Failure to Comply violations have more than doubled in recent years, according to a 2007 mid-year report issued by the Student Judiciary Board (SJB) at the end of last semester. But despite recent tensions between students and Public Safety (PSafe), it is SJB policy shifts that lie at the heart of the violation influx.
From the fall of 2005 to 2006, Failure to Comply violations increased from 26 to 62. And while they only increased by three from the fall of 2006 to 2007, the spring of 2008 saw a near doubling from 65 to 115.
In a statement to The Argus, Associate Director of Student Life Scott Backer, who works closely with the SJB, cited a number of reasons as to why there have been such drastic increases from year to year. The most notable, however, results from a caveat in SJB policy that requires Area Coordinators to present students with a two-business-day window to reply to an initial citation notification.
“The majority of cases that involved a Failure to Comply charge were the result of students who did not respond to requests to schedule meetings to follow up with Area Coordinators regarding incidents that were documented by a University official,” Backer said.
The caveat, which, according to the mid-year report, applies to first offense party registration violations, noise complaints and simple alcohol violations, is not specified on the Code of Non-Academic Conduct (CNAC) website. Students are typically notified of their violation via e-mail.
According to Backer, the two-day window was implemented in order to expedite the hearing process for all involved in handling and hearing violations.
“This was an intentional effort on the part of the Student Judicial Board and the Area Coordinator Staff to help speed up the time for cases that were processed through the judicial system,” Backer said. “When the SJB and the Area Coordinators looked at how long it was taking cases to be heard during the last two or three years, they recognized that it was taking too long, which was not fair to the students that were involved in the process.”
To Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) representative Becky Weiss ’10, however, the continual increase in citations represents ineffectiveness with the current policy.
“Two days isn’t enough,” said Weiss, who is Chair of the Student Affairs Committee, which oversees the SJB. “Students may not check their emails or necessarily respond right away. The idea of the two-day period expediting the process doesn’t actually help the student if they need more than two days to consider their violation. If this change was meant to benefit students, and is instead harming them, it needs to be reconsidered.”
Weiss hopes to fine-tune current policies by discussing them with students and members of the administration such as Backer. She also plans to further align the procedures the SJB intends to follow with its actual practices, acknowledging that the way the board handles cases is much more specific and complex than students may realize.
“I think this all ties in to the need for better education of certain rules on campus,” Weiss said. “When students don’t know these rules, it ends up hurting them… There needs to be a way to make it easier for students to educate themselves. Yes, there are tools available, but who has time to read tons of documents posted to various pages across the University website?”
Other students believe that undergraduates simply need to be more accountable for their actions.
“The SJB does need to be explicit about how to respond, and about the deadline for responding,” said Anna Pachner ’09. “But once they’ve done that, there’s no excuse for someone to be late in response. It’s lazy and irresponsible.”
Ben Petrie ’11 felt the response window should be slightly longer, but agreed that students ultimately need to be more responsible when handling violations.
“I know students don’t want to comply with PSafe officers because no one likes authority, especially over areas of drugs and alcohol,” he said. “But complying with a summons is different. Of course such charges will go up, until kids learn to get it together and reply so they don’t get the charge.”
While the SJB can issue Failure to Comply charges to students who fail to respond to them within a two-day window, PSafe can also issue these same charges to students for rejecting requests from PSafe. Director of PSafe Dave Meyer noted that he and his officers have noticed no particular spike over the years in students failing to comply with PSafe officers, even in spite of events such as last spring’s Fountain Avenue incident.
“We try to maintain consistent enforcement throughout,” Meyer said. “We submit reports on anything we feel may be a violation, but we don’t make the decision on what charges are filed in individual cases.”
Backer corroborated this, attributing most other Failure to Comply violations to what he says are students rejecting reasonable requests from PSafe, Student Affairs and Residential Life staff such as Area Coordinators and Resident Assistants. One of the most typical requests students seem unwilling to comply to are when they are asked to show University identification.
“My impression of this unwillingness to present ID upon request is the result of students not fully understanding their responsibilities as members of the Wesleyan community, and the language of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct,” Backer said.
It is just this lack of understanding, and perhaps misunderstanding, of administrative language and procedure that Weiss hopes to reform as the newly-elected chair of the Student Affairs Committee.
“It’s not that they’re [the SJB] doing anything wrong, per se, it’s just what their policy is,” Weiss said. “And sometimes policies can be improved.”