Student conduct is state issue

By Allison Peryea The Seattle Times (KRT)

While student leaders and administrators at the University of Washington are sometimes at odds, they can agree on one thing: Student conduct codes should not extend beyond campus boundaries.

Lobbyists for both the Husky student body and the institution are fighting a bill that would require public colleges and universities to adopt rules penalizing “disruptive” off-campus behavior.

Randy Hodgins, the university’s director of state relations, thinks the bill’s language is too broad and vague, which could “assign to us almost limitless responsibility for certain types of conduct.”

Under HB 2807, illegal actions by students that could “harm the reputation of the institution” or damage the relationship between the school and the surrounding community could result in counseling, probation, suspension or expulsion.

Advocates of the bill say the Sept. 28 disturbance on the University District’s Greek Row – involving hundreds of people – is only the most recent event in an ongoing parade of noise and violence in the area.

“We have dealt with anything and everything you could imagine – brawls, property damage and theft, weapons display, illegal dumping, drug activity,” said Kent Wills, vice president of the University Park Community Club.

Wills said he has repeatedly taken his complaints to the UW’s Board of Regents but has always been denied.

Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who introduced the bill, said, “This has been a problem for years, and the university has been unwilling to do anything.”

Murray’s bill is supported by the Seattle Police Department and the city of Seattle.

“To attend the UW or other state universities is a privilege that demands a higher level of behavior,” said Seattle police Assistant Chief Jim Pugel.

The measure cleared the House 91-3 last week and was scheduled for a hearing Monday at 1:30 p.m. before the Senate Education Committee.

Student representatives say the bill’s guidelines are unclear and leave students uninformed about school expectations for off-campus behavior or the consequences of that behavior.

“How are we going to know if we are in a place that is ‘proximate’ to the campus when there are no definite boundaries?” asked Nate Caminos, a lobbyist for the Associated Students of the University of Washington.

Some believe the legislation would violate students’ civil rights.

“Once a student leaves campus, the school should have no jurisdiction,” said Doug Honig, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. “If a law is broken, the police can take action.”

Ernest Morris, UW vice president of student affairs, says the bill is unnecessary. The creation of “incident-prevention teams” – pairs of UW police officers that patrol the area north of campus – has cut down on noise and alcohol-related problems, he said.

Morris noted that none of the seven people charged in last fall’s commotion, when a car was overturned and a mattress set ablaze, attend the university.

An extension of the conduct code “would not have prevented the incident,” said Tara Hendershott, president of the UW Panhellenic Association.

Currently, Washington State University applies its conduct code to off-campus behavior that could be “detrimental to the university mission.” Student conduct codes at Central Washington University and the UW do not apply beyond campus boundaries.