RMIT is considering new student conduct regulations that need significant redrafting, the Student Union says.
The draft policy is being considered at a time when students are undergoing exams, making it difficult for student representatives to properly review or seek further information about the proposed changes.
Steve Boucher, a student rights officer from the RMIT University Student Union, says the university needs rules and regulations to help it deal with student misbehaviour. However he says the rules have to be both fair and robust.
“These new rules are unduly complicated,” he says. “What this is going to mean is that there are almost as many interpretations as there are decision makers.”
Mr Boucher says the new rules could lead to student behaviour being interpreted and reinterpreted depending on how people are feeling.
“A close reading of these rules leave me confused about who would manage allegations of general misconduct. Quite insignificant issues could lead to students facing the threat of expulsion.”
A draft of the new student conduct regulations said a risk to another person or the student in question constitutes both general misconduct and high-risk conduct. Similarly, there was overlap when it came to the risk of damaging property.
However Dr Julie Wells, University Secretary and Vice-President of RMIT, says the University has met with RUSU President James Michelmore to address RUSU’s concerns.
“This was very helpful and a number of RUSU’s suggestions are reflected in the draft regulation currently before Council,” Dr Wells said in a statement provided to Catalyst.
“We have also adopted a number of suggestions from Academic Board. In particular, we have included definitions of natural justice and explanations regarding what is meant by ‘rules of evidence’, as requested by RUSU.
“We have also tightened and clarified some of the wording and checked all amendments with the University’s legal office.”
However at the time the statement was supplied, RUSU had not received any confirmation as to what specific changes had been made. According to the deadline for University Council, these should have been sent on 4 November.
Earlier in the year, Catalyst reported on the University’s proposed Fitness for Study Panel. The Age also reported on the controversial policy, raising concerns about students’ privacy. This contributed to RMIT withdrawing their plans for Fitness for Study Panel, much to the relief of RUSU’s student rights officers.
Mr Boucher says the power to access students’ psychiatric reports—which was the major concern with the Fitness for Study Panel—was contained within the draft student conduct regulations. He is concerned the draft policy is a way of incorporating the Fitness for Study Panel into university policy.
“Having the power to compel medical reports from students, having the power to suspend students indefinitely without review and imposing conditions on them—that was exactly what was proposed in the first drafts of the Fitness for Study process.”
Catalyst understands the Fitness for Study Panel has been through multiple drafts in an attempt to achieve a reasonable balance between student rights and the desires of the University.
“I am very concerned that these provisions seem to be stuck in on the sly,” says Mr Boucher. “The university is not stepping back from its plans.”
However Dr Wells says RMIT University Secretariat has coordinated a review of its statutes and regulations with a view to simplifying and updating them.
“Importantly, RUSU made some helpful suggestions about communication and training related to the implementation of the regulation, and we look forward to further discussions with their offices on how this can be most effectively done.”
The draft regulations are due to appear before University Council on 11 November for approval.