Fall 2020 Proposed Amendments to the Campus Code of Conduct


The University Assembly was charged by the President to review the following recommended changes that were a result of the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate:

  • Reworking the Code to have an educational and aspirational rather than punitive, quasi-criminal tone.
  • Significantly simplifying the Code and having it use “plain English”.
  • Narrowing its focus to students.
  • Separating standards of behavior from administrative procedures for managing misconduct.
  • Simplifying the administrative procedures.
  • Expanding the treatment of Harassment.
  • Permitting enhanced penalties for Harassment or Assault that are motivated by bias.
  • Considering moving less serious types of misconduct to the Office of the Dean of Students for resolution.

The Office of University Counsel has considered these recommendations into the proposals posted here for public comment. While reviewing these proposals, we ask that you keep these recommended changes in mind:

  • Do you agree or disagree with these changes?
  • Do you think the Office of University Counsel incorporated these changes well into its proposals or did it not go far enough with incorporating some of these changes?
  • Are there changes that aren't part of that list that you think we should consider as well?

All of your comments will help create a better Code for our community. Review and public comment by the Cornell community are welcomed and encouraged. The deadline for submitting feedback and comments is 5:00 PM EST on Tuesday, November 17, 2020.

**At its concluding meeting in the spring of 2020, the UA asked University Counsel to draft a new version of a Student Code of Conduct and associated procedures that would reflect input from several entities that had worked on versions over the past two years.  The newly posted documents reflect Counsel’s work reconciling these different versions and approaches and explicitly invite campus input on numerous issues, including what standard of evidence the community believes should be applied to cases arising under the Student Code of Conduct.

The items below are related to the substantive section of the Code revision. 

The items below are related to the procedural section of the Code revision.

This page contains comments posted by members of the Cornell community pertaining to General Comments in the current and proposed Campus Code and judicial system. Before posting to this forum, please read the comments below to make sure that the information you are providing is pertinent to the discussion and has not already been addressed before. Comments containing inappropriate language, including but not limited to offensive, profane, vulgar, threatening, harassing, or abusive language, are subject to removal.

Review and public comment by the Cornell community are welcomed and encouraged. The deadline for submitting feedback and comments is 5:00 PM EST on Tuesday, November 17, 2020.


** Commenting is closed.

Cornell Student Code of Conduct Fall 2020 Revision

Submitted by Timothy VanWirt O'Connor on Tue, 2020-11-17 16:02

I find the changes and direction of the proposed version of the code of conduct disappointing in its lack of objectivity, clarity, and accordance with basic American rights. The process is not more open and friendly, it hands arbitrary discretion entirely to the University and leaves the University subject to and liable for extensive litigation and settlement for its lack of due process, ignoring true harm it does to the careers and therefore lifetime earnings of students with any interaction with the JA process. As an alumni I do not give money to Cornell to waste with such a poor process as this will be. 

Key objections:

1) Burden of proof must be clear and convincing. Anything less becomes too open to abuse and bias, especially with the one sided nature of the investigation process where the Director holds all the control and decides what is relevant.
2) Respondents must be allowed access to CU Judicial Advisors for whatever part of the process they feel the need, with Advisors allowed to participate in the process on their behalf. This avoids the real need to hire attorneys which not all students can afford, but all will need with the process as written to avoid student amatures being slaughtered by the University JA experts in the process, language, and acheiving their desired outcome.
3) Cornell needs to explain how they will handle students of the Statutory Colleges who have defined rights that this process ignores.
4) Extending the reach of the code globally (universally) begs credibility to how a fair judgement can be made, and how Cornell can claim jurisdiction under its Reputational Harm. Will the University go after Alumni who embarass and extend negative reputation on the Cornell Name? 
5) While not entirely new the "Causes, encourages or compells another person to engage in any activity that could be reasonably perceived as likely to create a risk of mental, physical or emotional distress (vs Harm) under the example - undertake acts of service or menial tasks, would prohibit being required to volunteer as a group for Habitat for Humanity or other service causes where people work in front of others. For organizations to have a mission that includes personal responsibility and care for the organization and its assets, learning to care for, clean or maintain the same should never be twisted into some definition of hazing. Humility learned is not humiliation, and is an important life skill.
6)  The code is unclear and therefore arbitrary in how and when an organization and its entire membership will be held vicariously responsible and treated as respondents with all the corrolary harm, for the actions of individuals.  Holding organization leaders, who can not be shown to have participated or sanctioned or encouraged any violations of the code peronally responsible for the activities of others only serves to prevent the best leaders from stepping forward and leading by example. No one with half a brain would volunteer for any leadership of a Cornell student organization, Fraternities or otherwise if that were to continue to be the case as has been done under the Covid-19 guidelines. This strategy by the University only serves to destroy leadership development at Cornell.
7) Eliminating or ignoring the Good Samaritan law is reckless and dangerous to students and public. It is imperative that the first focus of the Code of Conduct be to prevent and mitigate any further harm. The Good Samaritan Law applied to all students (and staff, faculty) is clearly understood as the best practice in that direction and should be explicitly included. 

