Drastic UDC changes might ensure fairness

It might have happened to you. From time to time, students get caught doing something that isn’t considered becoming of a member of the Temple community. Even I, a distinguished Temple News writer, have made some mistakes in my short tenure here.

And if your day in Temple University’s court comes, you may be as surprised as I was to find a mixture of faculty and fellow students acting as your judge and jury.

Andrea Caporale Seiss, Assistant Director for Judicial Affairs, said she values the inclusion of students in the judicial process because having both the insight of students and the experience of faculty creates a healthy dynamic.

Caporale Seiss finds herself “very impressed” with the ability of students to be just as fair and impartial as faculty members. Yet some students see things very differently.

Freshman Patrick J. McNeil, who has some experience with judicial panels at Temple, said that the peer review Caporale Seiss defends is not in the best interest of other students because student panel members “just can’t be impartial.” He also said students aren’t qualified to judge their peers.

“Giving kids, or even older students, so much power ruins whatever level playing field they’re supposed to have,” McNeil said.

McNeil’s argument that the “level playing field” shared between student panel members and accused students is lost when some students are given power over others lies in stark contrast to that of Caporale Seiss and the school’s judiciary. But McNeil’s view is not isolated.

Luke Holtje, a freshman member of a residence hall judicial panel – a lower division of the UDC – has similar reservations on incorporating students like him into judicial affairs.

While he said students do make defendants more comfortable than appearing in front of an all faculty panel, Holtje agreed that “faculty are better equipped” to judge students. Because of Temple’s disciplinary code, specific deliberations are confidential, but Holtje said that one could sense a difference in fairness between students and faculty.

Perhaps faculty panel members are often fairer because they have the life experience to place some of the more trivial infractions that are brought before the UDC and residence panels in context.

McNeil said that he understands the principle behind including students in judicial proceedings, but said that “students attracted to being on a [judicial panel] are going to be interested in sentencing – they’re different. Average students might have insight about other students, but these kids aren’t the average student[s].”

Caporale Seiss and Temple Law professor Richard Greenstein, who has been involved with the UDC for 15 years, generally agree that a difference in life experience does not weaken student judgment. Greenstein also pointed out that, in his experience, the majority of UDC hearings are unanimous, making it seem unlikely that student panel members are regularly voting differently than their faculty counterparts.

Caporale Seiss, Greenstein and others argue that the UDC process at Temple is a sterling example of student participation, making it a valuable system. Nevertheless, perhaps changes could be made to make it even more inclusive.

Maybe the best answer is a random selection process of Temple students to be included in judicial panels, similar to the jury selections of government courts. A Temple student could be required to serve on a panel a certain number of times according to semesters spent here. Granted, such a change would require huge coordination and is unlikely to occur because many are already proud of Temple’s judicial system.

But if no drastic changes are made, we will be left celebrating what we have now, instead of working toward what we could have in the future.

Christopher George Wink can be reached at cwink32@yahoo.com.

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