Student occupiers allowed second hearing
May 5, 2010 4:35 AM
Due to conflicting statements issued by a University official, SF State has decided to re-open the judicial process for the students who barricaded themselves into the Business building last December. Meanwhile, the students are requesting a joint hearing and asking for receipts in light of charges for damages.
The University charged the students in early April for a broken window, janitorial fees and police lodging. The students argued that they were initially told they would pay less than the $744 billed to them.
On April 23 the University issued a statement on the matter.
"Assistant Dean of Students Will Flowers announced that, contrary to prior statements, he now recalls discussing a minimal damage sanction -'something like $50'- with two students, even though he did not have all of the data regarding damage costs at the time," the statement said.
Although the University recognizes Flowers broke the verbal agreement he had with students, they will not be lowering the fee amount.
"The University is working with the students who were offered the option of a formal hearing. If a student does not pursue that option, his or her current signed agreement stands," said Ellen Griffin, University spokesperson.
Ten of the 11 students involved signed sanction letters agreeing to pay for damages and waiving their right to a formal hearing, however they say they based this decision on the agreement with Flowers.
According to Hunter Bolin, an 18-year-old anthropology freshman and one of the students arrested last year, he was told the fees were still under investigation when he was asked to sign the sanction contract.
Bolin claims that when he refused to sign the contract until the amount of charges were known, Donna Cunningham, coordinator of University student judicial affairs, threatened him with immediate suspension. As of April 28, he has yet to pay his $744 fine.
Cunningham did not respond to requests for an interview.
Jacob Bernhardt, a 19-year-old technical and professional writing sophomore who also faces charges from the University, claims he and the other students involved were intimidated into signing the contracts.
"They made it sound like if I didn't sign, it would be a s*** storm rained down on me," Bernhardt said.
Up until April 23, Flowers had denied making any verbal arrangements with students about estimated damage charges. During multiple confrontations between him and student protesters throughout April, he claimed he had never mentioned specific dollar amounts.
"I apologize to the students and to the administrators who made decisions and statements based on my conflicting statements," Flowers said.
For some of the students involved, the $744 damage charge would leave them without the finances to continue going to school.
The student protesters are leery to enter into the University's judicial appeals process, claiming it feels like another one of the University's "intimidation tactics."
Halston Chapman, the only one of the occupiers from the Dec. 9, 2009 incident not to sign the sanction agreement with the University, said that he feels that the University's approach to selecting the hearing officer is not fair as the officer is supposed to be impartial.
Bolin also questions the roles of Ann Hallum as the hearing officer and dean of graduate studies.
"How can it be a fair hearing when the judge works for Corrigan?" he asked.
According to the University website, eligible hearing officials include "campus officials, attorneys licensed to practice in California, or administrative law judges from the Office of Administrative Hearings."
Additionally, "subordinates of the student conduct administrator, persons with a conflict of interest in the matter, and percipient witnesses to the events giving rise to the case are ineligible to serve as hearing officers."
Chapman also expressed concerns about the measures taken by the University and how they align with disciplinary philosophies stated on the University website.
"It really stresses re-education instead of punishment," Chapman said. "And it was really punitive and really sneaky."
According to approaches stated on the SF State student judicial affairs website, "Discipline must be used as a tool...rather than a threat or punishment, for punishment's sake."
If granted a joint hearing, the students are asking that Chapman, the lone protester who went through a formal hearing where it was recommended he be suspended, would be included with the ten other students involved.
However, according to Griffin, students who have gone through the University's judicial hearing process are unable to appeal decisions rendered.
"Following a hearing, the hearing officer makes a recommendation to the president, who renders a decision and communicates it to the student. The president's decision is final," she said. "There is no appeal."
University officials have yet to decide whether they will grant the group a joint hearing. Bolin said he was offered a new contract to sign by Cunningham, which included an approximate $400 fee and community service.
Bolin did not accept the new contract. He, along with the other students involved, are hoping that a joint hearing will insure they all receive the same treatment and that Chapman is given the option of having a new hearing in light of Flowers' statement.
"If the appeals process is opened up to everyone else it should be open to me," Chapman said. "There was a point when we were all in the same boat, and we made different decisions based on what (Flowers) had said."
It's more than just money, however, motivating the student protesters' actions against the University disciplinary process.
"It's a bigger issue (than just budget cuts). It's about free speech," Bolin said. "They're just trying to stop any form of resistance. They think the more they drag this out, the less people will care."
According to Bernhardt, the California Faculty Association stands in support of the students involved but are limited on what they can do given the no-strike clause in their contract.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also expressed interest on the side of the students in how the University is handling the judicial process. According to the Business building occupiers, the ACLU of Northern California will be sending a letter to SF State officials criticizing the University's actions.
Julia Mass, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California said that they "cannot comment at this time" regarding the organization's next steps.
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