How MSU Plans To Keep Tabs And Hold Accountable Those Exempted From Its Sophomores-On Rule

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

An aerial view of Grand River Avenue with East Lansing on the left and MSU on the right.

As Michigan State University pushes ahead with its decision to require sophomores to live on campus starting in the Fall of 2022, University officials charged with the oversight of student housing and conduct are also working on crafting a system to hold accountable the students and organizations allowed an exemption from that rule.

The rule requiring sophomores to live on-campus at MSU has been on the books for decades, but the University decided in December 2020 to begin enforcing the rule again come the start of the 2022-23 academic year with exemptions to this rule for registered student organizations (RSO) and associated individual students.

This policy could potentially create more leverage for the City of East Lansing and MSU to wield over these specific housing facilities and students. As ELi reported last month, MSU’s requirement that some RSOs procure a Special Use Permit (SUP) from the City could provide City officials more oversight of these properties.

But to exercise new powers regarding the off-campus behavior of students living in RSO facilities, MSU is in need of more information. In particular, MSU needs to understand what troubles students are running into when not on campus and currently, it does not have a formalized process for receiving information from local authorities.

To address this gap of information, MSU will be requiring students living in RSO facilities to self-report interactions with the police or other emergency responders. To serve as a check on the self-reporting mechanism, MSU officials are also working on crafting a system to get records and information from local law enforcement — namely the East Lansing Police Department — regarding their interactions with students in off-campus RSO housing. 

MSU has yet to engage with ELPD about this system of information sharing, but the expectation is a system will be in place for the Fall 2022 semester. MSU Assistant Vice President for Student Rights and Responsibilities and Dean of Students Anthony T. Williams said that students will be kept in the loop about whatever systems get put in place.

“Our goal is to have all of these items fleshed out before students move in,” Williams said. 

Previously, MSU and ELPD had coordinated information sharing in regards to violations of local public health orders in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Beyond that, information from ELPD regarding off-campus issues with students trickles to MSU via informal methods on a case-by-case basis.

Andrew Graham for ELi

The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at 303 Charles St. (left) and 403 Ann St. (right) on Oct. 24, 2020, the day occupants of the Ann Street house were issued a citation for violating Covid-19 public health orders.

Along with establishing a (likely online) form for students living in RSO housing to self-report interactions with police or emergency responders, MSU wants to have a complete accounting of those interactions in order to hold students accountable to the standard of self-reporting and find out if they haven’t. It will not just be done on the honor system, MSU Community Liaison Su Webster said. 

Interactions that RSO housing units would need to report to MSU range from police being called for party noise to potentially even more benign issues, like a building being out of compliance with housing code and getting inspections done as repairs bring it into compliance. 

Webster hopes the self-reporting mechanism is the first step toward a greater rapport between the University and students being trusted to live off campus as sophomores, though.

“The point is that the institution [MSU officials] should not hear about the incident because two weeks later in a conversation with the police somebody mentions something and then we’re [MSU officials] going back,” Webster said. “So that’s providing a sense of, I guess, empowerment in the process of doing the right things in a given property. And expectations that the university has: If you have that ability to live off campus your sophomore year and conduct, you know, your RSO business, your organization, we also expect to be made aware of any issues.” 

Records of student interactions with police and other emergency responders or various units of government off-campus could also play a key role in individual students facing discipline from both the City and MSU. 

MSU’s current student conduct system only allows someone affiliated with the University — students, faculty and staff — to initiate a complaint. This means, under the current paradigm, that issues off campus tend to stay off campus unless they rise beyond the usual noise and party issues. 

Under the yet-to-be-formed system of information sharing between MSU and ELPD, it opens up the possibility that individual students could face discipline from MSU for their actions off campus. Basically, with issues getting conveyed to MSU administrators, those administrators can initiate a complaint under the student conduct system.

However, that option will be reserved for after lesser reprimands have been exhausted. Williams and Webster explained that for things like self-reported noise complaints, the follow-up from MSU for a first-time issue could be an email to the student(s) involved to explain the situation and issue a written reprimand. 

Additionally, Williams noted that the University conduct process is not necessary for issues with an entire organization. 

“There’s no [formal] complaint, either, for that process,” Williams said. “Like, if we were made aware of a violation from the neighbor or ELPD or anyone, we will investigate that situation.”

What the MSU investigation turns up would, of course, inform whatever punishment gets handed down. 

And revoking RSO status and forcing sophomores to vacate off-campus housing during a school year will be a last resort, as it’s a nuclear option of sorts and would require the sophomores living in that facility to find new housing in a pinch, according to Webster and Williams. 

As is the case with suspended students living on campus, there is a grace period between being suspended and having to move out of University property. A similar principle would be applied to cases where an RSO housing facility has its approval for sophomores to live there revoked. 

“We would never just say, ‘Hey, you have to get out right now,’” Williams said.

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