in connection with the Stanley Cup riot last year (see here for more discussion on that).

The other incidents have centred primarily in Quebec, where student protests continue in opposition to tuition increases.  Several universities have ramped up disciplinary charges (Montreal Gazette) against various student protesters along with threats of further charges, though those appear to relate entirely to events on-campus.

Universities needs to have clear, exhaustive policies related to student conduct that are consistent with the authority they wield and that are enforced fairly.  Students need to understand what they are agreeing to by enrolling, especially in terms of their activities off-campus.

Vancouver riot raises questions about scope of schools’ jurisdiction

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Just when you thought it was out of the media spotlight, Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot is back in the news.   The Globe and Mail reported last week that Premier Christy Clark is frustrated that not a single charge has been laid in connection with the riot.  Police Chief Jim Chu responded that hearing about jailings of rioters in Britain should not spur further pressure of Vancouver police to make arrests, since it is important “to do this right” rather than rush things through. 

Interestingly, Chu remarked that several rioters have confessed to minor misdemeanors to avoid being charged with more serious offences caught on video, and several rioters brought in by their parents have turned out to be innocent. 

In other words, this is a mess. 

Given the public spotlight on many of the crimes committed during the riot, none of the wrongdoers are entirely safe from punishment, which may be delivered by Chu’s police force or the internet vigilantes standing proudly on virtual soapboxes while oddly cloaked in anonymity.  As previously discussed on this blog, many of those offenders are students, some of whom are returning to classrooms in the coming weeks, hoping that their acts of folly after the Stanley Cup loss will not trail them onto campus.

What happened on West Georgia, should stay on West Georgia, at least as far as educational institutions are concerned.   Universities in particular should avoid relying on the riot as a premise for punishing a student.  Many universities have comprehensive codes of conduct or general policies and regulations that detail the circumstances under which a student may be penalized for “non-academic behavior”. 

Under Section 61 of the University Act (BCLaws), the president of a university has the authority to “deal summarily with any matter of student discipline”, and when exercising that authority the president must provide a report to a standing senate committee on student discipline summarizing the president’s reasons.  The president’s decision is final, though the student can appeal to the senate.

This is how Section 61 is applied in the University of British Columbia policies and regulations related to non-academic misconduct by students:

  • “Non-academic misconduct” is not defined exhaustively, but is includes disrupting instructional activities, damaging university property or property belonging to a member of the university community, engaging in an act of hate or racism, and assaulting or threatening any member of the university community.  These sorts of behaviors are considered by UBC to be “matters of student discipline” for the purposes of Section 61.
  • An allegation of non-academic misconduct is generally reported to the Office of the University Counsel, which passes it on to the President’s Committee for a hearing according to its rules (UBC). 
  • The President’s Committee makes a recommendation to the President about what to do in the situation, and the President makes the final decision.
  • If the student does not like the President’s decision, the student can appeal the decision to a senate committee.  

The limits of the university’s jurisdiction for off-campus activities are not altogether defined clearly in the University Act or in UBC’s policies are regulations.  In contrast, the UBC-Okanagan Code of Conduct addresses this point directly, by specifying that the Code applies to conduct that:

  1. occurs on or near the premises of the university;
  2. occurs elsewhere in the course of activities sponsored by the university, or where the conduct is alleged to adversely affect, disrupt or interfere with another person’s reasonable participation in university programs or activities; or
  3. occurs in the context of a relationship between the student and a third party that involves the student’s standing, status or academic record at the university.

Translation:  UBC-O, along with other universities and educational institutions, should not be looking to punish students for their roles in the riot, no matter how long it takes for the Vancouver police to get moving on laying charges.

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