Former UC Berkeley graduate student’s conduct sanction appeal rejected

For a former UC Berkeley student journalist found responsible for conduct violations stemming from the November 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall, more than a year and a half of student conduct proceedings recently came to a close following the rejection of his appeal and submission of his sanction paper late last week.

In a letter addressed to Josh Wolf — a recent graduate of the campus Graduate School of Journalism — Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande rejected Wolf’s appeal of a decision in late April that found Wolf responsible for three of five student conduct violations.

The response to the appeal maintains the finding of responsibility as well as Wolf’s sanction — a five-page paper on the role of student journalism on a university campus.

“(The) appeal is denied and dismissed,” the letter reads. “I uphold the decision of the hearing panel and confirm the sanction issued.”

Under the campus Code of Student Conduct, students who are sanctioned are able to submit an appeal to Le Grande, “based on newly discovered evidence that was not available at the time of the hearing, significant procedural error, or upon other evidence or arguments which, for good cause, should be considered.”

Wolf’s appeal, which was filed in June, brought up procedural issues from his conduct proceedings, including alleged bias on the part of his hearing chair. It called for a reversal of the determination of responsibility, stating that his hearing panel did not follow its own standards of evidence and committed actions that were not lawful under state law as well as the U.S. Constitution.

However, in the response to the appeal, Le Grande rejected these arguments as well as others brought up in the appeal.

A response to Wolf’s appeal from the campus Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards stated that the appeal “did not include any newly discovered evidence … (or) significant procedural errors in the conduct process,” and requested that Le Grande uphold the hearing panel’s responsibility determination and sanction for Wolf.

Both Wolf and his advisor Nathan Shaffer, a recent UC Berkeley School of Law graduate and member of the Campus Rights Project, said they were not surprised by the appeal’s rejection.

“The situation is sad, because (administrators) have the ability to run a fair process, but choose not to,” Shaffer said in an email.

According to Wolf, while the decision is frustrating, he hopes that the paper he submitted for his sanction —a proposal on how to revise the campus code of conduct to provide protections for student journalists on campus — will have a greater impact than his  appeal did.

“I’ll be happy when I see a new Code of Student Conduct that has language that protects journalists,” Wolf said. “This (process) is me doing the work that’s part of being a responsible journalist.”

In his paper, Wolf proposes amendments to University of California campus codes of conduct in order to ensure First Amendment rights of student journalists are protected.

The proposal, which is modeled after portions of the University of Louisville’s Code of Student Conduct, has been submitted to the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards, and Wolf said he intends to follow up to ensure that it goes to campus administrators who are involved in the student conduct process.

In addition, Wolf is soliciting signatures for his proposal from groups such as the Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California. According to Wolf, he intends to send the proposal to the UC Office of the President as well as the chancellors at all ten UC campuses.

“My purpose is not so much to get them all to change their codes of conduct, but at least I’m hoping that it will make them aware of the situation and compel them to think about ways they can remedy it,” he said.

Aaida Samad is an assistant news editor.