Rioting is bad. It is immature, irresponsible, illogical and uncivilized. It reflects poorly on the state, city and university. Riots hit community members much more tangibly, destroying property, creating havoc and injuring individuals, just as they did here in Fort Collins August 21 and 22.
However, zero tolerance is very rarely the proper policy tool to deal with any situation. And it is not right in this case.
The ideas behind zero-tolerance policies originate from the Gun-Free Schools Act, which requires that educators expel any student for a period not less than one year if they bring a weapon to school, according to Ronnie Casella of Central Connecticut State University in her article “Zero Tolerance Policy in Schools: Rationale, Consequences, and Alternatives,” published in the Teacher’s College Record. While the federal government can’t force schools to expel students, they can withhold federal funding if they don’t.
CSU, unlike public grade schools, has not adopted a zero-tolerance policy on rioting to receive federal money. It is Colorado lawmakers who passed the Riot Bill Act in 2002. The law requires the suspension from all state universities for at least one year of any student found guilty of rioting.
“The law is very broad,” said Linda Kuk, vice president of Student Affairs. “By standards, anyone who is present and refuses to move is considered participating (in a riot).”
Kuk also said that CSU could seek consequences for students who were identified as participating by the definition of the law, independent of whether or not they are charged in criminal courts.
“Ironically, one negative impact springs from what would appear to be, at first glance, a positive quality of the (zero-tolerance) policy: that while holding students accountable for their actions, zero tolerance is meant to be applied in a consistent and uniformed manner,” Casella said in her article. “Although uniformity may help school administrators to pass on consistent expectations to school personnel and students, and to avoid favoritism, bias, and racism in discipline policy, uniformity can also undermine the provision in the Gun-Free Schools Act that states that each incident may be examined on a case-by-case basis.”
Broad, sweeping punishment for any student remotely involved in the rioting will certainly work as a scare tactic to deter future incidents. It also has the potential to ruin the academic careers of a number of students.
If the five students arrested are found guilty, they should serve jail time.
As for the 18 students cited for noise violations, their punishment “depends on what their involvement was,” Kuk said.
But bystanders who could be watching, or concerned about an intoxicated friend, or worried about their car parked nearby may not be willing to walk away. The law and the university need to take into consideration the involvement of students on a case-by-case basis before passing such severe judgment. Zero-tolerance laws don’t promote justice, but instead serve as a severe punishment for a broadly-defined crime.