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Campus Compact raises significant due process concerns

| Friday, February 12, 2021

On Jan. 21, students received an email titled “COVID Update: Testing and Campus Compact.” The email, which was signed by both  University vice president for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding and vice president for Campus Safety and University Operations Mike Seamon, described updates to Notre Dame’s disease control measures and noted that enforcement of rules would be handled by the Office of Community Standards (OCS) via a newly created “expedited COVID administrative process.”

The recently promulgated COVID-19 Addendum to du Lac lays out the potential consequences for failing to follow Notre Dame’s COVID rules, which are formally referred to as the “Campus Compact.” Two new disciplinary outcomes have been created for students, namely “COVID Probation” and “COVID Dismissal.” COVID Dismissal is a special form of dismissal with the opportunity to reapply for admission, provided that a student satisfies certain criteria communicated to them by OCS at the time when they are dismissed. COVID Probation, per the addendum, is a status that will render a student to face COVID Dismissal from Notre Dame if they violate associated rules (including the missing a surveillance test) at any point throughout the remainder of the spring semester.

The addendum also outlines the protocol by which allegations that students have violated the Campus Compact will be adjudicated. This protocol, referred to in du Lac as the “Campus Compact Administrative Process,” has been the subject of significant backlash from students, who are concerned about the potential for Notre Dame to arbitrarily and capriciously punish students accused of violating the Campus Compact without giving them an adequate chance to prepare and present their defense.

These concerns are well-founded. The Campus Compact Administrative Process, as currently defined in the COVID-19 Addendum to du Lac, does not give students sufficient time nor an adequate setting to defend themselves against allegations that have been issued by OCS — the Campus Compact Administrative Process contains no language that guarantees students the right to a hearing whatsoever and fails to provide for any clear mechanism where accused students can call witnesses to provide testimony on their behalf. Meanwhile, the language contained therein explicitly requires students to provide their full response to allegations on exceptionally short deadlines (24 hours, or 48 hours if a student is facing COVID Dismissal), after which OCS will render a final judgment on a student. In some cases, such as when the University alleges a student has missed their first or second surveillance test, the written policy does not appear to offer an opportunity for accused students to defend themselves; even if an accused student could provide evidence that they did not miss their test, there is no language within the relevant section of the addendum itself that guarantees students a right to provide any sort of response. And, as it turns out, students are denied the right to appeal any decision rendered against them by OCS under this process, except when OCS decides to issue the severe sanction of COVID Dismissal.

Just under 850 students, including myself, have signed a petition that addresses these concerns and asks for specific changes to be made in order to remedy the existing defects in the Campus Compact Administrative Process.

Our asks are common sense. The petition asks for students accused of non-compliance with COVID protocols to have an adequate seven-day period to review all materials that are being used against them, and for students to be given the opportunity to contest allegations of missing a mandatory COVID-19 surveillance test. The petition calls upon Notre Dame to guarantee students the right to elect a hearing setting where the accused can both hear and respond to all information presented against them, as well as to be able to call witnesses to provide testimony in their defense. Finally, the petition calls upon Notre Dame to grant students the right to meaningfully appeal decisions rendered against them by OCS, even in cases where students are not facing COVID Dismissal.

On Feb. 3, the student senate voted to support our petition’s common sense asks, with 31 senators voting in favor and none voting in opposition. In doing so, the senate has called upon the University to revise and reissue the current portions of du Lac that implement the Campus Compact Administrative process, so that students’ rights are protected in disciplinary hearings.

In their email to students, Hoffmann Harding and Seamon wrote that the Campus Compact Administrative Process would “allow the University to act swiftly to address COVID violations.” This is true — the swift deadlines imposed by the process will allow the University to unabashedly discipline students with breakneck speed — but swiftness should not be the only pressing consideration in creating a just disciplinary process. But, if Notre Dame does not make modifications to the “expedited” process it has chosen to embrace, the University must somehow justify that this process — one that does not afford students a fair shot to defend themselves, while generally denying students the right to appeal judgments rendered against them — is in some way fundamentally fair to all parties involved, including the accused.

Notre Dame has a right, and a responsibility, to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing requirements, restrictions on social gatherings and other public health measures that are designed to keep students here safely. But, in doing so, Notre Dame must not skimp out on due process — Notre Dame must significantly revise the Campus Compact Administrative Process.

Mike Dugan

senior

Feb. 3

Editor’s note: Mike Dugan is a former news writer and systems administrator for The Observer. 

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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