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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Arrested UConn protesters face conduct violation cases. Faculty move to get all charges dropped

    After UConn’s University Senate called on University President Radenka Maric to “refrain from pursuing any disciplinary actions or retaliatory measures against” student protesters, those arrested face new action from the school.

    An office tasked with investigating violations of the University of Connecticut Student Code has requested individual meetings with students arrested at a pro-Palestinian encampment last month to discuss their conduct.

    The action came days after the University Senate, a governing body primarily composed of UConn faculty, passed a multipronged resolution that sought to protect the peaceful protesters and their supporters.

    The first part of the resolution, which passed last week in a 43-16 vote with three abstentions, also urged Maric to write a letter encouraging the State’s Attorney to “drop all criminal charges against the students” who were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct when police forces shut down a peaceful pro-Palestinian encampment on the Storrs campus on April 30.

    The second half of the resolution, which passed in a 42-22 vote, forms an ad hoc committee to investigate “the terms and mechanisms by which the police were authorized to arrest students at the encampment, the processes by which police are deployed into university spaces (including meetings of the University Senate) and at what cost.” It also tasks the committee with identifying “a potential process for gaining greater transparency around the University’s and the UConn Foundation’s investments in the interest of faculty governance and feasibility of divestment.”

    After celebrating the resolution, students charged in connection to the protests said that within three days, they began receiving notifications from the University that they had been referred to UConn’s Office of Community Standards — the university department that investigates alleged student conduct violations.

    In a statement to the Courant on Tuesday evening, university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said UConn “reached out last week to the actively enrolled students among those who had been arrested, and invited them to participate in informal, voluntary discussions with Community Standards personnel regarding their conduct, relevant university policy, and resources available to them.”

    In a message posted on social media Tuesday, UConn Divest, the student-led coalition that organized the encampment, criticized the referrals as an act of “retaliation” in response to the Senate resolution.

    “The UConn administration has issued code of conduct violation cases against all arrested students in an effort to further intimidate and silence them,” UConn Divest said. “The disregard of the administration for the democratic will of its students, (faculty), and their respective governments is shameful and unprecedented in the university’s history.”

    Reitz said the Community Standards referrals were “unrelated to the University Senate or its actions at its recent meeting” and maintained that “the discussions do not constitute a sanction.”

    “UConn respects the right of the Senate as a whole and its individual members to express themselves in whatever way they wish on any matters in which they are interested,” Reitz said.

    Student arrests by the UConn Police Department “result in referrals to Community Standards if the alleged behavior may potentially be prohibited under the Student Code of Conduct,” Reitz said.

    “Based on precedents, arrests (and subsequent referrals) similar to those that occurred on April 30 have not typically resulted in sanctions, probation, expulsion, or dismissal,” Reitz said.

    Citing federal privacy laws that protect student records, Reitz said she could not disclose the number of students who received referrals nor reveal any alleged violations.

    According to one referral letter shared by UConn Divest, Assistant Director of Community Standards Shea Middleton said that on the morning of April 30 UCPD “gave the directive for all participating in the encampment to vacate the premises or face arrest,” and that the recipient of the letter “did not follow the directive to vacate” and was “therefore … placed under arrest.”

    In the letter, Middleton said Community Standards had “​​concerns about the behaviors reported during the incident” and wanted to discuss “relevant policies” and offer the student support as they “navigate a difficult situation.”

    Middleton did not elaborate on the applicable student “policies related to the incident,” referenced in the letter.

    Under the Student Code, conduct violations include “uncooperative behavior,” which can involve a “failure to comply with the directions of … University officials or law enforcement officers acting in the performance of their duties.”

    Other offenses include a student’s “unauthorized presence in University-owned buildings or property” and any “violation of federal, state or local law.”

    As criminal cases against the student protesters pend in the court system, UConn Professor Sandy Grande said Community Standards should not issue any sanctions against those who were arrested for participating in the encampment.

    “If this was the first action and they weren’t also arrested for it, this would be different,” Grande said. “Now it just seems like dual punishment.”

    Grande, a university senator who led the effort to pass last week’s resolution, said members of UConn’s faculty continue to question the factors that triggered the criminalization of student protesters.

    In a rationale for the arrests, university officials, including the president, said that “the encampment was not registered and did not follow the University’s policies and processes.” The officials said protesters specifically violated a ban on tents and amplified sound.

    Grande argued that if university policy was at issue, the first course of action should have come from Community Standards, not the police.

    Grande said the Senate resolution is intended to protect the arrested students from further discipline, explore the feasibility of a transparent investment model, and offer greater insight into the police’s role at the encampment and the costs associated with their presence.

    If conducted ethically, Grande said the conduct meetings with Community Standards can provide an opportunity for fact-finding and offer student protesters a space to voice their concerns to members of the UConn administration for the first time.

    In response to the referrals, Aaron Romano, a lawyer representing 25 of the arrested protesters, said he was “pleased.”

    “We are pleased that the university is taking a measured approach and creating an open dialogue with those who are arrested. We look forward to participating in this dialogue with the university to move forward toward a resolution that is mutually acceptable.”

    Whether the discussions will evolve into student conduct investigations is unclear.

    In the referral letter shared by UConn Divest, the recipient had until May 30 to schedule a meeting with Community Standards. If the student did not respond, Community Standards would “assume that (the student does) not wish to participate or engage with the office … (and would) provide follow-up communication via email.”

    While Reitz emphasized that similar incidents and arrests “have not typically resulted in sanctions,” she declined to clarify whether Community Standards plans to investigate the students for their conduct citing federal privacy law.

    According to the Student Code, the director of Community Standards determines if a referral “alleges or addresses a potential violation of The Student Code” and decides whether “to continue a matter through the conduct process.

    The process begins with an “administrative conference” in which a student meets with a university student conduct officer to “review a complaint/incident, explain the Student Conduct process, review options to participate and ways for resolving the matter.”

    The conduct officer is charged with conducting a “fair and impartial investigation” and must apply “a preponderance of the evidence standard, (to) determine if any violations of The Student Code occurred.”

    Based on the officer’s findings and recommendations, “the case may be resolved by way of administrative agreement or an administrative hearing.” The university may impose sanctions on “any student found to have violated The Student Code.”

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