Editorial: Right to a fair trial
SCOPE ruling filled with contradictions
The saga of the Student Committee on Popular Entertainment came to a baffling conclusion last week, when all 19 members of SCOPE had their memberships revoked by an advisory board, leaving the 40-year-old organization gutted and useless for the foreseeable future.
For those who need their memories jogged, SCOPE had gone through a series of hearings and appeals processes over the past semester surrounding an incident that occurred in Portsmouth in April in which two new members of SCOPE stole signs and a painting from restaurants during an official organization trip and returned to the UNH campus with them. A judiciary panel found that SCOPE leadership knew about the incident and failed to report it to appropriate university authorities. The advisory board was formed to lead a restructuring of the organization, as well as to review the status of its current members.
There are a number of troubling issues surrounding SCOPE's initial hearings, sanctions and the actions of the advisory board.
On Nov. 16, all members of SCOPE received an email from Coordinator of Student Organization and Leadership Nate Hastings on behalf of the advisory board. The message read, "All members of SCOPE knew or should have known about the thefts that occurred during the week of April 9-13, 2012."
As a result, all members had their memberships revoked.
The advisory board's criteria for kicking students out of an organization in this case were shaky at best. How did they determine how a member "should have known" about the theft? How are the members at fault if they did not know about the incident? One SCOPE member was abroad last semester when the incident occurred; how do you justify revoking her membership? Two members are abroad this semester; how do you ascertain that they should have known about the incident if you cannot interview them? The advisory board appears to have taken a "guilt-by-association" tactic in removing many members of SCOPE from the organization.
Of course, there is also a possibility that SCOPE's members did not have a chance in the first place. When informing the student senate of SCOPE's status on Sunday night, Student Activity Fee Chair and advisory board member Bryan Merrill said that the board was formed to be an "executioner" rather than a judicial body. Merrill backtracked on that statement Monday, but the comments are telling. They indicate that the advisory board was not made to review the status of SCOPE's members; it was only there to carry out an inevitable sentence.
The judicial board at SCOPE's disciplinary hearing decision on Aug. 9 of this year recommended that the organization not be suspended and instead go on probation for two years, as the students who stole the items were not "acting on the encouragement of SCOPE." But in the subsequent decision on sanctions, judicial officer Linda Johnson imposed a two-year suspension on SCOPE. The rationale for the suspension was largely based on Assistant Director for Student Leadership Dave Zamansky informing Johnson that SCOPE had a history of violations in the past five years, "most often concerning hazing of prospective members." These violations were not mentioned in the initial disciplinary hearing decision, when the sanction recommendations were made, yet another misstep in the incident's judicial process.
In September, SCOPE appealed the sanctions. An appellate officer upheld the ruling, but scaled back some of the sanctions, putting SCOPE on deferred suspension. The organization had to meet a number of requirements to ensure that the suspension would be deferred. But the appellate officer also ruled that the permanent advisory board would be formed to carry out a number of tasks, including "an immediate review of and subsequent revocation of membership of those members who knew or should have known about the theft." The members never had a chance to meet the requirements, as the advisory board was able to use that broad mandate to condemn all of SCOPE's members and remove them from the organization. With the organization wiped clean, the advisory board will control SCOPE's future, while SAFC will control its $162,400 budget for the remainder of the year.
It's evident that SCOPE was never given the opportunity to redeem itself for its violations. The organization deserved to be punished for its missteps in handling April's theft. But it also deserved a fair ruling and realistic sanctions. Instead, its members were strung along all summer and for most of the fall semester. The decisions made by the Office of Conduct and Mediation and the advisory board were suspect at best, inconsistent and dishonest at worst. The appellate officer ruled that SCOPE needed an organizational reconstruction, but the administration needs to seriously reconsider how student orgs are judged in the first place.
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