A recently obtained access-to-information request reveals a question and answer by The Independent’s Justin Brake with Memorial University on proposed changes to the Student Code of Conduct. Manager of Communications David Sorensen sent the responses on November 2nd, 2022. See the Q & A below:
1. A) There’s a new section in the draft code that explicitly states, “All persons involved in any process related to this Code are required to maintain confidentiality,” and that “A breach of confidentiality by persons involved in any process related to this Policy may to subject to discipline or other appropriate action.”
Some might say this represents a “gag order” or creates a mechanism by which a student being unfairly targeted for their political views, form of protest (or some other thing) can be silenced in the process of being investigated and sanctioned.
Response: This section is based on feedback from past participants involved in the code process who have requested the process be confidential to protect their privacy. It also helps ensure students can feel comfortable coming forward with concerns and participating in the process – which can be a very difficult thing to do – without fear of publication. This does not prevent a person from sharing they are involved in the Code process but prevents sharing of information that may negatively impact others involved.
1. B) If these regulations are adopted, how will MUNL assure students that it won’t target students, or at least that students won’t find themselves in a situation where they feel they are being targeted by the university and with no way to speak out for fear of punishment?
Response: The next line in the policy states: Nothing in this section shall be construed so as to prevent a Complainant or Respondent from seeking advice or guidance.
2. The draft regulations also now state that “The university may take steps under this policy as a Complainant,” which some might say gives the university unchecked power to silence dissent and suppress student protest, since the university could in theory act as police, judge and jury if it were to launch a complaint against a student.
If this amendment is adopted, how will MUNL assure students that their protest or political activity won’t be met with retaliation?
Response: The university has a duty to provide a safe environment – there may a situation where students or others are unwilling to come forward out of fear – this will allow the University to step in and sure the situation is appropriately investigated and acted upon.
3. A proposed new section called “FRIVOLOUS OR VEXATIOUS COMPLAINTS” states that “If a review or investigation determines that a Complaint is Frivolous or Vexatious, disciplinary action may be taken against the Complainant.”
What if a complaint launched by the university (or Chief Risk Officer, for example) is believed by the subject of a complaint to be frivolous or vexatious? Will the Code offer a student recourse in such a case so that the student doesn’t have to hire a lawyer?
Response: Part of the process allows judicial review of the decision – a student is welcome to hire a lawyer if they feel the process was unfair. Also, there is a very high standard to prove a complaint is frivolous or vexatious.
4. Finally, many of the proposed amendments to the Code directly correspond to specific concerns or criticisms raised by various individuals re: the Matthew Barter case. Can you tell me who specifically drafted the proposed amendment and whether they were in fact a result of MUNL’s experience with the Barter investigation?
Response: Over the course of the past two years there has been an active review of the current Student Code of Conduct policy. This process involved significant research, consultation, and deliberation with a host of stakeholders, encompassing the initial phase of a policy review as per the University Policy Framework. It also included a comprehensive jurisdictional scan of existing Codes of Conduct, across the country consisting of numerous post-secondary institutions similar to that of Memorial University. Information and feedback received has been included in the draft policy where appropriate. The revisions also bring this policy and procedure in line with similar policies and procedures that involve investigations, so that there can be consistency throughout the university.