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Hearings to begin Monday for UC Berkeley students facing charges from Wheeler Hall sit-in
25 September 2002

By Janet Gilmore, Media Relations

Berkeley - Dates of student conduct hearings have now been set for many of the University of California, Berkeley, students arrested during the April 9 occupation of Wheeler Hall, according to campus officials.

In all, 41 students were charged with various violations of UC Berkeley's Code of Student Conduct. Nine of them did not contest the charges and have settled their cases while others have requested a hearing.

Each student will have the opportunity to present his or her case in a series of administrative hearings scheduled to begin Monday (Sept. 30) and conclude by the end of October. Conduct hearings typically are closed to the public, in compliance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which strictly limits public disclosure of student educational records.

As is the case with most colleges and universities, UC Berkeley has a set of regulations that govern student conduct. The rules are contained in the campus's Code of Student Conduct, a document made available to every student and accessible on the campus Web site. Each school year, students suspected of violating the code - violations range from academic dishonesty to assault to trespassing - face conduct charges. Students who break the law may also be subject to criminal charges, which involve a process that is separate and distinct from the student conduct process.

The campus's Student Judicial Affairs office investigates violations of the code and determines whether administrative charges are warranted. If Student Judicial Affairs officials choose to file charges, the students have the option of settling their cases informally or requesting a formal hearing.

The Wheeler Hall matter stems from an April 9 action in which 78 people, including 41 students, were arrested. The group, advocating that the UC Board of Regents divest from companies that do business with Israel, had occupied the Wheeler Hall lobby, disrupted numerous classes in session and refused police orders to leave. The action followed a scheduled noon rally that day on Sproul Plaza sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, a registered student group.

A year earlier, in April 2001, Students for Justice in Palestine supporters had surprised campus officials when they occupied one of the campus's largest classroom buildings - Wheeler Hall - and refused police orders to leave. During the 2001-2002 school year, campus officials, working with the Office of Student Life, made it clear to all student groups that disruption of the teaching and learning process would not be tolerated.

While rallies and protests are to be expected, campus officials cautioned, disruption of the core academic mission of the university would warrant sanctions up to and including suspension.

Despite these repeated warnings in the months leading up to the April 9, 2002, action, UC Berkeley student protesters charged that day into Wheeler Hall. The group rushed past police officers at the doors and occupied the building's lobby. Nearby, many other students were in classes, some of them taking midterm exams.

Campus police notified the protesters that they were trespassing and disrupting classes in session in an academic building. The protesters were ordered to leave or face arrest.

The 41 students who refused to leave were arrested and also now face student conduct charges including unauthorized entry to or use of university property; obstruction or disruption of teaching or other university activity; disturbing the peace/unlawful assembly; and failure to comply with the directions of a university official acting in the performance of his or her duties.

A few students also face more serious conduct charges stemming from their individual behavior during the arrest process. While many simply walked along with police to the booking area in Wheeler Hall, a few students allegedly actively resisted arrest, including one student who is accused of biting a police officer.

Students were first notified of the charges against them in a June 7 letter. They were given the option of resolving their cases during the summer break or waiting for the start of the fall semester. Only one student chose to resolve the matter during the summer break.

In general, students with no previous student conduct violations on their record were offered a settlement by Student Judicial Affairs that could have allowed them to preserve that clean record.

Under that offer, students would agree to accept the charges against them and be given a stayed semester's suspension, which means the suspension would be held in abeyance and students would be allowed to continue to attend class. The suspension would be permanently removed from their disciplinary record and replaced with a warning letter if no other violations arose during the stayed semester period.

This agreement would result in no formal disciplinary record for the student, as long as he or she was not charged with other conduct code violations during the stayed suspension period. However, if a student accepted the offer but went on to violate campus regulations during the period of the stayed suspension, he or she would face suspension.

The Student Code of Conduct provides the option to students of accepting an administrative settlement of their cases or having their cases heard by a university panel. At such hearings, a Student Judicial Affairs official presents information that supports the charges. The student, with the assistance of a representative, if desired, presents his or her own case. A university hearing panel makes a recommendation.

The hearing panel is drawn from the campus's standing Committee on Student Conduct, which consists of students, faculty and staff. The panel will determine whether the students are responsible for the violations charged against them. If the panel deems the students responsible, it recommends an appropriate resolution of the case.

Each academic year, the Student Judicial Affairs office handles more than 500 cases. Typically, the majority of these cases are settled informally. The office routinely places a hold on the diplomas of graduating seniors until their conduct cases are resolved, a procedure that is provided for in the campus's Code of Student Conduct. The degree hold ensures that students do not move on without resolving their cases.

Hearing committee recommendations are reviewed by the campus's dean of students, who issues a decision on the panel's recommendations. Students may appeal the dean's decision to the vice chancellor for undergraduate affairs.