University drafts new Community Standards Protocol

Friday, November 19, 2010


Written by Oriana Tahireh Marsh

At the beginning of each term students receive part of, if not all, of the university's academic misconduct policy as part of their course syllabi.  The non-academic misconduct policy is not as well known, but it is still important to know about if you are a member of the university community.

The Student Rights and Responsibilities Guide is the main document about non-academic misconduct.  It details basic things such as not smoking pot in your residence room, not pulling fire alarms without a fire, not entering closed buildings and informs students that they can be fined or charged for breaking the rules.

Students living off campus are still subject to the Rights and Responsibilities Guide as well as a new policy the University has recently drafted relating to off campus offenses.

Available in a CSA board package from October 2010, the draft of the “Community Standards Protocol” features a flow chart for “Issue Identification and Response”.  For the process to be set in motion a community member contacts Off-Campus Living or the University with a problem.  The severity and frequency of the event will determine what steps are taken.  Actions taken can range from a letter of review being sent to the student house in question, to a drop in from OCL or the Guelph Police Service, to the student participating in a voluntary mediation session with the persons affected, to the student undergoing a Judicial Hearing.

Judicial Officer Philip Zachariah says the policy is about about progressive discipline, and mediation rather than punishment. "We don't want to do undue harm to students...we're in the business of education, not punishment."

“If students think we are babying them, then they can choose to deal with it off campus” he says, but hopes that the university can deal with issues internally rather than students getting a criminal record.

“The vast majority of students see policy as fair.  By the time they get to me, they know that they've done something wrong.”

Originally, the off-campus policy was designed so the university could apply discipline to students travelling abroad from the University of Guelph.  Zachariah says no students have ever been charged for offenses committed off campus.

Zachariah also notes that the city-student relationship is different this year. “The University is getting slammed with negative publicity.  We all know it's a very small percent of people who are creating disturbances, but everyone gets painted with the same brush and the rest of students are getting tarred and feathered.  Most people are respectful of bylaws, and their community.  The city is running out of patience for those students who aren't.”

Inspector Garry Male of the Guelph Police Neighbourhood Services Division works closely with different neighbourhood groups and Off-Campus Living.  He says that “while the policy is an internal initiative by the University and the Guelph Police have not been involved in the development of that policy...it is my understanding that the actual 'punishment' or judicial aspect of the policy is a very small aspect and would likely be utilized on fairly rare occasions.”

He sees the focus of the policy as “to create awareness through education”, to prevent students from having to undergoing judicial hearings, and to strengthen neighbourhood-student relations.

“I think that the policy will also create a more structured response to some of the problems and concerns the overall community have been bringing forward for quite some time.  Having a set protocol (teamwork approach) in place will go a long way in the effort to deal with issues early and reduce the harm within certain communities when problems do come up.  It will also assist in establishing consistent approaches to the issues that come up repeatedly.”

Brad Williams of Off-Campus Living says that on average, they receive 150-200 complaints per year related to student behaviour off campus.  “These come in a wide variety and typically include parking, garbage, parties, noise, inappropriate language, public urination, property standards and vandalism.  The majority of the calls are very minor and a simple visit with the students clears it up once and for all, but a small handful need a more sustained, on-going approach due to lack of response on the students part.”

This year, Williams has noticed an increase in calls. He attributes this to “the proactive education we have done over the course of the last few months,” which includes the The Right Foot Forward Community Welcome initiative.

Over 2000 'Welcome Bags' were distributed to student houses near campus this year.  The Bags included information on off-campus living and were intended “to help minimize barriers and increase student's success in the neighbourhoods.”  Williams says that OCL “received an immense amount of positive feedback from students about the welcome bags and their content, as well as from non-student community members and participants of the program.”  

However, “at the time of Right Foot Forward, the Community Standards Protocol had not been officially approved by the Student Rights Rules and Responsibilities Committee, therefore we were not able to include any information regarding it in the welcome bags.”

External Affairs Commissioner for the CSA, Densie Martins, is concerned about the lack of communication between policy makers and students.  In the CSA board package dated October 13, 2010, she writes: “I don't see the University as having a role in a student's personal life, and I haven't been put at ease through the various talks the exec has had.”

“We pay this institution to provide us with a very essential service: education. Throughout our time here, we learn many things, and while negative behaviour should not go by unpunished it is not the role of the university to do this punishment when the behaviour clearly does not fall within their jurisdiction.”

Brittany Brassard, the Human Rights and Advocacy Coordinator of the Student Help and Advocacy Centre (SHAC) is also concerned about the lack of communication between university and students.  

She says she can't predict how many cases SHAC will deal with this year involving the off-campus offenses policy, but if an issue does reach the point of a Judicial Hearing, they are there to help.  "SHAC has knowledgeable staff and plenty of resources to help you build a defence if needed, as well as a lawyer who offers free office hours."

“We get students coming to us and freaking out because they don't know they have these resources," Brassard says.  She wants to students to know that "they don't have to be in a shitty situation.”

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