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By Susan Carroll
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 12, 1998

Kent policy change won't affect UA

A change in policy that will open many judicial hearings at Kent State University raised eyebrows on the UA campus, but administrators say it will spark no change in the UA's courtroom procedures.

"Technically, under the Code of Conduct, disciplinary hearings are closed," University of Arizona Associate Dean Alexis Hernández said yesterday. "If a student were to say they wanted an open hearing, I would consider it."

For the past 20 years, Kent State's policy barred the public from attending on-campus hearings unless the defendant wanted the courtroom open. Kent State's Board of Trustees flip-flopped the policy Feb. 3, requiring students to request that trials be closed to the public.

"Other universities are not impressed with what we're doing," said Erin Latina, Kent State's assistant judicial affairs coordinator.

"There is a big perception out there that universities are sweeping things under the rug - we have nothing to hide," she added.

The UA's Code of Conduct states that student hearings are closed "to preserve the confidential nature of the disciplinary process, and to protect the privacy of the student who is charged with the violation and the witnesses who may be called to testify."

Closed-court proceedings cause an aura of secrecy, said Jack Scott, a temporary program officer at Kent State.

Although UA courtrooms cannot be opened in disciplinary cases like assault and drug possession, students can request open hearings for academic integrity issues.

"No (UA) student ever has asked for an open hearing," Hernández said.

Many educators assert that if courtrooms were open to the public, students would waive their rights under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA prohibits schools from releasing education records containing students' names without consent.

"This was something that began locally," Scott said.

Ohio's Supreme Court ruled July 9 that records of student disciplinary proceedings are not protected under FERPA. Kent State is located in Ohio.

Last month, the Department of Education filed suit against two other Ohio universities, saying releasing records containing student names without consent violates FERPA.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court last month, seeks to prevent the universities from releasing student disciplinary records.

Latina said Kent State's new policy does not conflict with FERPA because it gives students the option to close their hearings.

Hernández said universities have different judicial systems.

He said UA Assistant Dean Veda Hunn handles 400 to 600 student misconduct cases a year.

If a student is suspended or expelled from the university, he may appeal to the UA's Hearing Board. Two faculty members, two students and one non-faculty employee sit on the board.

Hernández said one disciplinary and 10 academic cases have gone to the hearing board in the last four years.

Academic disputes, he said, are usually handled within individual departments but can also be appealed to the board level.

Kent State hears almost 700 disciplinary and academic cases a year, the majority of which are residence hall infractions, academic issues and thefts, Latina said. She said the campus' judicial system, however, hears "only a handful of serious charges" a year, including assaults and controlled substance issues.

"It's hard to argue with opening student hearings to the public because trials are open to the public at the court level," said Thomas Mauet, a UA law professor. "Any university that takes that approach is acting consistently with trial courts."

But Mauet said media coverage at hearings may make witnesses more reluctant to come forward.

"Students should be able to decide if they want their hearings open to the public," said Jayne Tomasz, a UA psychology freshman. "I think privacy has more weight than the public's right to know."

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