UMass details discipline of misbehaving students
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Amherst Town Manager John Musante says there is community-wide interest in how the University of Massachusetts handles students who cause trouble off campus and he praised administrators for sharing summaries of how they are dealing with those problems. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — More than eight in 10 students who violate the code of conduct at the University of Massachusetts for their behavior off campus are being punished by the university, but no one has yet been expelled this academic year.
A discipline report that runs from Sept. 1 through March 27, released by UMass officials Tuesday, shows that 519 students were involved in 348 incidents off campus.
For the most serious cases, such as violence against others, the university suspended 10 students, with another 53 students being placed on deferred suspension.
“We are sanctioning misbehaving students consistently, including suspensions, and moving students more quickly to deferred suspensions, which means they are on notice that one more violation results in immediate departure from the university,” Dean of Students Enku Gelaye said in a statement. “The message is clear: Bad behavior has serious consequences.”
Though Amherst police responded to several incidents in the fall in which bottles and cans were thrown at responding officers by partygoers and similar disruptions occurred March 9 during the pre-spring break riot at Townehouse Apartments, no UMass students have been expelled in connection with those incidents.
UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said UMass officials use the “same code and same standard” when handing out suspensions and other punishments, whether occurring on campus or off campus.
“There are 63 cases pending and these are often the most difficult and challenging cases,” Blaguszewski said.
Suspensions, typically meaning a year removed from campus, can be a major life-changing event for students and their families, he said.
Blaguszewski said the discipline process doesn’t operate on set quotas to be effective. “We don’t go into a year saying we have a goal to expel or suspend a certain number of students.”
Town Manager John Musante said there is community-wide interest in how the university handles students who cause trouble off campus and he praised the administrators for continuing to share summaries of what they are doing to deal with these problems.
“We are supportive of the university’s ongoing efforts to address it through the dean of students. We think very, very highly of her and her staff,” Musante said.
Of the 456 students involved in cases completed to date, 375 received sanctions. Most students disciplined were first-time offenders, though 152, or 29 percent, did have a previous serious incident on their records.
Most of the cases were processed in less than a month.
Gelaye and her staff administer the code and meet weekly with Amherst police to get reports of arrests, summonses to court and citations, such as violations of the noise and nuisance house bylaws. The dean’s office then reviews the evidence in each case, needing certain standards of proof before making a decision on how to act, Blaguszewski said.
Because of this, events such as the March 9 melee can be challenging to handle because the evidence may be insufficient to justify discipline, Blaguszewski said.
Students have the right to appeal and can request from the dean a written rationale for any conduct decision she makes.
The discipline report comes as the university continues to work with the town on policing off-campus activity. This weekend UMass will launch joint patrols Friday and Saturday nights, with four UMass officers joining Amherst officers focusing on Fearing and Phillips streets, as well as apartments in North Amherst.
UMass is paying to staff two additional ambulances, ensuring that five will be on duty during times when overly intoxicated college-age people add demand.
In an attempt to minimize late-night neighborhood disruptions, the Campus and Community Coalition will have its first “Walk this Way” event Friday to guide pedestrians enroute to campus away from Fearing Street and through UMass parking lots where the Baby Berk food truck will be parked. The Sober Shuttle, an initiative sponsored by the Student Government Association, continues to provide transportation back to campus from the town center late at night.
On Thursday, UMass and town officials are expected to meet with local landlords and property managers who will coordinate steps to help manage student behavior.
Musante said he sees only positives from all this.
“I’m convinced the university is committed to working toward solutions,” he said.