Claremont McKenna College (CMC) told the Independent in a statement that its faculty voted in May to allow CMC seniors who violated the student code during a protest in early April aimed at preventing Heather Mac Donald from speaking at the college to partake in commencement exercises despite their conduct. According to an internal letter obtained by the Independent, this move is an unprecedented, break from the college’s standard approach to disciplinary cases.
In the letter to CMC faculty, Dean of Faculty Peter Uvin stated that “[h]istorically, when faced with comparable circumstances, the College has typically implemented an expedited conduct review process so that the matter can be resolved prior to Commencement … However, in the interests of overall fairness and consistency with respect to all Respondents, it is not appropriate to implement an expedited review process in any of these [protesters’] cases. And hence, as said, the process may well take until after Commencement.”
“The College has never let a student walk who did not fulfill all requirements for the degree,” he continued.
In the same letter, Dean Uvin emphasized the gravity of the student code violations:
“The charges against these students are sufficiently significant for the College to have activated the procedure that carries the highest potential sanctions, including suspension or expulsion. It is wrong to let students, over whom such significant doubts as to their good standing exist, graduate from the College as if these concerns did not exist.”
Yet in a statement to the Independent, the college confirmed that its faculty did ultimately vote to allow seniors who transgressed the student code amid the protests to walk at graduation, despite its promise to investigate and sanction students who had violated policy.
The faculty’s decision to permit seniors who violated the student code to participate in commencement exercises came after CMC refused to give into a student group demanding the exoneration of all students under investigation. The group, which identified itself as the “CMCers of Color,” had expressed concern that sanctions for protesters might impact the employment prospects of graduates who violated college policy, writing that “CMC has threatened to prevent students [who violated the student code] from walking at graduation and holds the power to withhold transcripts, barring students entrance into a competitive job market.”
Asked about the faculty’s decision, the college insisted that permitting seniors under investigation to walk at graduation would not impact the sanctions process:
“The faculty voted to let all seniors who had fulfilled all academic requirements for the degree walk in commencement. That includes a number of seniors who were, and still are, subject to a continuing conduct investigation and review process.”
Based on Uvin’s letter and the college’s statement to the Independent, it is clear that the faculty chose to award seniors their degrees on a conditional basis:
“[Motion 1] The faculty hereby conditionally grants those students who are currently the subject of a Conduct Investigation and Review process under the Student Conduct Process and who otherwise have fulfilled all the academic requirements for graduation, the degree of Bachelor of Arts, conditional on the completion of the Student Conduct Process, and either (i) a finding of non-responsibility or (ii) a finding of responsibility followed by the completion of any applied sanctions.”
Dean Uvin’s letter also listed a second motion that would have barred seniors from walking at commencement until the completion of the investigation and the fulfillment of any punitive sanctions:
“Motion 2. (only applicable if motion 1 carries) Students whose degree is granted conditionally will be eligible to participate in the first Commencement ceremony following the completion of the Conduct Process … The College has never let a student walk who did not fulfill all requirements for the degree. If we voted to award the degree conditionally—for we believe that unresolved major concerns about students’ good standing preclude us from awarding their degree at this moment—then it automatically follows that we should not allow these students to walk at this time, but only after they received the degree.”
If the second motion were adopted, Dean Uvin clarified, two scenarios could take place:
“If the conduct matter is fully resolved, including the satisfaction or completion of any sanctions, prior to the close of regular business hours on May 12, 2017, the student shall be eligible to participate in the Commencement Ceremony on May 13, 2017.
If the conduct matter is not fully resolved by May 12th, the student shall be eligible to participate in the first Commencement Ceremony following the completion of the conduct process, including the satisfaction or completion of any sanctions. Example: A student is found responsible, and the sanctions include the deferral of the student’s degree until the end of the summer or fall 2017 semester.”
Based on CMC’s statement to the Independent, however, it is clear that the second motion failed, with the faculty voting instead to allow seniors still under investigation who fulfilled academic requirements to walk in commencement.
In the same statement, the college took care to emphasize that the investigation is ongoing and that faculty would not be involved in the sanctioning process once the investigation is complete:
“While we cannot discuss details of ongoing conduct cases, per our Student Conduct Process, if any student—of whatever year—is found responsible for violations of policy, sanctions will be determined by a designated sanctioning officer, not by the faculty. Upon any finding of responsibility, such sanctions will be implemented.”
After repeated requests for comment from the Independent, the assistant to Dean Uvin said that Uvin is in meetings “literally all day every day” until he leaves campus for vacation and thus could not answer any questions.
Elliot Dordick contributed reporting.