Possible Enforcement of Integrity Code for Off-Campus Students Sparks Debate
By Chuck Luce
Heated dialog followed an announcement this past fall that university administrators would enforce the Integrity Code if students who live off campus engage in "especially offensive or chronically offensive behavior." The interpretation of existing university policy was made public in discussion with the ASUPS senate and in a newsletter mailed to North End neighbors by Dean of Students Kristine Bartanen.
Many students reacted swiftly and negatively, saying that they live like adults and should be treated as such. "We already have to deal with the responsibility of living off campus when we screw up," said ASUPS President David Bowe. Problems with off-campus students have always been dealt with by landlords and the police, just like other residents, he said.
But some North End residents had a different view. They praised the announcement in a series of letters to the Tacoma News Tribune, saying it was long overdue.
The debate called useful attention to occasional friction between student off-campus renters and their neighbors. However, it may have been unnecessarily heated, due largely to misunderstandings. Rumors circulated about the university conducting Big Brother-like spy patrols and taking up the role of an overly strict parent. (This last inspired a bit of levity in what has otherwise been a serious issue: An article on The Trail’s "Combat Zone" page that portrayed students as whining children with President Pierce sending them to bed without supper.)
Dean Bartanen set the record straight in a letter to The Trail October 11: "The University is not interested in invading the privacy of our students or in regulating their private behavior."
What the university has said is that when it receives information about an incident of seriously offensive student behavior off-campus, or in response to a series of neighbor complaints about chronically offensive student behavior off-campus, it will investigate the allegation of misconduct as it would other violations of the Student Integrity Code, said Bartanen. Depending on the results of that investigation, the university may seek to adjudicate charges under established processes. A recently appointed Integrity Code Task Force, which includes three student members, is reviewing those processes.
"Seriously offensive" behavior is defined as serious physical or psychological harm to someone or serious damage to their property.
University administrators say they realize that application of the Integrity Code, though called for in some instances, is an after-the-fact treatment. As a proactive effort, the University is working on strategies to resolve student-neighbor concerns before they escalate. Students will receive letters if the university receives a neighbor complaint about them and are invited to talk with student affairs staff members about how to address potentially problematic situations.
Administrators also were quick to point out that they expected the policy to affect only a few students. Less than half of Puget Sound’s 2,700 students live off campus and a very small minority are involved in neighbor disputes. In a September 15 op-ed that appeared in The News Tribune, President Pierce wrote: "We were simply making it clear that we will hold accountable those very few students who significantly violate our standards of civility and respect for others… The vast majority of Puget Sound students live up to the call of our mission statement to exemplify the ‘highest ideals of democratic citizenship.’"