When UB Steps In
John Duffy, a senior majoring in computer engineering at UB, wasn't especially worried when the University Police arrived at a party he and his South Lake Village roommates threw at their apartment the weekend before fall classes started.
"You come from living in the dorms, it's a bit more rowdy there and hardly anybody gets written up," said Duffy. "The people next door were having a party that seemed louder, and we figured we'd have to turn our music down as well."
Two hours later, Duffy and his roommates were handcuffed, fingerprinted, had had their mug shots taken and were sitting inside Bissell Hall, waiting to hear the charges against them.
After two days, they each received two summons for serving two underage students at the party, one from UB's Student-Wide Judiciary informing them that they posed a "clear and present danger to the university community," the other from the Amherst town court for unlawful dealings with a child. Following his completion of the lengthy judicial process, Duffy wasn't sure what to make of his experience.
"I found it all to be pretty ambiguous," he said.
Students of all types - on-campus residents, University Heights residents, fraternity and sorority members and others - are often unaware of the judicial system as it applies to them at UB until they are directly involved with it. As SWJ Chief Justice Trevor Torcello says, "It's hard for anyone not in this office to see how it works, and what works best."
After the events surrounding a fatal Grand Island crash Feb. 10, a dialogue has opened among students, Greek members and administrators seeking to clarify what UB can and can't do when it comes to students who violate university regulations.
Two students, Travis Hennigar, a 19-year-old Erie Community College student, and UB architecture freshman Jeffrey Critelli, attended a party hosted by UB's Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, followed by an alleged visit to Main Street bar PJ Bottom's. Hennigar later crashed his car in the Niagara River. He has not been found and is presumed dead. Critelli escaped with minor injuries.
The week following the crash, UB suspended all Greek activities until an informational meeting that Saturday and suspended Alpha Sigma Phil until an investigation with the Erie County Sheriff's Office is concluded.Three of the members have been charged with serving underage or intoxicated students and violating the school's "dry rush" policy, which forbids the serving of alcohol at member recruitment events.
Although many Greeks felt the university's response was unwarranted, Vice President for Student Affairs Dennis Black stands by his decision, and believes the university has every right to involve itself in off-campus matters and take extra measures to ensure students' well-being.
"Without any question, I felt it appropriate to call a timeout on the Greek system," said Black.
According to Black, the "timeout" was based on information implicating a UB organization and UB students in the crash. Determining whether the university should bring disciplinary action against students in off-campus incidents is something Black, along with administrators at other schools, believes is "a judgment made on a case-by-case basis."
"Those two gentlemen could have done the same thing only at PJ's, and we would not be involved," said Black.
According to John Grela, director of University Police, UB's officers do not actively patrol the University Heights area, but will assist Amherst, Buffalo or Erie County police upon request. University Police are currently working with Erie County police on their investigation of Alpha Sigma Phi, although no criminal charges have been filed against any members. Grela would not comment on the extent to which the police are involved in the investigation.
He also described the referral of on-campus cases to town or city authorities, and the reverse situation, as contingent on a "case-by-case basis."
Protecting UB's Interests
In cases where the only link between an incident and UB is the participants' status as students, the university can take steps to ensure its students' safety.
In February 1995, 20 members of the now unrecognized Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity stormed a house on Lisbon Avenue, beating one resident and causing thousands of dollars in damage to the house. The incident was retaliation for a beating of one of Sigma Alpha Mu's members, in which it was later found the Lisbon Avenue resident was uninvolved. After seven members pled guilty to misdemeanor assault charges in a Buffalo city court, they each paid $700 in restitution and were placed on probation.
Along with the criminal charges, each member of the fraternity was temporarily suspended from the university during the initial investigation, and received from SWJ sentences of community service and university probation, among other penalties. The fraternity itself was brought before UB's Inter-Fraternity Council for a disciplinary hearing, and the national SAM organization revoked its charter for four years.
Black said that in any situation where administrators believe a student could pose "a clear and present danger to the university and its students," the student may be temporarily suspended from UB.
UB, along with every other university in the United States, reserves the right to notify parents if their child violates any alcohol or controlled substance policy under a 1998 amendment to the U.S. Higher Education Act.
Black said students are approached to contact their parents initially, and the calls are "not done in a punitive sense. . We're calling for family assistance."
Any and all violations of UB's Student Conduct Rules go through the SWJ, according to Black, who along with Chief Justice Torcello said the majority of off-campus incidents are referred to SWJ "on the discretion of the officer." Whether the student will deal solely with SWJ or face additional municipal charges is also left to police and university administrators, according to Torcello.
One Crime, Two Juries
After SWJ and Amherst court hearings, Duffy received 35 hours of community service hours at Alumni Arena from SWJ, and 25 hours from an Amherst judge. He and his roommates hired a lawyer for almost $250-300 apiece, who sat in on both proceedings.
Duffy feels that the days before the trial were the most punishing part of the process. He received an "unusually threatening-looking" letter asking him to make an appointment with an SWJ official, without being made aware of the charges against him. Additionally, a checkstop kept him from registering for classes.
"I figured they were trying to make an example of us," said Duffy.
Duffy feels serving only one sentence would have been "quite enough," but was most displeased with university apartments staff for their handling of the incident. Without a warning from the community advisor, he said, university police were called and let into the apartment.
"They neglect to tell you in the apartments that you have no rights," said Duffy.
Pedro Diaz, an architecture student who attended a party in November of last year, was referred to the SWJ after being detained by Buffalo police at a party in the University Heights district. After meeting with administrators, Diaz was issued 120 hours of community service and one year's probation, which he was able to reduce in a plea bargain.
Diaz said working on the Anti-Rape Task Force was preferable to what he could have received from the BPD for underage drinking and other charges. He described the judicial process as "easy to understand and fairly structured."
"If it would've gone through the BDP, I would've had to go to court, pay a laywer and all that," said Diaz. "I'm glad it went through UB."
Other University Policies Mirror UB's Discretion
A number of universities across the state and nationwide possess a judicial process similar to UB's, although each retains the responsibility of determining how and when it should be enforced.
At Buffalo State College, the Office of Judicial Affairs functions much the same as UB's SWJ in matters of referral, case review and penalization. The major difference between the two is Buffalo State's seven-person review board, which usually includes three students, two teaching faculty and two student affairs staff. SWJ hearings involve five student justices.
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Phillip Santa Maria said Buffalo State works similarly to UB in determining when to notify parents, which courts students will face, and whether an incident necessitates the college's attention.
"There isn't a cookbook approach to this, it's based on a number of factors with each case," said Santa Maria.
John Murphy, assistant vice president for student affairs and director of judicial affairs at the State University of New York at Albany, said the majority of cases that come through his office are relatively minor offenses. Cases are referred to city courts, Murphy said, when there exists a "nexus of community and university interests . usually in cases of drug-dealing, rape or other serious offense."
"Students often complain that that's a case of 'double jeopardy,' when it's in fact double jurisdiction," said Murphy.
As with UB, cases are usually resolved before going through UAlbany's committee on student conduct, consisting of 10 students, but occasionally the hearings are used to educate the student in violation of university policies, along with the committee members.
"[Committee members] are within the culture, they know what's actually going on. It's more difficult to snow a student than a faculty members," said Murphy.
Murphy added that the university often notifies parents in cases of alcohol or drug misuse "usually on a second-time or serious charge."
UB maintains a similar policy.
"If you engage in reckless behavior and put yourself at risk, we're not going to let you take others down," said Black. "Even if [UB's] rules don't travel everywhere, our caring does."