Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jurisdiction and the Territorialization of Student Conduct


Like all regimes of law (or quasi-law), the UC Berkeley Code of Student Conduct corresponds to a particular spatial jurisdiction, within which it is considered to be in effect and therefore applicable [1]. What is the nature, and what are the contours, of this space?

To begin, however, we must take a step back and start with a different question. What is conduct? According to the Code, the university constitutes a “community of scholars” governed by “rules of conduct intended to foster behaviors that are consistent with a civil and educational setting” (1). Although this “civil and educational setting” remains undefined, what is clear is that the Code is aimed at regulating the practices of those who participate within the scope of the university community. This formulation points to an initial, reflexive reading of the term conduct: what is at stake is the way in which one “conducts oneself.” That is, the Code (like the law) presumes to produce self-regulating subjects, or rather, certain kinds of subjectivities that become embodied in everyday practices. Here, a second understanding of conduct as transitive verb, one that suggests directionality or purpose, emerges: to “conduct something” is to advance it along a determined path. The Code of Student Conduct, then, is an apparatus designed to produce (student) subjects that are simultaneously subject to and defined by the privileges and restrictions accorded to that particular subjectivity.

The Code’s target, in other words, is the student body. It is telling that the administrators of the Office of Student Conduct consistently talk about the disciplinary process as “developmental.” As a biological metaphor, development reads the student body as unfinished material, as pre-person, as person-to-be. Thus, the Code’s language of “fostering” the development of the student body must be read as part of a matrix of evolutive images and ideologies that ground the legitimacy of the Code and its Office.

But the student body is not only the target of the Code: it is also the jurisdiction of the Code.

Many of those involved in the protests that erupted in the fall of 2009 have made important efforts to extend the community of struggle beyond the borders of the university, observing that the “crisis” is not only one of the UC system, or even higher education as a sector, but of public education -- and neoliberal capitalism -- in general. It takes work, countless hours and energy, to produce convergences like the one that took place in downtown Oakland (and across California) on March 4. At the same time, the move beyond the geographic borders seems to offer an opportunity to those already facing Student Conduct charges. Not only are important connections made, but, by moving outside the territorial reach of the Code, certain forms of repression can also be avoided.

This reading of the Code, however, represents a failure to recognize the spatiality of the university’s jurisdictional claims. It confuses jurisdiction for territory. For all the university’s investment in the material development of the campus, the billions of dollars of construction bonds sold at the height of the financial “crisis,” the omnipresent booms, cranes, and fences that simultaneously cloak and reveal the administration’s construction fetish, and for all OSC’s attempts to punish students for occupying buildings: all of this is, to some extent, beside the point. The university’s expansive and totalizing desire for control is reflected by the fact that the Code of Student Conduct is exercised not over or within the territory of the university, delineated by clear geographical boundaries, but quite literally on the student body.

The student body. We can read this two ways: omnes et singulatim, “all and each.” On one hand, there is the student body at large, which comes to life in rows and columns that rationalize certain categories and calculations: admissions data, gross tuition, departmental budgets; protests, UCPD deployed, classes canceled. This student body, this population, constitutes one site of university intervention: changes in the proportion of in-state to out-of-state students, in hiring practices, in the increased enforcement of campus regulations. On the other hand, there is the individual student body. This is the student who faces OSC bureaucrats in “informal interviews” and formal hearings; who is required to write “reflective essays” made up of not only self-criticism but also evidence with which to charge and convict others; who is put on “probation,” under surveillance, who is carefully tracked and observed. The body of the student constitutes the site at which “behavior” is corrected and channeled into non-confrontational, productive career paths.


But the Code of Student Conduct cannot be so forthright about such totalizing jurisdictional claims -- people might get uncomfortable. So it is cloaked in a veneer of conventional territory. Section III of the Code deals with jurisdiction. Its first provision deals with on-campus conduct, or more accurately, “student conduct . . . as it relates to University property” (15). Student conduct, in other words, is imagined as a relation to capital.

