An answer to non-academic discipline

Bringing law students back to the system would ensure students better access

The constitution’s spirit is to ensure student involvement.
The constitution’s spirit is to ensure student involvement.
Photo: 
Ahmed Kayssi
Ahmed Kayssi

a r g u e n d o

Last May, seven faculty deans from Queen’s brought a motion to the Senate that would effectively end student-administered non-academic discipline at Queen’s—a 120-year-old tradition that is the only one of its kind in the country. The motive for the motion was to supposedly ensure that students breaking the rules were adequately punished—something the deans were apparently concerned with that the AMS wasn’t doing—and to safeguard the University’s reputation.

The motion came at a time when most students had left for the summer and the new AMS council members, who oversee non-academic discipline, were barely familiar with their new positions. This evidently outraged many students, including myself.

An understanding was reached at the last minute during the Senate meeting and the motion was tabled until December. There’s no denying that the non-academic discipline system at Queen’s has many challenges.

As with all student-run initiatives, its quality varies according to the competence of the persons doing the job in any particular year. It’s also coming under a lot of pressure in our increasingly litigious society, and the inclination of some idiots—Queen’s students and others—to want “to see shit get fucked up” during Homecoming, to quote a McGill student featured in the Journal this past Monday. Moreover, students have effectively ceased to run non-academic discipline in residence, where the administration has replaced the old student-run system with a more “accountable” one. In other words—one that students no longer control.

The people at the Commission of Internal Affairs, the AMS authority in charge of non-academic discipline, have worked hard to implement many positive changes to their operation and ensure greater accountability and transparency, but I think more can be done.

For starters, I think that Queen’s law students should be recruited to help administer the system.

In 1998, law students left the AMS to merge with the Society of Graduate Students to form the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS). Prior to that, they played an active part in non-academic discipline at Queen’s.

Bringing law students back into non-academic discipline would once and for all satisfy the deans and ensure that Queen’s students have access to better non-academic discipline.

Law students are more educated in the tenants of justice and its administration than their undergraduate counterparts. They are older and often bring experiences from other universities they attended prior to studying at Queen’s. Furthermore, they are also better placed to interpret the increasingly complicated laws dealing with university campuses.

Moreover, all Queen’s students would benefit from a system that is more consistent and reliable. While most undergraduate members of the non-academic discipline team have done a phenomenal job, having the experience of a law student within their ranks would definitely add a valuable perspective whenever a complicated case arises. One example of this is how to handle last year’s Aberdeen situation.

Finally, law students themselves would benefit. Helping administer such a unique system of non-academic justice might offer valuable experience that would set our law students apart from their colleagues at other universities, especially when the time comes for articling applications.

I can imagine that many people might raise objections. AMS leaders might contend, as their policies state, that only AMS members can be part of the non-academic discipline system and that when law students were elected to leave the AMS in 1998, they forfeited their right to take part in undergraduate non-academic discipline.

This is a weak argument since the spirit of the AMS constitution is to ensure that only students are involved in non-academic discipline. If a particular student did not pay AMS fees, why should that preclude him or her from serving the greater good of the student community? One might also argue that involving law students would make the system too adversarial and move away from the restorative nature of the current system.

I don’t agree.

Law students are better placed than anyone else to appreciate the intricacies of different justice systems, including ours. If anything, law students might ensure that the present system becomes even less adversarial and more in line with the principles of natural justice.

By reaching out to law students for assistance, the AMS could prove that it is mindful of all Queen’s students and unafraid to re-examine its practices to safeguard one of our oldest student traditions. Most of all, incorporating law students into the AMS would be doing a great service to the student body and the future of non-academic discipline at Queen’s.

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Ahmed Kayssi is a second-year medical student who has spent his entire academic career at Queen’s. His column appears twice monthly.

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