The AMS must safeguard student-run institutions

A call for strong leadership in support of Non-Academic Discipline

Leaving the onus on students to speak up for themselves in a one-on-one environment leaves them vulnerable to intimidation.
Leaving the onus on students to speak up for themselves in a one-on-one environment leaves them vulnerable to intimidation.

Changes to the structure of the Non-Academic Discipline (NAD) system at Queens are compromising the quality of the system itself and revealing insufficient leadership in the AMS.

Until recently, cases of alleged student non-academic misconduct were handled by the AMS, Athletics and Recreation, Residences or the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS). Non-academic misconduct is any violation of the Student Code of Conduct, and ranges from not providing your student ID to Campus Security to participating in hazing.

Last month, the University released the Lewis Report, an audit of the NAD system at Queen’s and its potential liabilities. The report provides a much-needed critical look at where the current system stands and proposes several recommendations that would serve to make the system better and more stable.

Now, an advisory committee will review the system. In the meantime, the Board of Trustees — one of one of the University’s three governing bodies — have passed an interim policy until the review is complete.

The AMS and Board of Trustees’ responses to the Lewis Report raises two issues that should be of concern to students.

Firstly, the interim protocol threatens to undermine the authority and integrity of the NAD system. Secondly, and more troubling, is the lack of leadership on the part of the AMS to protect an integral student institution. They must balance the need for transformational change with the responsibility to safeguard the foundational principles of traditions that rightly define the Queens community.

The interim protocol gives a new Central Intake Office the authority to redirect non-serious violations to the Provost’s Office — which traditionally only dealt with the most serious of violations, e.g. an assault, or someone bringing a weapon on campus. This essentially circumvents the normal purview of the AMS and SGPS NAD systems over such cases. Such a change would see the student-run systems starved of cases, rendering the NAD system irrelevant.

The implications of such a change are potentially significant. For example, when meeting with a respondent — the person who’s been accused — the Provost’s objective will be to reach an informal agreement on sanctions whenever they deem there’s sufficient evidence of a violation. Under the interim protocol, respondents are potentially vulnerable to being intimidated and coerced into agreements that may be excessively punitive and disproportionate to the violation they committed.

Any informal sanctions agreed upon by the respondent aren’t subject to a review panel. This directlycontrasts the AMS and SGPS NAD system, and the fundamental principles of natural justice, where a student jury would assess all sanctions to ensure sufficient evidence and the fairness of restorative sanctions.

The role of the AMS is to protect and fight for student interests. Yet to date the current AMS has offered no substantive criticism of the interim protocol. No more does it appear to have taken steps to protect the NAD system as a long-standing, student-run system to the same extent as previous executives. In addition, there’s been no discussion of this issue at the first two AMS Assembly meetings of this year.

The AMS executive have stated that the NAD system “cannot, and ought not, stand on the legs of tradition alone”. They are right. Tradition itself isn’t enough. The system must change, and many of the changes must be drastic. However, transformational change requires a strong engaged leadership; it requires a clear understanding of what must change and what must be protected.

In this case, protecting the NAD system as a student-run process isn’t only in the interest of students, it’s also representative of a fundamental pillar that defines the very spirit of the Queens identity: a strong, committed and engaged student community.

Students have successfully run the NAD system since 1898. As a student-run institution, it has identified Queens as unique in all of North America. The Queens tradition of student-run institutions has contributed to a long and positive history in shaping the course of the university; their value to the community as a whole is worth safeguarding.

One needs only to refer to Queens history to find numerous examples of this, whether it was funding Grant Hall and the Queen’s Centre, to organizing and running events such as Orientation Week and Science Formal. It would be a great disservice to allow the NAD student-run system to slip away. The AMS can’t afford to be complacent on this issue. Strong leadership and meaningful dialogue with both the University and the student community is called for — a dialogue that makes explicit an AMS position that transformational change can’t be at the expense of student-run systems.

To this, I end on an observation that I have heard from friends, faculty and alumni when describing the ethos of Queens: when you trust young people with responsibility over themselves and their community, you will find that they rise to the occasion. Students throughout Queen’s history rose to the occasion with NAD, and we must ensure we protect this opportunity.

William Simonds is a Queens alumnus and was Judicial Affairs Director 2014-15 as well as Judicial Committee Vice-Chair 2013-14.

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