The Student Press Law Center is celebrating Sunshine Week, designed by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to emphasize the importance of open government and freedom of information, by sending records requests to 1oo public universities and colleges about student disciplinary procedures.
With the help of journalism students and instructors at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, the University of North Texas and Humboldt State University, the SPLC sent out identical letters to 95 public and 20 private institutions in early to mid-February. Some schools required an additional form. The request asked for the total number of complaints investigated by the student disciplinary body, the number of those cases resulting in various types of punishment, any breakdown by the nature of the complaints, data related to sexual assault complaints, and the number of cases referred to the student disciplinary body by the police. SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte said the request focused on institutions’ internal disciplinary procedures because in some cases these “mini-court systems” have evolved to deal with serious criminal complaints in near-secrecy.
“We decided to see what disciplinary records we could obtain, first, because we suspect there is quite a bit of confusion about the obligation to disclose some disciplinary information — or at least redacted statistical information — and second, because we think it may be surprising to the public how many serious incidents beyond smoking in the rec room are handled through these non-criminal channels,” he said.