Monday, January 30, 2006

A Call For Reform

This afternoon members of the Student Senate will be recommending several reforms to the current system of student discipline. Several aspects of the discipline process raise serious questions about the fairness of these proceedings.

One curiosity about the culture of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) is they maintain that student discipline is not an adversarial process. Although the university has an interest in counseling students and educating students through the disciplinary proceedings, the interests of an accused student are fundamentally different from those of the university.

An accused student wants to avoid punishment, or receive the least severe possible punishment, and in extreme situations the student may just want to avoid being kicked out of school. The university is most concerned with protecting and preserving the campus community as a community of scholars. To some extent implicit in this aim is an interest in helping the accused student, but that interest is certainly secondary to their broader mission.

By repeatedly denying that student discipline is by its very nature an adversarial relationship, those administering the process are obscuring the truth. The discipline officers may repeatedly say they are acting primarily as a “counselor” or as an “educator,” but they are also keeping a record of everything the student tells to either sentence the student or to issue a report to a committee that will decide the student’s fate. Denying the adversarial nature of the process will naturally lead students to be more candid, but it is outright deception that works against the interests of the student.

Several aspects of the actual procedures call into serious question whether or not our discipline procedures are fair. Under the current discipline procedures an accused student does not have a right to question adverse witnesses. This is every bit as fundamental to due process as the right to present a favorable witness. Denying question of adverse witnesses might make the process appear less adversarial, but it does so at the expense of making the process less fair.

In some cases, students were presented with the evidence against them less than fifteen minutes before their hearing. The administration owes students a reasonable amount of time to prepare a defense. We are asking the administration to guarantee accused students receive the full case against them, including all evidence, at least five business days prior to their hearing.

One of the most troubling aspects of the discipline system is how few cases even make it to a hearing. The staggering majority of cases are handled through a process that is very similar to a plea bargain. Students are offered a particular sanction they are told is the “least severe probable punishment.” If they waive their right to the hearing, then the penalty will not get worse, but if they demand a hearing the penalty may be even likely to get worse. The administrator who runs the OCSR, the ironically named Dick Justice, denies this is like a plea bargain. Once more, denying its nature does not change its nature.

This waiver process is and is not like a plea bargain. It is like a plea bargain because students are threatened with the possibility of a more severe punishment if they do not waive their due process rights. It is not like a plea bargain because with plea bargains a prosecutor offers a sentence and a judge has oversight to make sure that sentence is fair and reasonable, in the student discipline context there is no case-specific independent oversight of the discipline officer officer. Here the judge is the prosecutor.

Fundamentally, student discipline is intended to educate students, not just punish them. This mission does not justify denying the adversarial nature of the process. Even if the administration has the best of intentions, students must be given robust protections to ensure they are treated fairly. Students should be afforded the best process the university can reasonably afford.

Published in the Daily Illini on January 30, 2006

*for more information on student discipline reform and other student rights issues, click here

Monday, January 23, 2006

Policing the Police

Champaign-Urbana is a community with three police forces, one for each city and one for our campus. A series of local controversies including suicides in jail, allegations of racial profiling, and the arrest of local activists (who were investigating the police) have led many local groups to call for the creation of citizen police review boards.

A citizen police review board would be an impartial body of citizens that are independent from the police, who perform oversight functions, investigate complaints against police officers, and suggest policy reform. Currently, all complaints against the Champaign and Urbana police are handled within the department.

A Student Senate report on racial profiling recommends police review boards for all three local police departments. There is a common perception that police are inclined to protect one another. Victims of profiling and police discrimination are more likely to feel they are treated fairly if their complaints are reviewed by a citizen review board. Citizen review boards give the community more confidence that complaints will be handled impartially.

Citizen review boards also offer advantages for the police. Often these boards can shield police from civil liability. Additionally, they impartially dispense with frivolous complaints while avoiding any accusations police are covering up misconduct to “protect their own.” Perhaps most impotantly, citizen boards increase the public trust in local police.

Unfortunately, there is little momentum towards creating a board for the Champaign police. However, Urbana is making real progress. In September, the Urbana City Council unanimously approved a task force to study creating a police review board. One of the most effective students I’ve ever met, Jen Walling, is on the task force. Jen told me that later this semester the taskforce will present a plan to the city counsel on how to implement a review board. For more information on these efforts visit:

The Student Senate is advocating for the creation of a University Police Complaint and Policy Review Board to ensure fairness in disputes between our students and the University Police. This board would give students, faculty and staff a voice in University Policing.

Creating citizen police review boards is only part of the solution. The Student Senate and the student ACLU are launching the “Know Your Rights” campaign to protect students from police abuse. Student Affairs and Housing in particular have been extremely supportive of these efforts so far. Housing is distributing Know Your Rights door hangers to every room in the residence halls with information on what to do if the police want to search the room.

The campaign is also using bar cards with simple rules for students who encounter police while out drinking to keep a bad situation from getting much worse. Both the card and door hanger, along with other student rights information can be found at along with other resources on students rights. Many of these resoruces are from Student Legal Services, which offers free legal advice to all students. The lawyers at student Legal Services are dedicated advocates for students and you should keep them in mind if you are ever in trobule with the police or with the university.

