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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Editorial: Rights should stick to the Constitution, not the fridge

Published: October 31, 2008
Section: Opinions

As part of an effort to inform Brandeis students of their rights on campus, the Student Union’s Office of Student Rights and Advocacy (OSRA) designed Know Your Rights magnets to distribute to the student body. The original version of the magnet intended to list items from the Rights and Responsibilities handbook concerning the student conduct process at Brandeis. One item on the draft of the magnet read, “You have the right to see all evidence that will be used against you at a date prior to your hearing,” illuminating the right to pre-trial discovery, guaranteed in the United States by the right of due process.

As Director of Student Development and Conduct Erika Lamarre pointed out, however, the text on the card was misleading. In reality, Item 19.11 of Rights and Responsibilities says that “the accused student and the accuser shall have the right to view and question all evidence presented to the [University Board of Student Conduct] during the hearing.”

The contrast between these two texts sheds light on a matter that needs to be addressed in the student conduct system at Brandeis. It is jarring to realize that the rights the administration gives students do not align with the basic right to due process historically upheld in the American judicial system.

Many courses at Brandeis emphasize the importance of maintaining due process, historically and today. It is contradictory that the very institution that espouses these ideals in the classroom does not guarantee its students these rights on campus.

Students should be entitled to a fair trial, which means having adequate time to review the evidence against them and prepare a response. This is an issue that the Student Bill of Rights attempted to reconcile. In the section addressing Right to Due Process and Procedural Fairness, the Bill states, “Students have the right to written notification of all charges against them, the name of the accuser, and the right to view any evidence or information that will be used during a hearing before the hearing.”

While OSRA needed to change the text of the magnet in order to provide accurate information consistent with Rights and Responsibilities, this reflects a larger concern. The more pressing issue that this incident raises is not the lack of knowledge students have of their rights but rather the lack of rights students have within the Brandeis community. Perhaps, instead of changing the text on the magnet to match Rights and Responsibilities, we need to change Rights and Responsibilities to match the text on the magnet.