What Is Going On at Claremont McKenna?

Claremont McKenna College, scene of the disgraceful disruption of Heather Mac Donald last month, says it is going to discipline students involved in the incident. At least they say they are. Here is the complete memo circulated to the faculty by CMC vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty Peter Uvin. I apologize about the length, but it is necessary to present the thing as an example of academic management today, and because it raises the question—are they really going to do something serious, or is this an extended exercise in letting the students get away with it?

From: Peter Uvin

Date: May 4, 2017

Re: Motions re. timing of degree and eligibility to participate in commencement for students, subject to Conduct Investigation and Review process at the time of graduation

As we set out to grant degrees, I inform you that there are among this group of students a number who are currently, pursuant to Section 4 of the Conduct Process, the subject of a Conduct Investigation and Review process related to the blockade and other disruptions at the Athenaeum and the Kravis building on April 6, 2017. The potential sanctions under this process include suspension or expulsion. In addition, the time periods provided for in the Conduct Investigation and Review process mean that these cases may not be resolved until after the upcoming Commencement Ceremony on May 13, 2017.

Historically, when faced with comparable circumstances, the College has typically implemented an expedited conduct review process so that the matter can be resolved prior to Commencement. (See, e.g., Section 2 of the Student Conduct Process on Special Considerations at the End of the Semester and During College Breaks). However, in the interests of overall fairness and consistency with respect to all Respondents, it is not appropriate to implement an expedited review process in any of these cases. And hence, as said, the process may well take until after Commencement.

As a result, the College is presented with what is in fact a unique circumstance that is not expressly addressed in any of our relevant policies and procedures and has not occurred before. As the chief academic officer of the College, I have therefore assumed the responsibility for developing a recommendation to the faculty, the President, and the Board of Trustees with respect to the effect of the pending Student Conduct Process on both the effective date of these students’ degrees and the timing of their eligibility to participate in Commencement.

In developing this recommendation, I have sought, to the extent possible, to maintain consistency and parallelism with other relevant College policies and procedures, and to balance these students’ interests in a fair process with the College’s interest in maintaining the integrity of its Student Conduct Process and more generally the College’s fundamental principles.

I have considered the College’s Statement of Academic Policy and Student Conduct Process. In reviewing these documents, it is clear that the College generally makes a distinction between academic standing and academic misconduct on the one hand and disciplinary standing and non- academic misconduct on the other.

However, it is also clear that both documents contemplate that the Student Conduct Process may have an impact on a student’s academic standing or progress toward a degree. In particular, Section VII of the Statement of Academic Policy provides in relevant part that:

Academic Standing and Disciplinary Matters

Students who are not in good academic or disciplinary standing with the College at the time they leave the College may be subject to specific requirements or conditions to return to CMC in the future. Students will be notified of these conditions in writing as part of the departure process.

Students who withdraw or request a leave of absence while academic, disciplinary, or conduct matters are pending remain subject to those disciplinary processes, as though they were still enrolled. Any such matters will proceed to disposition at the sole discretion of the College, and any sanctions imposed will be effective on the schedule determined by the College.

While this section deals with students leaving or returning to the College during their studies, it seems evident that what holds for students in their first, second, and third years holds in their final year as well.

Based on the foregoing, I have developed the following recommendation for consideration by the faculty, the President, and the Board of Trustees. These take the form of two motions I urge the faculty to approve, for I believe them to be necessary and appropriate to the situation.

Motion 1.

The faculty hereby conditionally grants those students who are currently the subject of a Conduct Investigation and Review process under the Student Conduct Process and who otherwise have fulfilled all the academic requirements for graduation, the degree of Bachelor of Arts, conditional on the completion of the Student Conduct Process, and either (i) a finding of non-responsibility or (ii) a finding of responsibility followed by the completion of any applied sanctions.

The charges against these students are sufficiently significant for the College to have activated the procedure that carries the highest potential sanctions, including suspension or expulsion. It is wrong to let students, over whom such significant doubts as to their good standing exist, graduate from the College as if these concerns did not exist. In the past, the College solved this conundrum by dramatically expediting conduct processes, and either finding responsibility (together with a sanction, which could include suspension) or non-responsibility. Whatever the outcome, the faculty had no difficult decision to make, as the sanction was either being implemented already (and the student was removed from consideration for graduation) or the finding of non-responsibility was already issued (and the student deserved to graduate). Today, and rightly so, conduct processes have become much more complicated, with many more intermediary steps designed to protect the respondents to serious charges. The result is that we are now obliged to directly grapple with this question: are we willing to simply graduate students against whom there was sufficient preliminary evidence to warrant a Conduct Investigation and Review process? We are also setting a precedent for when we face future circumstances of a serious violation of policy after the May faculty meeting but before commencement. In such circumstances, we would treat the degree as conditional and not allow the student to participate in commencement.

The motion I submit amounts to giving these students a conditional degree. It says that they have fulfilled the academic requirements for graduation but that unsolved major concerns about their good standing preclude us from awarding this degree at this moment. Once the process is completed—whether by a finding of non-responsibility or by a finding of responsibility and a subsequent sanction followed by the satisfaction or completion of that sanction—the student will immediately and automatically be awarded the degree, whenever that is. No new faculty vote is necessary, as the degree was already awarded conditionally.

What does adoption of this motion concretely mean for the effective date of degree?

