Friday, October 22, 2010

Open Letter to the UC Administration Regarding Student Conduct

Dear Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande et. al,

I am writing to voice my concerns regarding my interactions with the Office of Student Conduct and to inform you of my experience in dealing with the process as a student journalist accused of participating in the November 20 demonstration in Wheeler Hall last fall. I am one of about 40 students who the university charged with student conduct violations in relationship to the demonstration. As I understand it, the Code of Conduct doesn’t include a provision for an “interlocutory appeal,” but my experience last night calls out for intervention by your Office.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, Dr. Robert DiMartino led a pre-hearing conference to discuss my charges under the code of student conduct. The previous month I participated in a previous pre-hearing conference under a different chair, Dr. Georjana Barnes of the Department of Molecular Biology. Dr. Barnes aborted that meeting after the lawyer for the University of California Office of the President said he couldn’t stick around to see the meeting to completion.

In all previous meetings involving student conduct, the university officials permitted Thomas Frampton, a law school student and my advisor in this matter, to speak on my behalf. I had no reason to think the situation would be any different coming into my most recent meeting, but my experience yesterday differed dramatically from my previous experience.

Almost immediately after our meeting began, DiMartino ordered my observer Stephen Rosenbaum to leave. Rosenbaum is on the Berkeley Law School faculty and is also a practicing attorney. After returning from a discussion with Frampton about my charges, DiMartino announced that my advisor would not be allowed to speak on my behalf; not only is this inconsistent with my previous experiences, but it is a clear departure from other pre-hearing conferences on campus.

DiMartino’s position is that because an advisor is not explicitly allowed under the code to speak at pre-hearing conferences, there is an implicit prohibition on his doing so, which is the same reason he cited for ejecting Rosenbaum. DeMartino further suggested that I should be aware of this prohibition, despite the fact that his conclusion is based on a nuanced interpretation of the code that runs counter to my own past experience and that of others.

After explaining that I was not fully-prepared to argue all of the issues we planned to bring up at the pre-hearing, DiMartino countered with the option to file a written brief addressing two issues he deemed pertinent to the pre-hearing: Whether the hearing should be open, and what witnesses I planned to call in my defense, a provision which is itself not explicitly allowed under the code. After explaining that I wasn’t prepared to answer whether such a proposal would be acceptable, I asked for a recess and a new pre-hearing date.

DiMartino refused to reschedule the pre-hearing and said that any objection I had to proceeding this way could only be taken up after the panel has delivered its decision in the charges I’m facing. Have I therefore exhausted all of my administrative remedies available to me at this time?

I realize that it is important for the panel chair to retain some discretion over the student conduct process, but it is imperative that the code is clear on exactly what is within his or her discretion. Student conduct is heralded as an educational process, but I’m really fumbling over what I’m supposed to learn from this experience, and I know other students facing conduct charges feel the same way.

A few years ago, a federal judge sent me to jail for refusing to turn over my unpublished materials of a political demonstration I filmed in San Francisco. During the seven months I spent at a federal detention center fighting for the rights of a free press, many described my situation as Kafkaesque. It saddens me to realize that my experience at UC Berkeley has been a far more appropriate use of the term.

Given the clear deficiencies in the code of student conduct, which the university has acknowledged by calling for a task force to address these problems, I ask that you suspend this process for myself and others until there is policy in place that serves an educational function of the world-class caliber this institution offers in academics.

I would be happy to meet with anyone to address my concerns over the code of conduct, and I know that other students facing charges and members of the Campus Rights Project, an advocacy group comprised of law school students who are providing pro-bono representation to students facing conduct charges, would also be willing to make themselves available to discuss this issue as well.

Thank you for your consideration,

Josh Wolf

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
2011 Master’s candidate in documentary
Tel: 415.794.2401

Robert Birgeneau

Jonathan Poullard
Dean of Students

Susan Trageser
Director of Student Conduct

Laura Bennett
Student Conduct Officer

Nanette Asimov
San Francisco Chronicle

Gerry Shih
The Bay Citizen

Rebecca Bowe
San Francisco Bay Guardian

Frances Dinkelspiel

Laura Dobler
Student Press Law Center

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