EDITORIAL: Student judicial process impeded by new rules
Given its namesake, one would assume Brandeis University would conduct as many programs as possible with the highest levels of equity and justice. The case of student judicial hearings conducted by the University Board on Student Conduct (UBSC) should be very sensitive to this notion.Previously, students appearing before the UBSC were permitted to have advisers to ensure trials, often revolving around infractions of academic and residential codes, were conducted in a fair and judicious manner. Often, defendants and plaintiffs alike used advisers from the Office of Judicial and Academic Advocacy (OJAA), a group of students committed to offering counsel to students on trial.
Advisers could question witnesses and give statements before the board with the instruction of their clients. This feature of student trials was not only uncommon among colleges; it was a strong example of social justice, an ideal this university holds so dear to its cosmetic appearance.
Sean McGuirk, the UBSC administrator, suggests advisers were a time-consuming nuisance in the past. But revisions in the "Rights and Responsibilities" handbook have altered the parameters of legal counsel before the board. Now, students may only retain "passive advisers" that can neither vocally advocate nor question witnesses. By restricting advisers to only passing notes or whispering in ears, the University has weakened students' judicial rights and made the OJAA a legally impotent organization.
There shouldn't be a fear of Mr. McGuirk and a vengeful UBSC handing down draconian sentences left and right, but prohibiting students from retaining active counsel sends the wrong message. For a student confident enough to defend himself, this is not a particularly fearsome situation, but for the rest of us, it could be.
Justin Gelfand '05 and Josh Sugarman '05 founded the OJAA not to impede the judicial process, but to secure fairness and impartiality in UBSC proceedings. Mr. Sugarman spent much time pouring over charges to help his fellow students in order to give them a fair shake during trial, but can only do that now through a short whisper or scribbled note.
The UBSC is an important body, and students must be held accountable for their infractions of University regulations, but not without a fair hearing. And if that process includes active counsel from another student, the University should be cooperative. Now, our system of student judicial action mirrors those of other schools. Though Brandeis once had a more unique system, it appears that vanity has prevailed over justice.