Balancing duty & privilege

Code a “contractual relationship” promoting integrity, responsiblility

Harry Smith
Harry Smith

Queen’s University encourages within its students an understanding of, and commitment to, good citizenship. The purpose of the student Code of Conduct is to acknowledge the academic and social responsibilities associated with student membership at Queen’s University. According to the Queen’s Encyclopedia, this kind of document dates back to 1850 when the Senate enacted a code of 18 rules for students. But there are reasons more compelling than tradition alone for a student Code of Conduct.

The process of applying for admission, competing for finite spaces and accepting an offer to attend all contribute to a sense of group identification that continues beyond the years of study. Accepting an offer of admission to Queen’s is based on each applicant’s individual assessment of what this University has to offer in many different areas of personal interest. However, put simply, the procedure of offer and acceptance creates a contractual relationship between the institution and the student. Acceptance of the offer is optional and voluntary. As with most contracts, terms and conditions apply. These are set out in University publications such as admission documents, residence material, faculty calendars, and the student Code of Conduct. Academic and social privileges are conditional upon fulfillment of the responsibilities that come with membership. By way of this contractual relationship, jurisdiction to address academic and non-academic behaviour is established. The jurisdiction created is between the institution and the individual. It is not confined to University property because the University’s interests are not confined by territorial boundaries. Nonetheless, it is necessary that there be a real and substantial connection between the University’s legitimate interests and a student’s actions. Far from a meaningless test, the University must persuade a tribunal that there is a connection between the action and the forum that would hear the complaint in order to establish jurisdiction. Only after jurisdiction is established can the case against the individual proceed.

But there are other reasons to adopt a student Code of Conduct. In varying degrees, a sense of community is present within any organization or institution. The community is a reflection of the institution that brings everyone together. Outstanding academic and non-academic student achievement is publicized and viewed generally as indicative of the calibre of students attending Queen’s.

Conversely, misconduct by individual members within the community reflects poorly not only on the individual involved but also upon the interests of this University and those who study here. Principal Williams spoke to this point in his address to the Class of 2012 at the Annual Welcoming Ceremony at Summerhill last week. Misconduct by a small number of Queen’s students “can tarnish the degree for which you came here,” he said. This stake in the degree each student sets out to earn while at Queen’s creates a vested interest on the part of the student body to promote, in the non-academic context, a sense of integrity and responsibility among students.

Professional disciplines provide an obvious example of self-regulating discipline systems, but pro sports receive greater media coverage. The NFL has a personal conduct policy that refers to players being held to “a higher standard” in relation to off-field behaviour. The league’s policy states that “persons who fail to live up to this standard are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime.” Similarly, the student Code of Conduct states that “students may be subject to consequences for misconduct both under the University’s discipline system and under criminal law concurrently.” The former addresses the misconduct on behalf of the University and its members; the latter addresses criminal misconduct on behalf of society generally. Sanctions may be deemed appropriate in one forum but not the other. In both instances, any sanction imposed is intended to act as a specific deterrent to the offender and a general deterrent to the broader community reinforcing the fact that the conduct in question is not acceptable. The non-academic discipline system is one method of addressing misconduct by members of the student community. Another method is to develop pride in the institution among its members, leaving the enforcement of rules to address misconduct as a last resort. Students at Queen’s can properly be described as a clearly distinguishable community of interests. The student Code of Conduct approved by the Senate articulates the expectations of this community, the responsibilities its members assume when choosing to attend Queen’s and the rights to which students are entitled when complaints are received.

Harry Smith is the coordinator, dispute resolution mechanisms and secretary for the senate committee on non-academic discipline. The student code of conduct can be viewed online at queensu.ca.

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