Cornell, this proposed code is disappointing and deserves an F grade resulting in dismissal. You can and must do better and be more aspirational for all involved. Fairness is a value well embedded in the history of Cornell and you should not be trying to excise it. 


Board statement, Cornell Daily Sun

Submitted by Brad Edmondson on Tue, 2020-11-17 15:55

Dear University Counsel,

The Cornell Daily Sun’s Board of Directors believes that proposed revisions to the Campus Code of Conduct move in the wrong direction. The revisions broaden the Code’s scope while weakening procedural rights for accused students.  These concerns were expressed last May in public comments filed by a number of concerned Cornell Sun alumni.  The current draft from the University Counsel does not address those concerns.

The Sun has operated independently of Cornell since 1880.  We have never been a registered student organization, and we have gone to great expense to preserve our independence from Cornell, including purchasing our own office building at 139 West State Street. We believe that Cornell's judicial system should not be extended to include independent, off-campus organizations like ours.  Yet proposed Section 4.13 says, "known members of unrecognized student groups may be held accountable for prohibited conduct by these groups."  So, if the Sun or one of its staff members publishes a controversial article that members of an identity group consider to be "harassment" under Proposed Section 4.10 because it creates a "hostile environment", then any "known member" of the Sun staff could be subject to a disciplinary proceeding even if he or she did not actually write the offensive item. 

Reasonable people have grown to expect that the Sun is not subject to the Code because it is an off-campus organization. However, the proposed Section 3 allows the Vice President to determine after the fact whether to extend Code jurisdiction to off-campus groups if conduct could harm "the University's reputation."  This provision puts the Vice President in an impossible position. It also has a chilling effect on the free speech rights of The Sun.

The current Code goes into significant detail about Cornell's policies to protect free speech and free expression.  These provisions are deleted in the University Counsel’s proposals, and instead Cornell's "Core Values" statement is quoted in full.  Well-established First Amendment case law holds that regulation of speech must be content neutral. Yet by quoting the Core Values, the document implies that the Code will be enforced in a non-neutral fashion.

The Sun’s mission is to train young journalists to do their reporting dispassionately and without bias. Regulation of speech must be content-neutral in order for us to succeed in this mission.  Inclusion of the Core Values document distracts from the content-neutral approach that Cornell has used for decades.  The prior language, with its emphasis on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, is superior.

Any Code case brought against a Sun staffer because of the publication's actions would be a challenge the Sun's editorial independence. Because of this, we would expect the right to a full public hearing, regardless of any promise by Cornell not to suspend or expel the accused student.  We are also concerned that proposed Section 20.8.1 would give us no right to a public hearing. 

In conclusion, we urge you to limit off-campus application of the Code to only those rare cases where it is necessary to protect serious injury or significant property damage.  Cornell University has stood for freedom of speech and assembly, and we hope that it will continue to do so. Thank you for your consideration.


Brad Edmondson ‘81, President

Sam Roberts ‘68, senior board

Johnathan Stimpson ‘21, managing editor

For the Board of Directors


Make sure undergraduates are being centered in this conversation

Submitted by Anonymous Committee Member on Tue, 2020-11-17 15:28 (user name hidden)

It seems as if several comments here are completely not based in reality of what it is like to be an undergraduate student. Why are alumni trying to push back against changes to the code that are intended to support undergraduate students, when the code and judicial processes have vastly changed since they were here on campus? It seems very out of touch and unfair for current undergraduates who are the ones actually experiencing and going through these changes and whose voices should be heard.


Protect students.

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Tue, 2020-11-17 14:53 (user name hidden)

I do not support lowering the burden of proof. I understand the reasons given, but it is clear that these are insufficient justifications for stripping protections away from already vulnerable students. To say that such an amendment "best balances the rights" is contradictory to what the amendments actually do. Moving to a 'proponderance' risks innocent students being falsly accused and/or found guilty of misconduct–– which can have a sever impact on a student's academic career and future professional prospects. 

  • Maintain a 'clear and convincing' evidentiary standard.
  • Protect student's right to representation. 
  • Protect the right to cross-examination. 
  • Protect the right to a public hearing. 


Rights of Students

Submitted by Mathew Aaron Tabacco on Tue, 2020-11-17 14:01

I am writing as Alumni President of the Seal and Serpent Society.  Seal and Serpent is an undergraduate society at Cornell University. Founded at Cornell in 1905, we are the one and only chapter of our Society. Although we withdrew our membership in the Inter-Fraternity Council, we operate as one of the oldest social clubs on campus. ​Our fraternity is based on the building of character through the maintenance of high ideals, assisting its members to be conscious of their social and moral obligations, and instilling in its members an appreciation of Cornell University.  

We are proud to announce that Seal and Serpent’s active and alumni members voted this fall to become a genderless organization this fall and of our independence from both the IFC and a national organization.  However, we are extremely concerned about parts of the proposed code that undermine that independence and also unduly impinge on students’ rights.

