First steps to self-governance slow, steady

Marisa Maldonado

The deliberations behind the May 2 decision to let Kappa Sigma remain on campus after an incident involving underage drinking shows how efforts at student self-governance still would have significant administrative input.

According to sources close to the deliberations, the Kappa Sig disciplinary process had three stages: the fraternity and its national organization came up with an 11-page proposal, the Interfraternity Council tweaked it and made three aspects harsher, and administrators ultimately made the proposal’s alcohol suspension more severe.

Most of the measures in Kappa Sig’s original proposal were approved, including community service, alcohol education classes and hazing-prevention courses for the rest of the school, the source said.

But when IFC leaders viewed the proposal, they saw three major flaws. IFC added a live-in housing director and more stringent academic demands, forcing the fraternity to maintain a 3.2 GPA. Kappa Sig’s proposed alcohol-probation period was “wishy washy,” and IFC worked with them to lengthen it to a four-year period with the possibility of probation after two years, the source said.

And according to the source, administrators, namely William Banis, vice president for student affairs, and Gregg Kindle, director of residential life, made one major change to the proposal: making the alcohol probation period indefinite.

‘NOT LAW ENFORCEMENT’

The way administrators handled the process could be expanded to other aspects of student life, such as residence halls, Banis said before the punishment came down. Some form of student governing boards could give students more control over their situations as well as remove administrators from the role of “campus police officers,” he said.

“Most of us are trained to help students,” Banis said in an April 4th interview. “We’re really educators at heart, not law enforcement officers.”

Banis said his idea for student self-governance mirrors the U.S. court system: Students will handle small disciplinary issues, with all decisions being approved by administrators. More serious problems, such as the Kappa Sig incident, would have more administrative input.

Some campus leaders agree that student governing boards for residential halls and Greek affairs could work at Northwestern.

IFC President James Troupis said members of his executive board eventually hope to expand their seven-member judicial board to preside over all cases in fraternities.

“We hope to set the path down for the whole student body to get to a form of self-governance,” said Troupis, a Speech junior. “That’s our end goal. We’re thinking of all fraternities, all sororities and hopefully the entire campus.”

Others are more skeptical, saying students will never see complete sovereignty in disciplinary matters.

“I’m not sure that would ever be something that would be totally student-run, but something that would work in concert with staff from student affairs,” Kindle said.

PEER understanding

Governing themselves could give students a learning experience and help build community at NU, said Mary Desler, associate vice president for student affairs.

“When you are involved in making decisions that go on in your community, it always makes you feel ownership, and that’s valuable,” Desler said.

A student judicial board could be capable of handling issues such as second-time alcohol offenses and noise violations, she said.

Students might understand the plight of their peers better than administrators, which would aid the student governance movement, said Scott Medlock, former president of the Public Affairs Residential College.

“A lot of the administration seems detached from student life,” said Medlock, a Weinberg senior. “They don’t seem to understand what’s going on, they don’t understand what it’s like to live in a dorm.”

Student governing boards also could “lift the burden” for administrators, Banis said. Administrators spend too much of their time on small disciplinary matters, he said, taking away from the time they spend on more important issues.

precedents

Student governance already exists in part at NU with the Student Activities Finance Board, a 12-member body elected by Associated Student Government Senate.

SAFB doles out about $810,000 yearly in Student Activities Fee funds to student groups for programming. The board also handles financial misconduct situations where student groups have violated student guidelines.

Le’Jamiel Goodall, Associated Student Government financial vice president and head of SAFB, said it is necessary to have students controlling the funding process since the money comes out of their pockets. Most students respect dealing with peers who handle their funding decisions, he said, comparing the structure to a “big brother watching little brother situation.”

“In a family, when you have brothers and sisters telling you what to do, sometimes you’re more likely to do it than if it’s your mom and dad,” said Goodall, a Speech junior. “I think (student group leaders) are more likely to come to a student who is an account executive than an administrator.”

Goodall said, however, the unique structure of the funding cycle makes it necessary to have students making the decisions. Having students in complete control of the disciplinary process would be senseless, he said.

“When you have cases like that, it’s probably better to have a system with joint student-administrator input,” he said.

Though SAFB is the only governing power on campus where students have complete control, students do have input in other situations.

The University Hearing and Appeals System has four students on its board. Students go before the board if they cannot work out a resolution in a conciliation hearing.

A system similar to UHAS, but run wholly by students, already exists at Michigan State University. Student-run judicial boards there handle cases in residential halls and Greek affairs, and a campuswide board exists to hear all appeals.

“The university’s code limits certain boards’ power – for example, only one board can suspend – but there is no administrative approval of any boards’ decision,” Richard Shafer, assistant director of student life at Michigan State, wrote in an e-mail. “Any check and balance is done through the appeals process.”

Possible problems

Administrators and students agree that student governing boards would not be able to handle everything.

Desler said there probably always will be a need for administrators to handle serious issues such as sexual assault and repeated offenses.

“Think of it as the minor leagues and major leagues of baseball,” Desler said. “The minor leagues are where a certain level of discipline could be handled by a student. There will always be a need for a higher level judicial system, one that deals with serious discipline matters.”

Students possessing jurisdiction over their neighbors could lead to awkward situations, Medlock said, as it did in PARC when the dorm government had to report fellow students for vandalizing a vending machine.

“People came by and threatened to sue me and were just ridiculous about it,” Medlock said.

Medlock said such a board might work if the judicial board members were allowed to exclude themselves from cases in which they knew the the person being tried.

“It’s a question about whether the student governing body can be mature enough,” Medlock said. “Theoretically, it sounds like a good idea and it would allow for students to be more involved in writing university policy.”

Students and administrators agree that any change that happens will be gradual.

“This is a project that will take many years,” Banis said. “We’re changing the culture.”