For the last year, they had been political rivals.
But in an unlikely union, Student Association President Audai Shakour and SA Sen. Ben Traverse announced plans on creating a committee to recommend changes to Student Judicial Services to create what they hope will be a fairer system.
The SA Senate legislation will address numerous aspects of SJS, including the use of the popular social Web site Facebook to investigate and track students – which The Hatchet reported on last year; the University’s right to inspect e-mail, the University’s jurisdiction beyond campus boundaries, and what Traverse calls a perceived lack of evidence needed by the University Police Department to refer a case to SJS.
“We decided to put this together to explore the Code (of Student Conduct) and some possible changes that can be made,” Shakour, a senior, said after last week’s Senate meeting in the Marvin Center. “There is nothing that we are coming into this saying that has to be changed – we just want to explore the Code and see what changes we might be able to recommend.”
One issue Traverse (CCAS-U), a senior, hopes the committee will examine is what he calls a lack of minimum and maximum sanctions. While Traverse is worried that there are no strict definitions for what punishment may be handed down for guilty verdicts in SJS, the Code of Student Conduct states that the University “seeks to preserve the flexibility in the imposition of sanctions so that each student or group offender is afforded the greatest possibility for appropriate and just treatment.”
The Code also states that expulsion is the maximum sanction the University may impose on a student. Tara Woolfson, director of SJS, said the University takes many variables into account when assessing a sanction on a student.
“As each case is unique, aggravating and mitigating factors are considered and impact the final sanctions assessed to a student,” Woolfson said.
Another issue Traverse hopes the committee will examine is the perceived lack of evidence needed to file charges against another student. Traverse questioned what would prevent any student from filing unsubstantiated charges against another student. The University said it examines each situation on a case-by-case basis.
“After reviewing statements (made by the students involved) and the report, a decision will be made by the Office of Student Judicial Services as to whether or not a student should be charged with a violation of the Code,” Woolfson said. She added that a student can also be charged for giving knowingly false testimony.
The traditional process for filing a complaint is that UPD is contacted to write a report on the situation; then the issue may be referred to SJS for preliminary evidence gathering and to decide if charges will be filed. Woolfson said that upon charges being filed, a student has a minimum of three days to prepare for a University hearing.
Shakour hinted that his personal dealings with SJS have led him to having an interest in reforming the SJS system.
In November, a female colleague leveled allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Shakour. Last month, Shakour was cleared by SJS of the allegations, and throughout the ordeal he maintained his innocence.
Traverse, who had called for Shakour’s impeachment at an SA Senate meeting following the allegations, said Shakour’s case points to some of the problems within SJS.
“Student privacy is a problem,” Traverse said. “There should have been no way information (about Shakour’s judicial process) should have been leaked.” SJS does not comment on individual students’ disciplinary and judicial situations, and it did not discuss Shakour’s case with The Hatchet.
Even though Shakour and Traverse have been political rivals since they ran against one another for SA president last year, the two seniors said they have put their differences aside and are eager to help students together.
“Traverse and I have had our past differences, but we have this common interest to serve the student body” Shakour said. “We actually see eye to eye on a lot of issues.”
While six weeks ago Traverse was calling for Shakour to resign from the SA presidency and was one of six SA senators who signed articles of impeachment against Shakour, the SA president said he has no bitterness toward Traverse.
“I don’t think it’s weird,” Shakour said. “One thing I have started to realize is you have got to set your personal and political differences aside.”
“Politics is about bringing people to the table and effectively serving the students,” Shakour said.
-Brandon Butler contributed to this report.