Specifically, we urge that the University clarify that Code section 4.1, 4.2, and 4.13 do not apply to groups like Seal and Serpent.  Seal and Serpent voluntarily renounced its affiliation with the IFC for non-disciplinary reasons.  Seal and Serpent’s property is owned by the Society, not the University.  Right now, proposed Section 4.1 states that, “This [section] applies to organizations that were created by members of a de recognized organization in an attempt to continue its presence on campus.”

Similarly, proposed Section 4.13 states that, “known members of unrecognized student groups may be held accountable for prohibited conduct by these groups.” This sentence imposes a strict vicarious liability upon any Cornell student for any Code violation of an “unrecognized student group” even if the accused student did not play a role in the violation. Such “guilt-by-association” serves no valid purpose, especially for an organization such as Seal and Serpent which voluntarily renounced membership in the IFC and owns its house separate from any university control.  As Section 4 is currently drafted, it leaves open the possibility of university overreach against a non-campus organization like Seal and Serpent.    

Rights of Students

We are also concerned with the change in the standard of proof.  Seal and Serpent has been very careful to select amongst its members people of high character.  Throughout our history, our unique culture and independence from any national organization has given Seal and Serpent the ability to recruit members who are typically opposed to joining a typical fraternity.  However, we are also aware that people may make accusations against students which ruin them.  In our view, a “preponderance of the evidence” or 51% likelihood of having done something does not offer adequate protection to students who have invested time and money in a Cornell degree that can be so easily devalued by a finding that does not require a higher burden of proof. The consequences for a student from a mistaken finding of “responsible” are severe and can damage chances for graduate school or finding a good job. Cornell should not be advocating reduced standards for due process and fairness, and we proudly stand with those who believe that Cornell students should be protected by a higher burden of proof, especially given how broadly parts of the code are written.

It is in a similar vein that we urge Cornell to leave alone the Good Samaritan Policy.  We encourage, and want to continue encouraging our members to be Good Samaritans.  Right now, under Cornell’s Good Samaritan Policy, individuals that call for help and those that receive help in an alcohol or drug related emergency are protected from individual judicial consequences. Calling 911 in such circumstances may also be a consideration as a mitigating factor in an organizational misconduct case.

Thank you for giving me a forum to bring our Society’s views to you.  I urge you to change the code in the ways outlined above.  The Code should protect students and organizations that try to do the right thing.  The parts we outlined above have the unintended consequence of undermining those good purposes and should be corrected.


Mat Tabacco, ’09, ‘10


NO to lowering the burden of proof. Keep representation.

Submitted by Anonymous Committee Member on Tue, 2020-11-17 13:26 (user name hidden)

The burden of proof should not be lowered. By and large, the OJA acts as a prosecutorial office. The current verbiage states that the evidence standard is already a “lower standard than the criminal law's beyond-a-reasonable doubt standard.” Why lower it more? To say that using the preponderance of evidence “best balances the rights” of students is troubling. The current system is already a compromise from a clear and convincing evidence standard. A change to decrease the evidence standard is not in the best interest of students, or any party being accused of what is essentially criminal conduct. If this were the case, justice systems across the world would have moved from clear and convincing to preponderance of evidence years ago. Is the OJA suggesting they know better than legal systems across the world?

And why does this only apply to students? Why should the faculty be held to a different standard? They’re people too. If this was really about equity and fairness we would all be held to the same justice standard.

This entire process is troubling, not the least of which is the timing. Odd how such an important decision is being decided while undergraduates have semi-finals. It reminds me of when the student activity fee was unamisouly raised a few years ago in the last meeting of the semester.



Do not reduce the burden of proof

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Tue, 2020-11-17 12:47 (user name hidden)

It is not uncommon to hear about a student with a vendetta against another to pursue charges which are largely unfounded. 

If Cornell wants to have it's own semi-judicial processes, it should hold itself to a high standard of evidence - students must be assumed innocent until proven guilty, and reducing the burden of proof to merely a "preponderance" is unacceptable and will result in more innocent students being found guilty wrongfully. 


Aligning the Greek Standard

Submitted by Anonymous Committee Member on Tue, 2020-11-17 12:38 (user name hidden)

Was conflicted about changing the standard of evidence, but seeing as the Greek Life judicial system already uses preponderance of evidence as their standard, it makes sense to align all our judicial processes so some cases don’t have different standards than others.


Please reconsider lowering the burden of proof

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Tue, 2020-11-17 12:05 (user name hidden)

Student rights must be defended staunchly
Do not lower the burden of proof. Do allow students to be able to represent themselves with an advisor, law student, or lawyer.


Change the system

Submitted by Anonymous Committee Member on Tue, 2020-11-17 11:41 (user name hidden)

The current system allows rich students to buy the best lawyers who can intimidate others to not come forward about allegations of hazing. Private lawyers throw muck into a system that disadvantages students who are trying to come forward with emotionally taxing accounts and to allow this gaping hole to exist is unfathomable. It is utterly ridiculous that people would support a system and code that allows the most privileged students to get away with violations that fundamentally harm the campus community. To suggest that the current system is equitable and does anything remotely to solve issues of conduct is ridiculous. While I don’t particularly love how this whole code change process has gone down, I do support the changes proposed by the University Counsel because at least it attempts to address these issues.