In late October, mischief that began with a few U of C students throwing water balloons at football players quickly escalated into two bloody fights.
One football player was seriously injured and taken to the hospital. He later filed a police report and registered a complaint with the disciplinary committee.
Following an investigation of the incident, the College suspended the three students who threw water balloons for four quarters. The decision was upheld on review.
Several months later, on February 8, the sister of one of the suspended students sent a letter criticizing the disciplinary process to President Robert Zimmer and Dean of the College John Boyer. The sister, an alumna of the Graduate School of Business, forwarded her letter to the Maroon on February 1.
In the letter, she takes issue with the disciplinary committee—calling its inquiry “shrouded in a complete lack of transparency”—and also finds fault with the review committee for confirming the decision.
“The whole process, an extremely serious one with long-term consequences, seems to have not adhered to its own standards or the reputation of the University of Chicago for measured, informed thought,” wrote the alumna, who requested anonymity to protect the identity of her brother.
“Witness statements were provided only 24 hours before the disciplinary committee meeting, procedural guidelines were not made available, and the accused were not allowed to be present at the testimony, despite explicit student handbook direction on that matter.
“All of this left the entire process shrouded in a complete lack of transparency, and, more basically, created the environment in which the contextual details, the full truth of the situation were not even explored because of a predetermination of the facts,” she wrote.
Dean of Students Susan Art and Deputy Dean of Students Martina Munsters discussed the process, which is explained in the College Disciplinary Procedure manual.
Munsters said the process is intended to have both a “punitive” and an “educational” role.
There are two different disciplinary committees: one for incidents that involve student housing and another for events related solely to the College-at-large.
In dorm-related incidents, the housing office reviews the case and either dismisses it or punishes the student by removing them from their dorm or the housing system. The student may request a review within 15 days of the decision.
Incidents that do not involve the housing office are dealt with by a standing committee comprising three faculty members and one student. The committee interviews the student in question and can impose sanctions such as mandated community service.
The student can request a review by the dean of students, along with a faculty member and a student who were not part of the previous proceedings. The review board, which typically does not re-interview the disciplined student, makes a final decision. It can require the College disciplinary committee to reconvene and consider new information.
Students involved in previous cases mostly found fault in the review process.
In a housing case that occurred in February, a first-year student who wished to remain anonymous was forced to move from the Shoreland to Max Palevsky after he allegedly violated a request from his resident head not to speak to another student.
After the other student complained, the penalized student was called before the disciplinary committee on February 14. Recalling his experience, the student said he was disappointed by the review process, which is made up of three students and two resident heads.
Another student who also wished to remain anonymous similarly complained about the review process. After an incident that occurred last year, the student was ordered to move from Hitchcock to Max Palevsky, and a second student was kicked out of the housing system altogether.
“The review process felt cosmetic,” the first student said. “Everything they make you do is framed as for your own good.
“My general feeling is that the review process will never change the result,” the student said.
Art said the review process is not meant to operate as “an appeal,” similar to what might occur in the legal system. Cases are only reviewed for two reasons: if new information comes to light or if the disciplinary procedure is not followed correctly.
“The review is not a rehearing of the case,” she said. “The review is looking at one of these areas very specifically to decide if in fact there has been a case of one or the other.”