On Wednesday afternoon, President Michael Roth lifted a controversial disciplinary sanction on Eclectic that had banned shows for the rest of the semester, pending an agreement between Eclectic President Marshall Ball ’10 and Dean of Students Rick Culliton. Though Roth’s decision—contrary to his initial rejection of Eclectic’s appeal against the sanction five days earlier—marks a positive and somewhat surprising reversal of fortune for Eclectic, questions remain as to what exactly prompted the shift and how this change relates to potential reviews of both Student Judicial Board (SJB) procedure and the Code of Non-Academic Conduct.
In a March 25 entry on his blog, “Roth on Wesleyan,” Roth announced that the sanction has been replaced by a probationary period, and that the reversal and eventual reinstatement of campus events are contingent on Eclectic’s ability to adhere to a set of guidelines mutually agreed upon by the society and the administration.
“I have asked Marshall Ball, Eclectic’s President, and Dean Rick Culliton to work together on a written agreement that delineates Eclectic’s responsibilities for events going forward,” Roth said. “As long as the events continue according to those guidelines, the ban will remain lifted.”
The announcement initially appeared on Wesleying, and was substantiated both in an e-mail to The Argus from Ball and by President Roth’s blog entry.
The decision came as something of a surprise, following on the heels of Roth’s recent denial of Eclectic’s appeal. The society received the disciplinary sanction from the SJB on March 2, based on a guilty finding of charges stemming from a noise complaint in early December. On March 10, Eclectic officially appealed the decision, citing three of the four available grounds for appeal: violation of fair process, excessive or inappropriate sanction and procedural error. Roth, who bears the sole responsibility for overturning SJB rulings, rejected the house’s request ten days later. On March 23, a group of Eclectic members visited the president during his office hours to discuss the situation. Ball recalled how Roth explained in the meeting his decision not to accept the appeal.
“He said that he didn’t feel that any of the process was sufficiently violated such that he wanted to step in as president and overturn it,” Ball said.
Ball also indicated that Roth was reluctant to infringe on the authority of the SJB.
“He told us he didn’t want to seem like a king, because obviously the SJB is supposed to be a student board, and he wouldn’t want to send out that message that he can just overturn different things,” Ball said.
Society members responded by reiterating alleged violations of SJB procedures, as well as a general lack of transparency. Roth responded by saying that he would reconsider the matter and let Eclectic know of his decision within the next day. On the morning of March 25, Ball received an e-mail from Roth informing him that the sanction had been overturned. Eclectic members credit their visit for Roth’s change of heart.
Despite his altered stance, Roth insisted that Eclectic’s allegations of violations in SJB procedure did not figure into his decision-making. In his March 25 blog entry, Roth emphasized his support for the SJB and Assistant Director of Student Life and Student Conduct Scott Backer (who advises the SJB), saying that he had made his decision based on other factors.
“I am confident that the SJB and Dean Backer acted in accordance with our procedures, and that their findings in regard to the events of December 8, 2008 were correct,” Roth wrote. “However, based on communication with Eclectic since that time, and my belief that the society is committed to acting as responsible hosts for events, I have reconsidered and modified the sanction in this case.”
Roth gave no further explanation as to what specifically prompted him to change his mind (as of press time, he is away from campus and unavailable for further comment). Despite Roth’s official validation of both Backer and the SJB’s conduct, a campus-wide e-mail sent out early Thursday morning by the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) implied a link between the reversal and Eclectic’s claims of procedural irregularity. The e-mail—entitled “Eclectic sanction adjusted; WSA and administration to review SJB”—announced that the administration has agreed to a review of the SJB and Code of Non-Academic Conduct. The investigation, the e-mail seemed to intimate, was prompted not only by Eclectic’s recent dealings with the SJB, but by complaints made by students over the past two semesters.
“During this review, the WSA will address the concerns that have been raised to us over the last several months regarding the conduct of the SJB and Assistant Director of Student Services Scott Backer,” the e-mail read.
WSA Vice President Saul Carlin ’09 later denied a direct link between Eclectic’s case and the review.
“Nothing specific about the Eclectic situation prompted the review,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “The Eclectic situation is just one of several major issues this year that indicates the need to refine the Code of Non-Academic to better serve the interests of the community. The review was first mentioned in our recommendations to the administration following the incident on Fountain Avenue and was not a direct consequence of the Eclectic situation.”
