Committee on Student Life examines, considers revisions to Code of Conduct

Director of Community Standards Kevin Kraft poses for a portrait in the Campus Center on Feb. 27, 2018. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily

This semester, the Committee on Student Life (CSL) has commenced a comprehensive analysis and review of student life policies within the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA). Committee members are specifically examining the Code of Conduct.

The 18 committee members include student-elected undergraduate and graduate representatives, appointed professors and four ex-officio nonvoting members that provide counsel to the group. Ex-officio nonvoting members include Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Director of Community Standards Kevin Kraft.

According to senior Ania Ruiz, who is the student co-chair of the CSL, the review process is just beginning in earnest.

“The [Dean of] Student Affairs Office has been preparing for this since last semester, but the CSL was recently officially charged with reviewing the policies by Mary Pat [McMahon]. We’ve had one meeting so far and will continue the process throughout the semester,” Ruiz told the Daily in an electronic message.

Kraft explained that at the moment, the committee has a broader charge to examine issues relating to student life at Tufts in addition to holding hearings on student organization misconduct. Kraft elaborated that every year, the group decides to focus on pertinent policy matters, with this year’s item being the comprehensive policy review.

“A policy review is just a healthy thing to do for an organization. Obviously reality changes and policies need to stay up to date with it,” Kraft said.

He went on to explain that the Student Life Review Committee, which was created by University President Tony Monaco in December 2016, had also recommended that the CSL prioritize the review of certain policies as an action item. The committee decided to take a more comprehensive look at how existing policies interact with each other, rather than examining them in isolation.

“In discussions with the CSL members, we decided that instead of taking [the task of examining policies] as piecemeal, let’s sort of look at all these things … because there are interconnections,” Kraft said. “The better way to go is to look at all [of the policies] in one coordinated review.”

Kraft highlighted that over time, policies have been evaluated on an individual basis, but he could not point to an overarching student life policy examination such as this one in recent institutional memory.

“I’ve talked to my colleagues who have worked at Tufts a long time, and they can’t remember a top-to-bottom review of the policies in over 10 years,” Kraft said.

 McMahon echoed Kraft’s estimate of the time frame since the last review.

“We’ve known for a while that we want to have a comprehensive conversation around the Code of Conduct, and student input is vital in that,” McMahon said. “We want to establish a proper sort of exposure point to people in the university … and I am hoping that it will look comprehensively at our community standards and the complexity of our living-learning environment.”

However, she elaborated that for an effective examination to take place, the right mechanisms had to be in place. McMahon emphasized that feedback from students in particular provides a barometer of campus climate.

“When I got here in the spring of 2014, I knew [a comprehensive review] was something that we would do within a short frame of time … but I needed to have the right people in place to take that on, too,” McMahon said. “Coming in and looking at the division of student affairs … we needed to think about building a team to work with faculty, staff and students.”

McMahon and Kraft explained how student input will be part of the process. The university has placed links for members of the community to provide commentary on highly-trafficked pages of the Tufts websites and in newsletters and listservs.

Kraft expressed a mixture of pleasure and surprise at the volume of student responses thus far, although he urged any community member interested in sharing their input to reach out to the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs or members of the CSL.

The CSL has also enlisted help from beyond the Medford campus, according to Ruiz.

“We’ve had the privilege of working with Eulogio Guzmán from the SMFA as well as adding a wider grad student perspective, and together with the members of CSL, we’ve had good engaging discussions about the policies we’ve seen so far,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said that she wants to ensure that the policy review integrates feedback from all corners of the university in order to capture a breadth of voices and viewpoints.

“Tufts is rather expansive, and keeps growing, so being able to participate in these discussions is valuable and productive,” Ruiz said.

Kraft stated that five broad categories are under review: the code of conduct, the student handbook, the academic integrity policies, the housing policies and the student judicial process.

He specified that the committee will not be scrutinizing university-wide sexual misconduct and non-discrimination policies because they fall beyond the scope of the three undergraduate schools that the CSL is charged with reviewing. Still, Kraft explained that the student handbook contains myriad policies on alcohol use, drugs, hazing, theft, assault and violence, and the judicial processes used to address violations in these areas.

“[We want procedures that] make the community safe and make sure the environment we all live in together is appropriate for studying, living and participating in classes and we want people to learn something going through the process,” Kraft said.

Because of the careful consideration that the committee wants to guide its decision-making process, Kraft explained that there is no explicit deadline for completing the review; the general consensus of the group is to strive for quality rather than meet a time crunch. With that in mind, McMahon loosely aims to introduce preliminary recommendations by the fall semester in order to allow the community to respond to the committee’s draft of potential changes.

By collecting feedback to inform suggested changes and then seeking responses to the potential new policies the CSL will recommend, the committee hopes to implement reforms that fall in line with the prevailing currents and common values of the Tufts community.

“There is only so much we individually have been exposed to, so we are attempting to get as much and any input we can,” Ruiz said. “If a member of the Tufts community has an experience they want to share, or has ideas about specific policies, those conversations are valuable and necessary for this review to be successful.”