The start of the new school year. The arrival of students on campus. Moving away from home. It is easy to think it was 2019, but it is NOT. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, students were notified (through the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards and University Housing, the OSCCS) prior to their arrival on campus this fall, that OSCCS would be enforcing social distancing and small group assembly (meaning less than 10 people together in one place at one time). If a student is suspected of violating these regulations, the university has taken the position that it is “dangerous conduct,” which is a term used in the non-academic process to effect a student’s removal from campus. Prior to COVID-19, UW system schools reserved removal from campus for those individuals who were believed to be a risk or extremely dangerous to other students on campus. UW-Madison and other UW system schools have determined that this level of “dangerous conduct” can result in an emergency suspension and potential cancellation of housing contracts, and possibly expulsion.
Even at this early point in the academic year, UW-Madison and other UW system schools are not wasting any time utilizing emergency suspensions and cancellations of housing contracts. The UW system appears to be using an expedited disciplinary process to remove these students from campus. If a student is suspended, they are not allowed to take classes on campus or virtually for the period of suspension. At present, it is not clear what the period of suspension for a student would be. It could be a semester, a year, or longer.
These regulations were also imposed upon all campus-sanctioned student organizations. If a student organization violates the UW system social distancing requirements, the organization (and members) can be suspended or terminated. Again, the UW system is using the “dangerous conduct” non-academic discipline process to remove student organizations from campus. It is unclear what is required for reinstatement short of serving the full period of suspension.
As recently as September 2, 2020, the Dean of Students has reiterated UW-Madison’s decision to take emergency action against students for violating UW’s social distancing requirements.
If you receive a letter from OSCCS, you need to contact counsel immediately prior to the initial interview as this can have a serious effect on your status on campus.
This area of law is very specialized and time-sensitive, even more now than before. Attorney Erika Bierma routinely handles these matters at campuses around the Midwest. If you or a loved one needs assistance in navigating the non-academic discipline process related to a possible COVID-19 suspension or other non-academic misconduct allegation, please contact Ms. Bierma for a free consultation.