  • If the conduct matter is fully resolved, including a finding of non-responsibility or the satisfaction or completion of any sanctions, prior to the close of regular business hours on May 12, 2017, the student shall be eligible to graduate as of May 13, 2017.
  • If the conduct matter is not fully resolved by May 12th, the student’s graduation date will be:
    o If found not responsible, May 13, 2017. o If found responsible, the first business day following the satisfaction or completion of the sanction.  Example 1: A student is found responsible, and the sanctions include the deferral or withholding of the student’s degree until the end of the fall 2017 semester. The student is awarded the degree the day after the end of the Fall semester.

      Example 2: A student is found responsible, and the sanction is to complete an educational or community service process, e.g., a paper, tutoring, a civil debate, etc. The student finishes this assignment and by July 5. The student is awarded the degree on July 6.

    A vote against this motion means that the faculty recommends that all students, including those who are currently the subject of the above-mentioned Conduct process, will graduate from the college with the degree of Bachelor of Arts on May 13. If the Conduct process were to subsequently yield a sanction equivalent to that of suspension, the response of the College may be a revocation of the degree for a period equivalent to that of the suspension, followed by reinstatement of the degree afterwards. For lesser potential sanctions, the College may seek to withhold verification of degrees until the sanction is implemented or find other means to make the sanction meaningful.

Motion 2. (only applicable if motion 1 carries)

Students whose degree is granted conditionally will be eligible to participate in the first Commencement ceremony following the completion of the Conduct Process: either after a finding of non-responsibility or completion of any sanctions after a finding of responsibility.

The College has never let a student walk who did not fulfill all requirements for the degree. If we voted to award the degree conditionally—for we believe that unresolved major concerns about students’ good standing preclude us from awarding their degree at this moment—then it automatically follows that we should not allow these students to walk at this time, but only after they received the degree.

One may argue that this constitutes a sanction in and by itself. This is not the intent. It is the consequence of actions that led to serious charges, the fact that this occurred late in the academic year, and the need to offer a full and fair process to determine responsibility and sanctions. All decisions we make have differential impacts on people who are situated differently. Imagine a junior who engaged in the exact same behavior as that of senior and receives a one-semester suspension. The junior would not be able to graduate with his or her class next year, but, in the absence of my proposed motion, the faculty would be recommending that today’s senior would.

Please note that I have expressed the commitment to mitigate hardships resulting from this decision, as indicated in my note to the students concerned: “The College is committed to ensuring that we do not inadvertently create a financial penalty to you. For that reason, we will reimburse you for all cancellation fees you and your family may incur for travel and hotels as a result of this decision.”

What does adoption of this motion concretely mean for the timing of eligibility to participate in Commencement?

  • If the conduct matter is fully resolved, including the satisfaction or completion of any sanctions, prior to the close of regular business hours on May 12, 2017, the student shall be eligible to participate in the Commencement Ceremony on May 13, 2017.
  • If the conduct matter is not fully resolved by May 12th, the student shall be eligible to participate in the first Commencement Ceremony following the completion of the conduct process, including the satisfaction or completion of any sanctions.o Example: A student is found responsible, and the sanctions include the deferral of the student’s degree until the end of the summer or fall 2017 semester. The student would then be eligible to participate in the May 2018 Commencement Ceremony.

A vote against means that the faculty is recommending that all students whose degrees were awarded conditionally will be allowed to walk in commencement, but the faux-leather binder they receive will be empty for they have not yet met the condition to receive the diploma. This has never been done before at the College, but it would follow from your combined votes to accept the first motion and reject the second.

[End of Memo]

Got all that? I wish I could be in the room for the faculty debate on this matter. It is sure to be sterling.

Meanwhile, a group of aggrieved students has circulated an open letter demanding that the students be excused from any punishment, because righteousness! Also color, of course.

Free CMCers of Color

May 4th, 2017

Open Letter to Claremont McKenna College
Hiram E. Chodosh, President of CMC
Peter Uvin, VP for Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty, Prof. of Gov.
Sharon Basso, CMC VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students
CMC Board of Trustees

Dear Claremont McKenna College,

We write to express our grave concern with the criminalization of CMC students involved in the protest of Heather Mac Donald.

CMC students involved in the protest have been called into meetings with Sharon Basso, the CMC Dean of Students and VP of Student Affairs, and the school has proceeded with an investigation. Most of the students targeted in the investigation are seniors and students of color. CMC has threatened to prevent students from walking at graduation and holds the power to withhold transcripts, barring students entrance into a competitive job market. CMC has also threatened suspension and expulsion. For low-income and first generation students, graduation is a culminatory moment that should not be revoked. On campuses where students of color already feel unsafe, it is distressing that these institutions resort to punitive measures to resolve issues resulting from their own negligence.

These are acts of violence, and if advanced, would severely harm the survival of these students, particularly those of whom are graduating this coming week.

While inflammatory speakers are framed as generating open dialogue on campus, they merely create dangerous campus environments for students of color. The institution’s financial backing of speakers who examine Black livelihood, suggesting its debatability, shows that fraudulent calls for open dialogue take precedence over students of color. CMC is effectively complicit in threats to the safety of students of color by legitimating the very politics that denies their humanity. There has been no talk of investigation for violent counter protesters — only talk of further criminalization of already marginalized students.

We stand in solidarity with the actions taken against Mac Donald, and we demand that the investigation and criminalization of CMC students stop immediately.

Only a tiny handful of CMC students have signed this letter (fewer than 25 at this point).


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