SGA Calls for Changes to Open Disciplinary Hearings


The Student Government Association (SGA) passed a bill on Oct. 29 calling for changes to the college’s disciplinary hearing procedures, including a request that the handbook explicitly declare open hearings accessible to all college community members. The bill comes in response to dissatisfaction with the open hearings held after the March 2 protests of Charles Murray, in which a lottery system was used to grant admission to a select number of attendees.

After two months of debate and revision, Senator Alec Fleischer ’20.5 announced the bill’s passage in an Oct. 30 email to constituents. Senator Connor McCormick ’18 opposed the bill, and Senator Jack Goldfield ’20 abstained.

Fleischer, the bill’s author, hopes the resolution will result in changes to the handbook that would increase the transparency of the college’s disciplinary process.

“Middlebury has historically allowed open hearings when confidentiality is waived by the complainant and respondent,” Fleischer said. This practice is listed in the college handbook section B.2.d. under “Hearing Procedures.”

Fleischer criticized the open hearings that took place in the aftermath of the March 2 demonstrations, taking issue with the lottery system utilized to select a small number of audience members and the limiting size of the room.

“The last two open hearings were far from open,” Fleischer said. “Instead of the old system where community members were allowed to attend without advanced commitment and a large capacity room was in use, a small meeting room was used where only a handful of community members were allowed to attend after being picked from a lottery. This bill attempts to go back to the old, transparent, and truly open trial.”

In the Oct. 29 SGA meeting, McCormick argued that members of the judicial board might struggle to carry out their duty of enforcing school policies if they feel public pressure from an audience. Fleischer’s response was that since the handbook already includes the potential for open hearings, pressure on judicial board members was an unfortunate but necessary cost of clarity within the judicial process.

The bill outlines an alternative policy for open hearings, including sending a school-wide email describing the charges, people involved, and logistical details of the hearing several days before its scheduled date. The bill requests that all members of the college community be allowed to attend, with admission managed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and recommends that hearings expected to draw large numbers be held in high capacity spaces such as Dana Auditorium or Wilson Hall. Finally, the bill requests that students involved be allowed to decide whether the press or other non-community members can attend their hearing.

Final recommendations regarding changes to the college’s open hearing policy will be the responsibility of the college’s handbook committee. The committee, established earlier this year by college dean Katy Smith Abbott and dean of students Baishakhi Taylor, consists of both students and staff.