The position of Judicial and Community Board coordinator has been eliminated for next year. Dean of Student Life and Services Charlene Cole-Newkirk said she is not sure how the Judicial Board will run in the future, or exactly who will assume the duties of the position.
Cole-Newkirk said her vision for the position entails assigning the duties of judicial coordinator to one of the associate deans and restructuring the job so that whoever assumes it is the one who brings students up on judicial charges.
Cole-Newkirk said it is also possible that the existing position would be restructured and a search for a candidate conducted.
Traditionally, charges at Oberlin are brought before the judicial board by the dean of Student Life and Services.
At most schools, Cole-Newkirk said, an associate dean is usually responsible for judicial duties and also the one to bring students up on charges, after first reviewing security reports and deciding which incidents should result in filed charges. Cole-Newkirk said most schools, especially schools the size of Oberlin, do not have a judicial coordinator position that exists independently of other positions.
At most other schools, Cole-Newkirk said, whoever serves as judicial coordinator typically explains rights and due process to the accused and refers cases to the Judicial Board.
Cole-Newkirk said that the job of judicial coordinator is not a "stand alone responsibility" and that the job was never intended to be a full-time job at Oberlin.
"It is not a full-time job. It should be at a level close to dean, but not at a level where the dean is bringing the charges." She said the dean should serve as an educator and mediator who oversees the judicial system.
Cole-Newkirk said that the judicial coordinator should work closely with anybody who reviews student behavior. The goal, she said, should be education, not punishment. "Nobody within the system should be looking to punish students," Cole-Newkirk said.
The current position of judicial coordinator is held by Claudia Bredlau. As coordinator, her duties include talking with the complainant, notifying the accused and acting as an adviser to both sides. In addition, she arranges and runs hearings, trains the students who serve on the Board and ensures that sanctions are implemented. Bredlau said that her job is to serve as an "objective neutral party."
Student members of Judicial Board question whether the objective nature of the coordinator can be preserved if the coordinator is the one who brings the student up on charges.
Senior Natasha Borges-Sugiyama, a member of Judicial Board, said, "Personally, I think it is important to have someone the accused and accuser can turn to." Borges-Sugiyama said she thinks a bias issue arises if the person who deals with those accused also brings them up on charges.
The position of judicial coordinator may seem like a simple administrative task, Borges-Sugiyama said, "but it's a very important task that needs to be taken seriously. If [the position is not taken seriously] it is detrimental to the students."
"If the Board is not perceived as fair," Borges-Sugiyama said, "the Board loses legitimacy."
Bredlau said the judicial coordinator position described in the Rules and Regulations Book is that of a coordinator of judicial processes, not someone who brings charges to the Board.
The General Faculty approved the current judicial coordinator description in 1981.
"I don't know how the person bringing charges could be the one advising students," Bredlau said. But she also said, "That's been the process since 1981 ... Maybe it's time to change it."
"Any changes that need to be made will be made. I'm not the rulemaker. I'm not anyone who makes changes," Bredlau said.
Cole-Newkirk said it is the responsibility of whoever serves as judicial coordinator to make sure a fair process occurs. "Whoever has the role should be objective and fair. Just because [he or she is bringing the charges] doesn't mean [he or she] thinks the student is guilty," Cole-Newkirk said.
Cole-Newkirk said that when she began her career as an assistant dean her job responsibilities included those of a judicial coordinator. "Moving through my career judicial duties have been at the heart of my responsibilities," Cole-Newkirk said. "I understand what it takes to get the job done in a fair and legal manner."
Senior Jason Smith said he felt that there was a "certain amount of ideological conflict" between Bredlau and Cole-Newkirk, concerning the nature of the position.
Smith said he feels Cole-Newkirk has "criticized J-Board without knowing what we're all about." He said that because Oberlin's Judicial Board is "very student run" it needs a full-time coordinator to organize it.
Smith said one reason for the independent position of judicial coordinator is to make the school more user friendly to students. Smith said, "I don't agree with [Cole-Newkirk] and [President Nancy Dye] about how expendable the position was."
Bredlau also oversees personal leaves, withdrawals and medical leaves, a responsibility which will now belong to the Office of Academic Services.
Though she is not sure what her future holds for her, Bredlau is currently training next year's judicial board.
Of Bredlau, Smith said, "She's a wonderful employee. She has a wonderful record. I would go to her with any problem … She believes in the student. She believes in the judicial process.
Borges-Sugiyama agreed. "She's incredibly caring. She wants to see that the process is working for the student."
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 21; April 19, 1996
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