Disciplinary hearings are the university’s equivalent to a justice system. Students who are accused of violating the conduct code are supposed to be judged by a panel of their peers and faculty. When this system is compromised, so is the foundation of justice for these students – and this is exactly what has happened at UCLA.
The Student Conduct Committee handles student conduct code violations such as plagiarism and computer misuse. According to its bylaws, the committee is comprised of both student and staff representatives to ensure fairness in hearings.
Yet reportedly nearly a dozen hearings went by without any student representation since fall quarter, according to Graduate Students Association President Michael Skiles. The exact reasons are unclear, but the Office of Student Affairs must prioritize student representation immediately and improve its transparency with the student body moving forward.
A statement from the university said the student affairs office decided not to train students because it wanted to reconsider students’ role in the hearings and improve various policies first. However, these internal changes were not communicated to the student body or student members. Skiles said student appointees tried contacting the student affairs office, only to receive excuses.
Keeping students in the dark using empty excuses is no way for an administration to handle anything, especially disciplinary hearings that can make or break a student’s career at UCLA. The administration’s lack of transparency over the past few months weakens the trust of the student body.
Unlike other administrative missteps, the student affairs office has not only disregarded student interests, but also its own bylaws, essentially obstructing justice on the university level.
The student conduct code asserts the committee must, to the extent possible, have equal representation of students, faculty and staff at hearings to guarantee defendants a fair trial. However, according to Skiles, student appointees repeatedly tried contacting the office about joining the hearings but eventually believed they were no longer on the committee due to administration’s cold shoulder.
These mixed messages underscore an alarming laxity in the administration’s judgement. What should have been met with forthrightness and honesty was instead dealt with backhandedness. Policy change or not, the administration failed to communicate with the student body in a way that ensured fairness in its disciplinary process.
Certainly, the administration’s recent attempts to schedule training sessions for this quarter is a welcome move, but it comes belated and without proper explanation. The only thing the administration can do moving forward is prioritize student representation and transparency.