Check out this story from the Daily Business Review on the student discipline hearings.
UM dean to run hearing, decide students' fate
June 09, 2006
By: Jessica M. Walker
The University of Miami students who face disciplinary action for their roles in a janitors strike are facing an administrative process the students' attorneys believe was designed to deny them a fair hearing.
The timing of the charges against about 20 students puts the disciplinary proceedings in the summer months, which means the students will be tried and judged by a single dean. No trial date has been set.
If the charges had been leveled against them during the standard school year, the students would have been tried by a panel of students, professors and administrators. The rules are outlined in the student handbook.
Attorneys who volunteered to represent the students believe the set-up was intentional and designed to railroad the students for allying themselves with janitors who campaigned this year to organize under the Service Employees International Union.
"Obviously the fix was in from the beginning," said Lida Rodriguez, partner at Duane Morris in Miami and one of 23 attorneys aiding the students. "The fact that an academic institution would go through the farce of creating such an unfair process to blemish the records of these students is outrageous."
The university has retained Eric D. Isicoff of Isicoff Ragatz & Koenigsberg in Miami to aid with the disciplinary process. Isicoff said that retaining counsel for the hearings is not always done, but since the accused students hired counsel and because of the publicity of the case, the university retained him.
According to Isicoff, the timing of the charges was not intentional and the university is simply following the rules and procedure laid out in the student handbook."
Any notion of any sort of timing issue or conspiracy is totally without merit," Isicoff said. "The timing of events is the only reason we find ourselves dealing with this in the summer. Any suggestion of a conspiracy or timing issues is completely unfounded."
The charges arose from student participation in two months of peaceful protest on campus over the janitors' right to organize into a union. Their efforts included a hunger strike and a sit-in. The protests never got unruly or violent, but the administration insists the students were disruptive.
In late April, several of the students who protested were served with "administrative subpoenas," telling them the university was considering charges of disorderly conduct and failing to comply with school orders. The subpoenas were followed by questioning by a university dean. The questioning included showing the students photographs of the protest, and asking them to identify their friends and associates.
The students were not formally charged by the university until last week. The charges are classified as minor, meaning the punishment could be anything short of expulsion by the university. If the charges had come during the school year, the regular rules of procedure would apply. Since they were formally filed in the summer, a dean will serve as judge and jury for the students. Since the hearings are private, the students' attorneys will not be allowed to be present.
The university has been criticized in the media for punishing students who were engaged in peaceful protests. However, Isicoff says the students were disruptive, disturbed other students and obstructed movement of other students on campus.
"These matters don't have anything to do with the content or the subject matter of any views that were expressed," Isicoff said. "This strictly has to do with the behavior and conduct of the students. Expressing one's point of view is welcome. The University of Miami embraces that 100 percent. No one's ability to express themselves has been breached in any way."
"This is about punishing these students for having the nerve to stand up for what they believe in and sending a message to other students not to do the same," said Rodriguez, a UM graduate. "Even for a private institution, this is the height of unfairness. I'm sure there are parents of UM students that do not know who their hard-earned dollars are going to a system that's unfair."
The students had participated in weeks of peaceful protests on campus with the university janitors over their right to organize into a union. The efforts by the demonstrators included a hunger strike and a sit-in. The latter never turned disorderly or violent, and regular school activities were not cancelled.
Jessica M. Walker can be reached at email@example.com or at (305) 347-6649.