A Message to the Westminster Community
November 5th, 2012
Westminster College community members,
You have undoubtedly heard one or another version of events surrounding the ASWC and its leadership. Since actions relating to specific individuals in these events have resulted from disciplinary proceedings, the college will not comment on the causes of those actions as those are part of the student's private and protected educational record. Some of the student parties involved in these proceedings have decided to make partial information about them publicly available. They may choose to do so and that is their prerogative.
There appears to be confusion about a few aspects of the ASWC change in leadership. There were two discrete disciplinary actions that were considered, and the simultaneous timing of those actions made them seem related. First, there is a disciplinary decision of a duly appointed hearing board regarding the actions of a student that were deemed to violate the Student Code of Conduct. The conduct code applies to all students regardless of their co-curricular activities, be they athletes, student representatives, club members or co-curricular participants. It exists primarily to protect students as individuals and as members of the student body. It is intended to assure that our learning environment remains conducive to serious academic pursuits free from unnecessary or distractive pressures. It also protects the institution and, more specifically, the value of the college's degree by maintaining a standard of expected behavior that is respectful of others and that represents the qualities our graduates present to their prospective employers. The code is an embodiment of our commitment to student health, safety and personal development. Violations of the conduct code are addressed by the Dean of Students or referred to a hearing board. The hearing board, composed of faculty, staff and a student representative are selected by the Dean and subject to approval by the student accused of violations. Possible sanctions may include expulsion, suspension, or probation, including restricting participation in student government or other student activities.
Second, there was an ASWC student senate vote on impeachment of their president, a vote taken prior to the sanctions imposed by the judicial hearing board. The ASWC Constitution allows for such a vote so that student representatives may determine if one of their officers violated their own constitution. The ASWC Senate vote against impeachment was a determination of their president's eligibility to remain in office according to the particulars of their own founding document and based on the information they had available to them.
The ASWC Senate has no role in the hearing or determination of disciplinary charges against a student or in the allocation of disciplinary sanctions against an individual under the Student Code of Conduct. Neither can an ASWC Senate vote exempt any student from responsibility to observe the Student Code of Conduct or shield any student from the consequences of its violation. In this case, a disciplinary sanction rendered the ASWC Senate vote moot, because the ASWC president was given a specific sanction restricting his holding elected student office as is allowed in the conduct code.
No student representation has been curtailed or restricted. No student voices have been silenced. The ASWC remains as it was before any of these actions or votes. It has a properly elected and fully eligible president, Ben Wilkinson. The Senate continues to meet. ASWC continues to conduct its operations. Student representation has been and will continue to be respected by the college and by my administration.
Presently, students are raising additional issues around student representation. I and my administration welcome any and all discussion of improvements to campus life as defined by our students and their representatives. Since arriving on campus in mid-June, I have had several meetings with the former ASWC president, and I look forward to continuing to meet with the current ASWC president. I have also held open forums where all students are welcome to attend, ask questions, and propose ideas. The next forum is scheduled for December 6. There is also student representation on the Board of Trustee committees where the real work of the board is done, and the ASWC president addresses the trustees at each of their regular meetings. There are ample opportunities for students with ideas and proposals for improvements to communicate them and to find a respectful audience in my administration.
Much of the conduct code is based on behaviors grounded in respect. It is disheartening that some participants in these events have chosen the anonymity of phony email addresses to distribute personal attacks with no evidence and that call into question the good name and reputation of college officials simply for performing their appointed duties. We should expect that all our community members will model the civility and respect so lacking in the world that surrounds us. That is the least we owe to each other.
President, Westminster College