Perhaps it is telling that this provision is the shortest and least detailed; perhaps it is just the most obvious, the most “common-sense.” It is off-campus conduct that requires more analysis. The university’s approach to off-campus conduct is outlined in three sections:
1) The Geographic “Box”
2) Other Off-Campus Conduct
3) Conduct on Other UC Campuses (15-16)
The first and third points advance a straightforwardly territorial understanding of jurisdiction. What the Code refers to as “The Geographic ‘Box’” is a zone that serves to extend the territorial boundaries of the university beyond the space of the university itself. It serves to “universitize” all economic activity in proximity to the university, transforming them into student activity, student space. This space -- on the south side in particular -- is significant, representing a jurisdictional claim to an area at least twice the size of the campus itself. The claim to jurisdiction over other UC Campuses is similarly territorial. From this perspective, the Code of Student Conduct is applied to a easily determinable disciplinary archipelago distributed throughout the state of California.

But the key is in the second subset. “Other Off-Campus Conduct” is defined as follows:
Student conduct that occurs off University property and not within the area described in Geographic Box (page 15) and Conduct on Other UC Campuses (page 16) is subject to the Code where it a) adversely affects the health, safety, or security of any member of the University community, or the mission of the University, or b) involves academic work or any records, or documents of the University.

In determining whether or not to exercise jurisdiction over such conduct, Student Conduct and Community Standards will consider the seriousness of the alleged offense, the risk of harm involved, whether the victim(s) are members of the campus community and/or whether the off-campus conduct is part of a series of actions that occurred both on and off University property. (15-16)
This formulation of Student Conduct jurisdiction represents a fundamental shift: instead of localizing the possibility of punishment (“education”) within a given space, that possibility is localized in the student body. Omnes: the records and documents that bring into statistical existence of the student body and classify its fundamental nature. Singulatim: the “health, safety, or security” of the body can, under almost any circumstances, be used to impugn that student. Everything from nonviolent civil disobedience to having some beers might have a negative impact on the body of the student participant.

Of course, this kind of micromanaging would be ridiculous, and OSC can choose not to charge students for such violations [2]. It is the decision calculus for whether or not to “exercise jurisdiction” -- another indication that jurisdiction does not constitute a homogeneous bloc, but a set of interested contingencies -- that discloses the university’s intentions. “Seriousness” is usefully flexible, while the “risk of harm” doubles down on the paternalistic protection of the student body laid out above. Most significant, however, is the last clause: “part of a series of actions . . . both on and off University property.” The totality of student life is engulfed by the category of student conduct: the subject is interpellated as student not only in the capacity of one who registers for classes, pays tuition, writes essays and lab reports, and attends office hours. The student remains student in other capacities as well -- this is why it is so hard to imagine the student-worker, despite its prevalence [3]. For the student, the practice of everyday life is permeated with the university’s reproaches and reprimands, its gentle chiding and violent repression.

We are only now beginning to see the way OSC will interpret the “part of a series of actions” clause in order to suppress political action. If the so-called “student movement” must move beyond the geographical and conceptual boundaries of the university if it is to become something more, then OSC will increasingly step in to repress and deter “off-campus” actions related in some way to “on-campus” ones. This is precisely what has happened in the past month. At UC Irvine, for example, five students are now facing conduct charges for allegedly participating in the occupation of the Humanities Building at CSU Fullerton [4]. Just last week, a UC Berkeley student was charged with a conduct violation for being arrested at a party in San Francisco in January [5]. Many students are bracing for charges from other actions -- protest and unrelated -- since the fall. At the same time, outrage is growing within and outside the university as the arbitrary nature of the Code and the astonishing incompetence of the bureaucrats entrusted with its implementation become increasingly evident. The Code’s far-reaching jurisdictional claims to authority over every aspect of the student body should add fuel to that fire.


[1] After a suspicious absence from the OSC website, the Code is once again available at

[2] Still, according to OSC data, 172 students were ordered to complete an “alcohol education” course between 2005-2008. See “Student Conduct Case Statistics, 1998-2008.”

[3] “We work and we borrow in order to work and to borrow. And the jobs we work toward are the jobs we already have. Close to three quarters of students work while in school, many full-time; for most, the level of employment we obtain while students is the same that awaits after graduation.” Communique from an Absent Future.

[5] “UCB student gets warning from the OSC re her arrest at the SFSU occupation benefit party in SF 1/31. What geographic box?”

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