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University of Notre Dame bans students from appealing COVID code violations

Gives itself right to choose between new and old codes, too

Universities have granted themselves extraordinary power to control the most mundane routines of students, even off campus, under COVID-19 mitigation protocols that have little relation to science.

One of them has gone a step further by refusing to let students challenge the findings against them.

The University of Notre Dame, which bragged about its decision to reopen campus ahead of the curve, issued a “COVID-19 addendum” to its student life rules last month that adds a “Campus Compact Administrative Process.”

Students must agree to the compact as a condition of coming on campus for the spring semester, which lasts through most of May. Violating COVID-19 protocols can now incur two new punishments that are available after a first violation, which results in a “formal warning” that stays on the student record for the semester.

Like a bias response team for viruses that don’t threaten 20-somethings, a “COVID-19 Response Unit” refers students to the Office of Community Standards for a first violation. “COVID Probation” is possible when a student “fails to present for another scheduled test, or has another Compact violation, at any time during the remainder of the semester.”

When a student on probation “fails to report for testing when required to do so and has not been granted an excused absence,” they face “COVID Dismissal” – getting kicked out of school for the semester, with the option to reapply next semester.

They can also be kicked out for any behavior the university deems “egregious” or represents “a threat to the health and/or safety of members of the University or local community,” including but not limited to “hosting or participating in gatherings in excess of University-stipulated limits,” violation of quarantine or isolation protocol, and “serious, repeated or flagrant violations of Compact commitments.”

What’s especially troubling in the addendum, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is that it removes appeals of guilty findings and punishments and bans appeals of which code students are tried under.

There’s already a “University Conduct Process” that governs disciplinary proceedings for nonsexual misconduct, which received an “F” on FIRE’s due process report card in the previous academic year. It bans the presumption of innocence, “right to impartial fact-finders” and right to show those people “relevant evidence,” but allows appeals.

MORE: Notre Dame calls itself courageous for reopening

The Office of Community Standards reserves the right to pick which code to use – the addendum or the “preexisting code that is already terrible,” in FIRE’s words, with no appeal. (Failure to “report for surveillance testing” is automatically reviewed under the addendum.)

Appeals are also banned from COVID probation but not COVID dismissal, although the latter appeal process is still challenging for students.

Even facing dismissal from the university, students have just 48 hours to make their case and can’t have an attorney act on their behalf. (It’s 24 hours for probation.) If they don’t submit a response within 48 hours, they are kicked out. They can appeal dismissal verdicts within three days to the vice president for student affairs, who has “full discretion” over review and whose “decision is final.”

FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley has trouble identifying “a legitimate public health reason to ban appeals“:

If Notre Dame can trust students not to run around purposely coughing on people after they receive a warning or while the original process, brief as it may be, is underway — and unless they are literally locking students in a room while this is going on, they do trust them not to — it’s hard to imagine why they couldn’t trust them not to while the appeal proceeds, since they will remain on campus anyway. (Remember, those actually kicked off campus with a COVID Dismissal do get an appeal.)

Further, in the case of meritorious appeals, if it turns out Notre Dame might have made a mistake about what happened or who is responsible, that information actually is important both to the affected student and for public health reasons. It’s important to the disciplined student, of course, as they are being unjustly denied the opportunity to receive an education that semester. But it’s also important to the college community, if it turns out that someone else might be engaging in uncorrected behavior that puts others at risk.

The university has not responded to a College Fix query Wednesday asking for its explanation of the lack of appeal for which code applies to any alleged infraction and for guilty findings short of dismissal, and its response to FIRE’s criticisms.

The Fix also asked what criteria govern OCS’s decision on which code to use, whether the old code has impeded the university from acting swiftly in response to reported violations, and what level of review the addendum went through before it was released: general counsel or staff in that office, and if so, how long they reviewed it.

MORE: Ivy League epidemiologist says there’s no COVID crisis on campus

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.