New code, old problems

Students should question the need for ‘ineffective and paternalistic’ Code of Conduct

Students attend a townhall discussion on the draft Code of Conduct last October.
Image supplied by: Journal File Photo
Students attend a townhall discussion on the draft Code of Conduct last October.

After more than a year of preparation, Queen’s has a new Code of Non-Academic Conduct. The final version drops some of the shoddier clauses of earlier drafts— students are no longer forced to inform on their fellow classmates, for example—but problems remain. As a Queen’s student, it is my opinion these problems raise a fundamental question: Does Queen’s need a new Code of Conduct, or should it instead follow the example of other universities and get rid of an ineffective and paternalistic document?

The background of the code is well-known. Recent years have seen Queen’s and Kingston disturbed by a rowdy, sometimes riotous, unsanctioned party on Aberdeen Street during Homecoming weekend. The negative publicity, public outcry and subsequent community pressure created a perfect storm. With the City of Kingston demanding Queen’s cover the costs of policing for the night (upwards of $200,000 in 2007), the threat to the University’s reputation and finances forced it to react.

To clamp down on unruly behaviour, the new code’s reach extends from your first registration to when you complete your degree. During the summer, for instance, when most undergraduates aren’t registered in classes, students are still subject to the code’s penalties. And the code knows no geographical boundaries, making it potentially applicable in any location the world over. The only criterion Queen’s must meet in order to discipline students is to show that an alleged infraction bears a “real and substantial connection to the University’s legitimate interests and/or members of the University community.” But the test is meaningless in practice. A real and substantial connection, according to comments made by members of the administration, can be as little as wearing a Queen’s t-shirt or hat. Such clothing, the thought goes, would indicate that a student was ‘speaking for’ the University. Going shopping in your Queen’s jacket could now mean you’re the new University representative to A&P. Any move to equate t-shirts and jackets with official representation demonstrates that the ‘real and substantial’ test is hollow. Yet even this meagre test is contradicted by the terms of the code. Preventing someone, anyone, from using or enjoying their private property is now an offence. But where is the connection to the University when a student has a dispute with his or her neighbour about how loud their stereo is?

Ultimately, these problems are manifestations of the code’s underlying paternalism. Having inserted itself into students’ private lives, the administration refuses to recognize that those who act inappropriately or illegally do so not as University representatives but as private individuals. Accordingly, those who break the law should suffer the consequences not as institutional representatives but as individuals. Queen’s students are, after all, still subject to the same laws that apply to all Canadians.

And then there’s the supposed goal of ensuring that students are ‘good citizens.’ Good citizenship, to be sure, is an important goal, but the code does nothing to realize it. Rather, the code separates students from the rest of the Queen’s community, subjecting them to special rules that don’t apply to others. There is no comparable non-academic Code of Conduct for administrators, professors or staff and rightly so because the University has no business investigating their private affairs. Singling out the private lives of students for the sake of the University’s public image or political considerations does not create ‘good citizens.’

Indeed, by subjecting students to such standards, the code opens itself up to abuse. Does political protest or a sit-in prevent someone from ‘enjoying’ University property, as the code indicates? The possibility that legitimate political protest and dissent could be silenced should quiet any celebration of the new code’s arrival.

Going forward, Queen’s should continue to build bridges with the larger community and continue the worthwhile efforts it has already initiated. But it would also do well to follow the recent example set by the University of Ottawa. Only days ago their administration dropped plans to implement a Codeof Non-Academic Conduct. Instead, the U of O is planning to investiage other avenues that foster a respectful academic environment and sustain the bonds of trust between students, citizens and communities.

Mark Rosner is vice-president (external) of the Society of Graduate and Professional Students. See Friday’s Journal for an opposing viewpoint

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