Thursday, November 26, 2020

Blurred line

Proposed riot policy improves interim but leaves questions

The MSU Board of Trustees should carefully examine a proposed riot policy before its final passage.

An interim riot policy was created by the board after the March 27-28, 1999, riot. ASMSU, MSU’s undergraduate student government, and the University Committee on Student Affairs have been involved in revising the policy, which is expected to be approved by the board at its monthly action meeting in December.

A riot is defined by the MSU Student Disorderly Conduct Policy as “five or more persons, acting in concert who engage in violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly cause or create a serious risk of causing public terror or alarm.”

The policy is a step in the right direction. While the original policy allowed MSU to temporarily suspend students before any court hearing, the new policy would prohibit the punishment of students before a verdict has been reached through the campus judiciary system.

This revision prevents a student from being punished by the university before outside law has fully determined what happened and what the consequences should be. A student would not be suspended for rioting, but if he or she was arrested because of rioting, the university might punish the student for the arrest.

This would prevent the university from coming to hasty conclusions about a student’s punishment before all the facts are gathered, and would help prevent students from being unjustly suspended by the university.

But the board should closely examine the portion of the policy that would limit the jurisdiction of punishment. The interim policy says students would be punished for rioting anywhere, but the revised policy restricts the jurisdiction to MSU’s campus, local jurisdictions and other college campuses.

The jurisdiction of riot policy is a difficult line to draw. Many of the students involved in MSU’s riots were not attending the university, and so it is reasonable to discourage MSU students from rioting on other campuses. This would help create positive relations between MSU and other universities.

But it is unclear why a student rioting in East Lansing or at another college campus should be punished by the university while a student rioting in another city would face no repercussions from MSU. The board should make sure the policy does not dole out different punishments for the same actions simply because they occurred in different places.

Still, the new policy is an improvement from the interim policy. The board and ASMSU should be commended for choosing to revise the policy at a time long after riots have occurred. More appropriate and thoughtful decisions can be made when rioting is not as much of an emotionally charged issue.

The new policy will hopefully be a way for the university to deal with future events, if they should occur, in an effective and fair manner. Riots are dangerous and reflect poorly on MSU, and the university should create a policy that will discourage MSU students from participating in them, wherever they occur.

But the Board of Trustees must make sure this policy treats all riots equally, no matter where they occur.

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