Changes in the student handbook are bound to happen year by year. However, after a student was targeted online last year and her case received national attention, the handbook was substantially revised.
Dean of Students Dr. Michael Covert said that this year’s update to the student handbook was one of the more substantial edits, although the handbook is reviewed before each academic year and then periodically updated on an ongoing basis.
Dr. Covert said that this year, the handbook reviewing team added a student forum where students could come and read over the handbook, then tell administrators what they thought needed changing. “The students helped to make it more user-friendly,” says Dr. Covert. He added that from now on there will be a student forum every year to look for updates that might be needed.
The student conduct system has been radically restructured. In previous versions of the handbook, the conduct system divided offenses into Level 1 and Level 2. Smaller offenses such as disorderly conduct or minor vandalism would have been categorized as Level 1, while more serious issues like sexual harassment or possessing alcohol while under 21 would have been classified as Level 2.
Dr. Covert said this system worked well for a while, but needed revamping. Over time, some offenses did not fall directly into a specific category laid out in the handbook. “The old system did not communicate what we [Transylvania] valued. We need to treat each other like we are trying to develop a community and keep up expectations around that.” Dr. Covert says this was part of the reason for the major change.
The new system is based on the core values that Transy wants every student to possess. These are Integrity, Community, Social Justice, Respect, and Responsibility. Every student must uphold these values, and by doing so will not break any conduct rules.
Dr. Covert says the new system is meant to show the University’s intention to keep everyone safe and to protect the interests of the entire community, not merely to punish.
Student Conduct Board
The Student Judicial Board, now referred to as the Student Conduct Board, has been changed to track with the new Core Values. Previously, the Board could hear only cases for Level 1 violations. Since that system is gone, the Board will now hear more cases, as Dr. Covert deems appropriate.
The text is now easier to understand, Dr. Covert said. He added that there are better descriptions of the roles the members play, and that words such as “shall” have been switched to the more modernized “will.”
The qualifications to be on the Conduct Board have not changed, nor has the number of students on it. The new handbook says that students who want to join the board must have completed 15 credits, have at least a 2.0 grade point average, good conduct records, and have gone through University training.
In the previous student handbook, the rules about student protests were short and unspecific, Dr. Covert said. Protests were prohibited outright, and it was broadly defined.
The new subsection, found on page 32 and entitled “Free Speech, Activism & Demonstrations,” explains that the University promotes free speech and the exchange of opinions among those who might not share the same ideas. Dr. Covert says that he views that as the main purpose of a university. It adds that with this freedom comes a responsibility to act civilly to those who do not share the same beliefs, and to remember that the right to protest does not mean the right to engage in any activity that hurts another person.
Alumni Plaza, located behind Old Morrison, is now the designated area where students can stage demonstrations. Students who want to protest must contact the Dean of Students and explain the event, their security needs, the time they plan on having it, and anything else that would be important for the administration to know in advance.
Dr. Covert said that “this system was put into place to help students have a safe and successful protest about issues important to them. It’s like forming a partnership.”
The handbook says demonstrations also must not interfere with academics or another campus event in any way. If a disruption does occur, the Department of Public Safety will get involved.
Dr. Covert said he hopes to create a workshop this year, where students can come to learn how to properly hold a protest.
This year’s handbook added a detailed section on bullying, cyber and otherwise. Previously, prohibitions on bullying were implied throughout the handbook, in sections like the code of conduct and the nondiscrimination policy. Dr. Covert says that while the new section seems small for such an important issue, the paragraph gets straight to the point and leaves no room for interpretation.
“The changes in this section were mainly for clarification purposes,” says Dr. Covert. The section makes it clear that bullying speech or actions will not be tolerated, and are not protected as freedom of speech.