New policy would make it easier for UMD to punish students

The University of Maryland Senate recently voted to lower the standard of evidence in student misconduct hearings while simultaneously limiting students' access to attorneys.

Supporters argue that the change will "level the playing field" by preventing wealthy students from employing "hot-shot attorneys," but opponents worry that it is a major blow to due process.

UMD President Wallace Loh must approve the policy before it can take effect, but has not yet indicated whether he will sign it.

The University of Maryland Senate has voted to lower the standard of evidence in student misconduct hearings to a “preponderance of the evidence” while limiting the role of attorneys.

The UMD Senate, a body of consisting of both students and faculty, voted on December 7 to revise the Code of Student Conduct, lowering the standard of evidence in student misconduct hearings from “clear and convincing” to “a preponderance of the evidence.” According to The Diamondback, the measure passed by a vote of 72-17, with six abstentions.

The Senate also made changes regarding the extent to which a hired attorney can represent a client in the conduct hearings; under the new rules, the attorney can advise the student during the process, but cannot advocate or speak on their behalf during conduct hearings.

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According to the Senate proposal, the change aligns attorneys’ role under the Code of Student Conduct with the role they may play under the Code of Academic Integrity and the Sexual Misconduct Policy, adding that the Senate Student Conduct Committee (SCC) has been working on these changes since September 2016, when it was asked to conduct a complete review and revision of the Code of Student Conduct.

Edward Priola, a UMD faculty Senator who voted against the measure, told Campus Reform that he has deep reservations about the changes, which he called “a systematic dismantling, from my observation, of due process and the civil rights of students.”

Priola says that the SCC sees attorneys as “scary to the students who are sitting on the board of discipline,” and does not want the students who are participating in those disciplinary hearings to be intimidated.

While attorneys may have their roles limited, Priola noted that there will also be “trained student advocates” that can speak on behalf of the accused student.

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The director of shared governance for the Student Government Association, Kiely Duffy, spoke in support of the new change, complaining that some students might otherwise be able to use “hot-shot lawyers” to gain an advantage unavailable to students of lesser means.

“This is a really good thing for the campus,” she told The Diamondback. "It really helps level the playing field for everyone…when people get to use really hot-shot lawyers, inherently, it's unfair.”

The change in the Code of Student Conduct must be signed by UMD President Wallace Loh before taking effect, but the university declined to comment to Campus Reform on whether he would sign the legislation.

Disclaimer: Edward Priola has previously been a lecturer with the Leadership Institute.

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