Kresge Town Hall hummed last Friday as members of the campus community weighed in on two touchy subjects. The judicial proceedings under way regarding the Kerr Hall occupation, and the proposal to make narrative evaluations optional were both at issue at the latest Academic Senate Meeting.
Faculty gathered outside the Town Hall prior to the meeting on April 23 to hold a brief press conference establishing their objection to the sanctions issued by the Judicial Affairs Office at UCSC to 35 students.
Thirty-five students are being held accountable for the estimated $35,000 in damage Kerr Hall incurred during the 66 hour occupation of the building in November 2009 — each student was given a restitution of $944.
A number of faculty members spoke at the press conference about their dissatisfaction with the current judicial process and the students’ penalties.
Speakers included history professor Gail Hershatter, Professor of Social Sciences and Political Thought Robert Meister, and second-year history of consciousness graduate student Mark Paschal. Paschal received a restitution charge.
“[The case against the students] would never meet minimum standards of evidence in the court of law,” Hershatter said.
She said that faculty hoped to have the charges dropped and for the administration to examine the current process for possible reform.
The faculty’s contention is in the judicial proceedings. Only seven of the 35 students qualified for a judicial hearing and the remaining 28 students must appeal to the Appellate Officer — Director of Student Judicial Affairs, Felicia McGinty — a process outlined in the Student Policies and Regulations Handbook. Faculty claim this policy is a violation of the student’s constitutional right to due process.
Many faculty members doubt whether the evidence presented against many of the 35 students was sufficient to the students responsible for the damage.
“Faculty object that students were not provided with evidence confirming their responsibility for damages and were instead each fined the same amount — to cover the total for damages and cleanup — regardless of their role in the events … Students who requested a hearing were also initially denied one because their student status wasn’t threatened,” the press release said.
Professor Meister spoke of “vicarious liability” — a legal principal that provides that an individual can be held liable for the actions of another and how this legal principle is being employed in the case of the Kerr Hall proceedings. Meister said employing vicarious liability, as was done during the Kerr Hall trials, is unconstitutional.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it blocks vicarious liability,” Meister said at the press conference. “The entire point is to distinguish between a political demonstration and a frat party.”
In their press release, faculty described their expectations for the question and answer period with Chancellor George Blumenthal and Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger during the Academic Senate meeting.
“[Faculty] expect to press the Chancellor and Executive Vice Chancellor with tough questions on the issue,” said the press release.
And that is exactly what the faculty did. For nearly the entire question and answer period, various faculty members pleaded with Blumenthal to drop the charges, reevaluate the current judiciary procedures, and examine whether or not due process is in fact being afforded to the students.
Barbara Epstein, a history of consciousness professor, addressed Blumenthal, contending the validity of evidence provided in the judicial proceedings.
“Who participated in which activity and where the evidence lies is something to be considered,” she said. “The problem isn’t hidden evidence; it’s a lack of evidence.”
“There is a responsibility when you participate,” Blumenthal responded.
He went on to say that those students who participated in the occupation need to “take responsibility for their actions in partaking in the occupation.”
While Blumenthal did not agree to the faculty’s request to drop the charges, he did express that he was open to reevaluating the current Student Code of Conduct (SCC).
“It is a legitimate question to be raised, to modify [the current SCC],” Blumenthal said in response to an inquiry about changing the current code of conduct. “It is fair to be open to possibilities of change.”
Separately, in a landslide vote by show of hands, 45 faculty members voted to make narrative evaluations optional, with five opposed. Prior to the vote, faculty, students and alumni debated whether to make narrative evaluations optional.
The state of narrative evaluations has been in discussion within the Academic Senate since the beginning of 2009-10 school year.
Those in support of making the evaluations optional cited the large class sizes, saying the time spent writing an evaluation for every student have made evaluations less personal and bland.
Those in opposition to the measure argued that making evaluations optional was the first step in getting rid of a tradition UC Santa Cruz has had since its inception.
Among those who spoke were Alumni Association President Amy Everitt and Porter College Representative Taylor Stephens, a first-year.
Stephens described how she was awarded money for school because of a narrative evaluation and became teary-eyed at the end of her address to the Academic Senate, making a case for keeping the narrative evaluations mandatory.
Everitt spoke of the Narrative Evaluation System’s unique place at UC Santa Cruz and how making them optional is in fact calling for the inevitable death of the Narrative Evaluation System.
“Narrative evaluations set UCSC apart from other universities,” Everitt said during her address to the Academic Senate. “Reform is necessary, elimination is not.”
Brent Haddad, a professor in the environmental studies department, had a different take on the change.
“This will revitalize our narrative evaluations that so many of us don’t take seriously,” Haddad said. “This will put meaning back into what we write.”