Sunday, May 11, 2003

UC can discipline rowdies

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

While the finger-pointing continues over who's responsible for a block party that spiraled out of control last Sunday, University of Cincinnati students who broke the law may have more to worry about than a court conviction.

Cincinnati City Council and residents who live on Stratford Avenue, where Cinco de Mayo revelers overturned cars and set cardboard afire in the street, lambasted the university for not coming down harder on off-campus parties that turn rowdy. But the university can and has disciplined students who break the law off campus.

Cincinnati Police have arrested or cited 11 people so far in connection with the May 4 Cinco de Mayo party on Stratford Avenue in Clifton Heights. They are:
• A 17-year-old Ross High School junior from Hamilton, underage alcohol possession.
• Zach Hoock, 20, no address available, underage alcohol consumption.
• Christine Miller, 21, Okeana, Ohio, having an open container of alcohol in a public place.
• James Bamgardner, 18, Hamilton, underage alcohol consumption.
• Brandon Wagner, 19, Hamilton, underage alcohol consumption.
• Christopher Hill, 21, no address available, obstructing official business and disorderly conduct.
• Tristan Everson, 21, Westwood, disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia and obstructing official business.
• James Kennedy, 21, Cincinnati, disorderly conduct. He has been identified as a University of Cincinnati student.
• Abdel R. Abla, 23, Oakley, disorderly conduct.
• Anthony Hartlaub, 21, Anderson Township, disorderly conduct.
• Justyn King, 19, Hamilton, aggravated rioting, a fourth-degree felony. He has been identified as a UC student.
A little-known university regulation allows UC - at the direction of President Joseph Steger - to suspend, expel or mandate counseling for students who commit serious crimes off campus.

Two of the 11 people cited or arrested in connection with the party have been identified as UC students. Steger insists the university won't play the parental role, seeking to punish minor infractions. But that doesn't mean students convicted of serious crimes won't face additional consequences.

He called the actions of a few "an outrage" and their behavior "obnoxious."

"We have to go by the collection of evidence by the police," Steger said. "We're going to do it in a civilized, thoughtful manner. The university rule is very clear. It doesn't say geography. It says behavior. If they prosecute (students) and they are, in fact, found guilty, we will get rid of them."

In the wake of rioting after high-profile sporting events, other large public institutions, including Ohio State University, have implemented changes in their student codes of conduct. Those changes have, for the first time, allowed schools to punish students for serious misconduct off campus.

At UC, a provision to discipline students for serious off-campus offenses has been on the books for decades. It's just not part of the student code of conduct, which only governs activities on campus or university-sanctioned activities off campus.

Federal law prohibits school officials from releasing information about student disciplinary records so details about specific times the regulation has been invoked aren't available. But UC officials say it is used, albeit rarely, to remove or suspend students convicted in high profile, off-campus incidents or those who show patterns of violence or repeatedly damage property that impact the university community.

Andrew McGibbon, a 19-year-old freshman from Winnemucca, Nev., was at last week's street party. He didn't realize the university could punish students for off-campus behavior and doesn't believe it should.

"What we do with our own time not spent at the university should be our own choice,'' he said. "They definitely should let the students know whatever their policy is. None of my friends had any clue the university had authority outside of school."

At least one administrator wants to look at adding the language to UC's student code to underscore the university's intolerance for out-of-hand behavior.

"For education sake alone, it would be helpful," said Mitchel Livingston, vice president for student affairs.

He convened an ad hoc committee after last year's Cinco de Mayo incident in which people smashed car windows, set couches on fire and partied in the street. That committee, comprised of UC professors, university and city police officers and others, has been reviewing ideas for education and prevention, as well as changes in the student code.

At present, a student's discipline for an off-campus infraction is at the behest of the president. If off-campus offenses were made part of the code of conduct, students would have the right to a hearing and an appeal.

Colleges and universities have historically been reluctant to assert responsibility beyond campus boundaries, citing issues of liability and manpower.

"Generally, the ones that have not asserted their jurisdiction are now asserting it," said Edward Stoner, a Pittsburgh lawyer and specialist on student codes of conduct.

That's because large universities make a big footprint in communities and receive a lot of press when students go wild.

The language in UC's regulations is similar to revisions made to OSU's student code in 2001. Those revisions, the first since 1994, extended OSU's jurisdiction to a broader range of off-campus activities including:

• Those that cause substantial destruction of property belonging to the university or members of the university community, or that cause serious harm to the health or safety of members of the university community.

• Those in which a police report has been filed, a summons or indictment has been issued, or an arrest has occurred for a crime of violence.

"Historically, the student code of conduct did not include university jurisdiction off campus unless students were involved with university-sanctioned events," said OSU spokeswoman Shannon Wingard. "Eventually, circumstances led university leaders - both faculty and students - to take a larger view of the university community and to take more of an active role where students are involved."

In February, school officials announced that one student had been expelled and six others suspended from two to five quarters after they were either arrested or cited by Columbus police in connection with incidents following the OSU-Michigan football game in November 2002.


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