Nelson to convene new COS committee

by Michael Coburn | 10/5/07 3:03am

Committee on Standards reform took a step forward when Acting Dean of the College Dan Nelson announced the creation of a COS review committee in a letter to the student body on Thursday. The committee, which plans to look into COS transparency, its composition and recommendations of last year's Student Assembly COS task force, is expected to announce its findings in the spring.

The review committee, which will be chaired by Acting Associate Dean of the College Katherine Burke, will consist of around nine members: three administrators, three faculty and three students who will be selected by Burke in consultation with Student Assembly and the dean of faculty.

COS, the College's chief disciplinary body, hears cases and decides school punishments for incidents involving plagiarism, sexual abuse and other crimes. The committee is composed of 12 faculty members, 12 students and eight presidential appointments, but most hearings consist of only five members.

Nelson's announcement follows his November 2006 decision to postpone action on COS reform following the release of the Student Assembly COS task force report. At that time, Nelson cited his status as an acting dean as the reason for the delay.

"I think there are questions for review that certainly include the questions that the task force examined, but some they didn't as well," Nelson said in a November 2006 interview with The Dartmouth. "That review is something that should happen under the auspices of whoever is next appointed dean of the College."

The Student Assembly COS task force, convened in the spring of 2006, set forth eight recommendations in its report. Two of the more controversial recommendations called for direct questioning by the accused and raising the COS's burden of proof. These recommendations caused concerns among some Assembly members who were concerned the changes might intimidate victims of sexual assault.

Nelson said he believes that COS reform is now appropriate, given this summer's appointment of Tom Crady as new dean of the College. The review committee's final report will be completed after Crady had assumed the post. Any major change to COS would require Crady's approval.

COS reform also became an issue in this year's trustee campaign, as winner Stephen Smith '88 made COS reform a central part of his campaign platform in the election by calling for increased transparency.

Nelson said that he supported those who called for COS reform, and hoped he could work with them to help improve the committee.

"I've agreed with everybody who said the time for COS reform has come," Nelson said. "The real issue has been timing."

Nelson also said that he believes Dartmouth already has one of the best disciplinary systems in the country.

"I think its a good system," Nelson said. "Nothing is broken. Different people will have different perspectives. It's more a matter of what we can do to make the system the best it can be."

Nelson added that the College had been discussing COS reform long before the Student Assembly group was created, and would likely have formed the review committee even if the task force had never been formed.

A similar COS review committee was chaired by Nelson in 1993 in response to three rallies protesting COS's response to sexual assault cases. After holding hearings and talking to students, the committee found that there was little interest in COS reform among the student body. The committee subsequently recommended some minor changes that included expelling rather than suspending students guilty of rape, and simplifying the Code of Conduct in the student handbook.

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