While Carlin did not speculate on Roth’s reasoning, he stressed that Eclectic’s claims regarding unfair treatment by the SJB and Backer were consistent with other complaints the WSA has received from students.
“We can’t speak for President Roth, but had the decision been ours, we certainly would have taken Eclectic’s procedural concerns into consideration, among other issues they raised calling into question the appropriateness of the hosting ban,” Carlin said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley also expressed concerned about the potentially misleading language of the WSA’s e-mail. Prior to Carlin’s clarification, he rejected their insinuation that they played a role in the success of Eclectic’s appeal and denied any connection between this case and the upcoming review of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct. The review, he said, had already been decided on last semester.
Whaley also reiterated Roth’s support of Backer and the SJB.
“President Roth concluded that the SJB functioned properly and without bias in this case and that Mr. Backer acted appropriately as an advisor to the SJB,” Whaley wrote in an e-mail. “I agree with this conclusion.”
He went on to say that the decision to adjust the sanction was based not on procedural irregularity, but on Roth’s meeting with Eclectic members on Monday afternoon, and subsequent conversations with Culliton and himself. Whaley further emphasized, as he had in previous communications, that the sanction imposed on Eclectic was entirely the decision of the SJB, not Mr. Backer.
This directly refutes Eclectic’ claims that Backer was responsible for the sanction. In an open letter posted on Wesleying last Monday, Eclectic wrote that they believed that Backer, rather than the SJB, decided on the ban. Although Eclectic representatives later told The Argus that they had no proof to support this claim, they pointed to irregularities in their dealings with Backer and the SJB as being indicative of deeper problems.
Eclectic claims that they received two letters from Backer, both dated Feb. 26, but with different information regarding which events fell under the “House Hosting Restriction.” On March 2, Eclectic House Manager Pedro Ventura ’10 received the initial sanction, which issued a complete prohibition on events through April 30. Two days later, they received the second letter, which amended the initial ban on “performances, gatherings, parties, or any events” to “social events, parties, concerts, or other events that fit the requirements of the Social Event Policy.” Eclectic also attacked the decision to make an exception for the show scheduled during Wesfest, a choice that they said was based on public relations concerns rather than a fulfillment of contractual obligations.
Eclectic further contends that Backer gave them limited access to documents involved in their case, and that they were not allowed to present their case directly to two of the SJB members who judged their case. (The initial hearing was simplified, which means that only three members of the SJB were present.) They also argue that, according to the student handbook, full hearings are required in order for the SJB to dispense sanctions of this severity. Finally, and most crucially, Eclectic alleges that Backer and the SJB took past, un-charged infractions by Eclectic into account while deciding on disciplinary measures. Backer, they say, cited in his rationale for the sanction incidents from last semester in which intoxicated students were taken from Eclectic in ambulances—incidents for which Eclectic was never charged.
Feeding public confusion and controversy has been a reluctance on all sides to release information. Although in their open letters, Eclectic members have cited from documents related to their case, they have thus far declined to release any of these documents for public viewing. These include (but are not limited to) the PSAFE report from the night of Dec. 8, the two letters issuing sanctions, Backer’s rationale, and Eclectic’s appeal.
Eclectic cited SJB rules about confidentiality as a prohibitive concern. According to Becky Weiss ’10, chair of the WSA’s Student Affairs Committee that works with the SJB, students are free to release documentation involved in their own case.
“I’m not encouraging them to release the information regarding their case but I don’t envision any issues if they decide that’s what they want to do,” she said.
Eclectic also cited their status as a consensus society, which means they would need the consent of all members to make such a decision. Some members also expressed anxiety over the possibility that documents might be misconstrued. Backer’s rationale, for example, allegedly lists infractions for which Eclectic was never charged.
“I think that information needs to be qualified when it’s released like that,” said Anna Wiener ’09. “People can be really hasty to demonize and jump to conclusions.”
People associated with the SJB have also been largely unwilling to come forward, perhaps because of confidentiality rules. SJB members did not respond to e-mails. Backer initially agreed to be interviewed, but later declined to answer questions about the case.