NIU’s new Student Code of Conduct is long overdue

By Editorial Board

If you were caught violating NIU’s drug policy for the second time, you’d have to complete substance abuse treatment under the revamp of NIU’s sanctions for violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

In this substance abuse treatment, the first step of recovery might be admitting you have a problem.

The revamp of the Code of Conduct sanctions NIU unveiled is the university admitting it has a problem, and to the administrators who worked to put it in place, well done.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery.

NIU has long suffered a reputation as a violent and unsafe school.

It is easy to dismiss this reputation as based only on high-profile, freak instances of tragedy like the Feb. 14, 2008 shootings and the alleged murder of student Antinette “Toni” Keller last year.

But this reputation holds weight regardless of those occurrences. Greek Row is notorious for its crime; a 300-person crowd with several fights was broken up by DeKalb Police there last week. NIU has a night transportation service more expansive than any other state university in Illinois; it drives students mere blocks when they’re afraid to walk on campus at night.

How did NIU let it get this far? It’s about time a new approach to student misconduct was taken.

The new standardized sanctions put a minimum, required punishment on conduct violations. The punishments are based on the type of offense, like alcohol or physical abuse, and whether it is a first, second or third-time offense. These sanctions are harsher, as they should be.

The only problem with the new sanctions was, and continues to be, their accessibility.

The changes went into effect Aug. 16. Residence hall move-in day was Aug. 18. CAs told their residents about the new sanctions during first floor meetings, but those meetings weren’t held until Aug. 21. For many new students, this is their first time in a college environment and out of sight of watchful parental eyes. A pre-start-of-school weekend without homework or obligation is a weekend when students test boundaries and make mistakes.

What if these students didn’t know about the new, harsher punishments before they put their lips to a bottle of beer or got into a street brawl in a crowd on Ridge Drive?

NIU’s campaign to alert students to the changes has been, for the most part, proactive and wide in scope.

Brian Hemphill, vice president for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, said NIU has spoken to UNIV instructors, taken out ads in the Northern Star, talked to athletics coaches, made personal contact with students on probation, and put up messages on the Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct website.

Hemphill said no students found violating the code during the first weekend before classes said they were unaware of the new sanctions. But the campaign could have been better; more could have been done earlier.

A letter should have been sent home before students arrived on campus. Finding out about changes to a university policy, especially one that could get you expelled from campus, is important. Having residence hall floor meetings about changes three days after move-in day and taking out ads in the Northern Star four days after move-in day is unfair. Students should have been informed sooner.

Also, the insert in Thursday’s campus editions of the Northern Star of the updated Code of Conduct reads and looks like a technical manual for a stereo. The students have been lead to water, but who would drink information presented that way?

If NIU wants to get information to students – information that is more important to them than anyone else on campus – it shouldn’t be presented in a unfriendly, inaccessible format.

Also inaccessible was the actual Student Code of Conduct, at least for the first week of classes. The link to the code on the home page of the Office of Community Standards & Student Conduct website was broken.

If students are going to be punished, they need to know what they’re being punished for. Having an unavailable Code of Conduct during the first week of changes to punishments for violations of that code is unacceptable.

NIU has admitted it has a student conduct problem by changing the way it punishes poor student conduct, but the next step is solving the problem.

DeKalb Police could not find any of those engaged in fights in the 300-person crowd on Greek Row last week.

A good first step for NIU would be to do everything in its power to hold those accountable for those fights under the new sanctions. The punishment for first-time physical abuse cases is suspension from campus for one academic semester and off-campus counseling.

300-person skirmishes on Greek row are exactly the type of student conduct NIU needs to curb in order to salvage the school’s reputation, and more importantly, the safety of its students. Let’s hope enforcement of the new sanctions can do that.