Last month, four student-athletes were suspended from the women’s basketball team after placing an explosive device outside the apartment of a teammate. They have been charged by the state with reckless endangerment.
As a result, these young women now face the possibility of CSU sanctions for misconduct, and the question has arisen in general whether both CSU and civil authorities should punish criminal actions by students off campus.
Colorado Statute 23-31-114 mandates that CSU faculty pass regulations necessary to the preservation of “morals, decorum and health.” Accordingly, CSU promulgates a Student Conduct Code, which among other things spells out jurisdiction over off-campus conduct and lists prohibited conduct.
Upon a written report of alleged student misconduct received by Student Conduct Services a disciplinary hearing can be convened to ascertain facts surrounding the alleged violation of the Code, and a range of sanctions may be imposed if misconduct is found to have occurred.
Many think disciplinary action constitutes double jeopardy when the student is already placed in jeopardy by the civil authorities. In fact a student conduct hearing is not a criminal procedure where the student is put in jeopardy of life or limb, so there is no jeopardy. It is similar to the fact that a civil suit for wrongful death can proceed separately from a criminal trial for the same death.
However, being a State institution, CSU must comply with due process requirements. This requirement is met by holding a hearing where a student can deny the misconduct and rebut evidence.
In its January 16 editorial relating to the four student-athletes, the Collegian excused the event as simply an ill conceived prank, the youthful mistake of adolescents that harmed no property or person. But pranks do go wrong, as one did at Seton Hall, where three students died from smoke inhalation in their dorm after two “pranksters” set fire to a banner that became a conflagration. The fact pranks don’t always go wrong does not mean that they should be ignored.
The problem with ignoring bad behavior is that it tends to escalate. Unfortunately, society’s role in improving the behavior of the youth has been eroded. Schools and universities cannot use corporal punishment, and religious authority is attacked. Parents, coaches, teachers and other authority figures simply overlook the problem. As a result of society’s declining responsibility for promoting good behavior and correcting bad behavior, the state is left with the problem when it has escalated to criminal behavior.
Odds are the first time misbehavior is properly addressed is when it is caught by the police, at which point the consequences are more serious, and the possibility of correcting the problem less likely to succeed. This is unfortunate.
Since CSU’s obligations regarding discipline are to preserve the morals, decorum, and health of students, CSU must always use its own discretion in matters of discipline, since these obligations are not all shared by the criminal justice system.
University education is not a right; rather, it is a privilege that carries obligations. No one wishes to see an unethical or possibly criminal youth attain a set of knowledge they might use to predate the public.
CSU has no control over the outcome of criminal or civil procedures, but it does control its own institutional rules. Because the burden of proving a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal trials is a high one, charges may be dropped in many cases, a plea agreement reached, or an acquittal rendered. This should not prevent CSU from disciplining students under its less stringent standard requiring a “preponderance of the evidence” to prove misconduct.
James Easton is a civil engineering second bachelor’s candidate His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.