Even if all three police forces eventaully have police review boards, the most effective check on police abuse is a well informed citizenry. Know your rights. Protect yourself. And do your part to police the police.


Since Friday’s column there’ve been two major breakthroughs for students. First, State Represenatative Naomi Jakobsson is now sponsoring HB 4867, the Textbook Pricing and Access Act. Second, I spoke with Professor Paul Kelter, the Director of General Chemistry. Beginning next fall, he promised to have bookstores also offer unbundled versions of Dr. Zumdahl’s chemistry text. Dr. Kelter is also considering working with the Student Senate to create a pilot program for textbook rental to save students more on textbooks.

Published in the Daily Illini on January 23, 2006.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Textbook Example of Price Gouging

According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study, textbook prices have increased 186 percent in the last 20 years. Many authors are constantly pumping out new editions with few substantive changes. Meanwhile, publishers are bundling textbooks with supplements that often go unused. Being forced to buy bundled books is like ordering a coffee black and being told instead you're going to have a caramel macchiato with extra whipped cream and sprinkles. And by the way, instead of 60 cents it'll be $4.50.

At Illinois we are blessed with the opportunity to learn from some of the finest minds in the world. It isn’t surprising that we also have our share of textbook authors. Two authors in particular, Dr. Fred Gottheil and Dr. Steven Zumdahl, are widely criticized by students over the pricing of their textbooks.

Professor Fred Gottheil has won more teaching awards than any other professor on campus. However, he comes out with new editions of his economic textbooks every three years. I called Gottheil to ask him about the difference between his editions and he told me that he updates the data and rewrites special sections he calls “Perspectives.” I compared his third and fourth edition on macroeconomics and immediately noticed that all of the chapters began on the same pages in both volumes, almost all of the text remained the same and only a modest amount of data was updated. As for the “Perspectives,” only 13 of 65 were replaced.

The current edition of Gottheil’s textbook for microeconomics is over $90, and is bundled with student specific access codes, requiring students to purchase new books every year that they cannot sell back.

Gottheil is currently working on a fifth edition of his book to add information on globalization. Professor, if you’re reading this, please wait to produce a new edition until it is educationally necessary and consider saving your students some money by putting the new material online.

Chemistry Professor Steven Zumdahl makes Gottheil look like a champion of consumer rights. His “new” hardback chemistry text is labeled Spring 2006 and according to one sales associate, it includes a course guide and homework assignments that are torn out of the text. This text is still the sixth edition, the same as last year. He didn’t even bother updating it. The insidious little trick of including material that can only be used once instead of distributing those items in class or making them available online makes used books obsolete.

As if these practices weren’t predatory enough, Zumdahl is also bundling both a study guide and a solutions guide with the text. The chemistry students I’ve talked to have told me these supplements aren’t useful enough to justify buying them separately. You can’t buy just the book, and the bundle costs an outrageous $144.

Many of our faculty members are doing their part to help keep costs down for students. For example, Geoffrey Love required an older edition of the B.A. 310 text to save his 600 students money. When the publishing company ran out of older editions, he negotiated to lower prices on new editions. Numerous professors are making the substantial effort to prepare course packets instead of requiring numerous texts. If you have an instructor who is making an effort to keep costs down, please be sure to tell them you appreciate it.

Recently, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn proposed the “Fair Textbook Pricing and Access Act.” This would mandate the unbundling of textbooks, create a sales tax exemption and require publishers to provide libraries with free copies of textbooks. The Illinois Student Senate will be advocating in support of Quinn’s reform package. E-mail us at if you would like to lend a hand.

Until substantive reforms are passed, ask your professors if an older edition will suffice. Be sure to take advantage of Web sites like or For now, these Web-sites are your only protection from finanicial exploitation at the bookstore register.

Published in the Daily Illini on January 20th, 2006.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Response to George Will

George Will, in his Jan. 5 column, rhetorically asks why the disapproval of a nickname should doom it. Will asks the wrong question. We must ask if it makes sense for a world-class public university use a nickname that so many find offensive. When a mascot’s purpose is suppose to be uniting a campus, does it make sense to retain a mascot so divisive that over 30% of the student body opposes it.

Regardless of your stance on the Chief, no one can deny that the controversy is a huge waste. The university has funded countless diversity studies, which almost all recommend retiring the Chief, and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on wholly unnecessary litigation. We cannot afford to continue wasting time and money on a controversy that will continue to divide and disrupt us.

Mr. Will also overlooks the fact that a staggering majority of Native American students currently enrolled at the University of Illinois oppose the Chief. Sadly, those who voice their criticism are often taunted, threatened, and told, "if you don't like it, go somewhere else." The Board of Trustees has the power to end this sort of treatment if they can summon the political courage to do so.

The ultimate question facing the Board of Trustees must be what course of action is best for the University of Illinois. The time has come for the Board to boldly answer that question, even if the answer is unpopular.

Published in the News Gazettee January 20, 2006