Now that the fall semester has begun, the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) at UC Berkeley is once again hard at work trying to punish students for their involvement in last year’s protest actions. No matter that the Code of Student Conduct’s timeline has long passed. Officially, a hearing must occur within 75 days of the initial violation, but the timeline has been “suspended” — ironically, the excuse was that the furloughs imposed by the administration due to budget cuts meant they didn’t have enough time to follow their own regulations.
At this stage, what are called “pre-hearing conferences” and the “hearings” themselves have been scheduled. The pre-hearing conferences, in which procedural issues are supposed to be dealt with and evidence is exchanged, were supposed to take place last week, while the hearings are supposed to go forward on Wednesday and Thursday of this coming week.
However, serious problems have appeared in OSC’s strategy.
First of all, OSC violated their own rules by scheduling both “pre-hearing conferences” and “hearings” collectively. That is, they wanted to prosecute students together in order to avoid having to coordinate dozens of separate hearing panels. However, the Code of Student Conduct [pdf] states that “All charged students must waive their rights to confidentiality before the hearing may be consolidated” (p. 12). No student has signed a waiver of confidentiality — OSC simply decided that they didn’t have to follow their own rules. When confronted with these arguments during the pre-hearing conferences, OSC officials claimed that they would “somehow” figure out a logistical fix to maintain student confidentiality during the hearings, but they have refused to either change the scheduled time or recognize the potential problems involved with having the same panel oversee multiple cases of students allegedly involved in the same events in a single day — it will be impossible to see each case individually.
(Furthermore, because OSC scheduled all the pre-hearing conferences for the same time in spite of the fact that no waiver of confidentiality had been signed, they were only able to complete a few. So far, no attempt has been made to reschedule the rest.)
Second, OSC is having problems figuring out which version of the Code to use to prosecute student activists. As @callie_hoo tweeted the other day,
Here’s the deal. Last fall, when the protests in question took place, one version of the Code was in effect, but in December OSC took that version off their website — it was missing for over a month — while they revised it in order to make it, well, more “effective.” Now, at the pre-hearing conferences, OSC officers had difficulty telling students affirmatively which version of the Code they were using. They claimed to be operating under the current version of the Code — i.e. a version that did not exist when the alleged violations took place — but using pieces of the old version at will. In other words, OSC has decided that they have the ability to cut and paste, to literally string together a “new and improved” Code from current and previous versions, in order to get something they like. It is difficult to imagine anything more arbitrary and vindictive.
Third, and more generally, the hearing process is quite obviously skewed in the interest of OSC and the prosecution. OSC forms a three-person panel to judge each case, composed of one faculty member (the chair), one student, and one administrator. OSC serves as the “prosecutor” in each case. But OSC also exercises the supposedly “neutral” job of “interpreting” the Code if any difficulties arise: in the pre-hearing conference, an OSC official — who also serves as “prosecutor” in other cases — advises the faculty chair regarding the requirements of the Code. In other words, OSC both prosecutes under the Code and at the same time serves as the final arbiter about what the Code actually says. Needless to say, OSC always interprets the Code in its best interest.
These are just some of the substantial and substantive problems with the process. In light of such serious flaws, the university would do well to remember that every other body on campus, including the ASUC (student government body), the UC Berkeley Faculty Association, over a hundred independent faculty members, the RAZA Recruitment and Retention Center, and even the ACLU of Northern California, have all demanded that UC Berkeley drop the charges and stop its attempts to stifle campus protest.