Soncia Reagins-Lilly

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Interview notes for internal and external nominations made in April by the Student Government Executive Board will not be made available to the public, after their disclosure was determined to be in violation of federal privacy rights by the University's Office of Legal Affairs.

Student Government President Kori Rady, who has been hesitant to disclose the contents of the interview notes before their contents became a legal matter, said the interview notes contain sensitive and intimate disclosures that should not be made public.

“I think, with the assembly and executive board working so close together, we’re already on the same page in regards to student privacy in that we value it and are working hard to protect it,” Rady said. “Listening to these people delve into their lives … there are definitely situations during interviews that you just feel like ‘wow I probably shouldn’t let everyone know about this,’” Rady said.

The internal and external positions — more than 70 in total — include various SG agencies, such as Hook the Vote, and working as liaisons between SG and other organizations, such as Faculty Council or the city government.

The decision follows an SG court ruling in May asking the executive board to release all interview notes to the public, due to an internal rule stipulating that all interview questions, answers and evaluations shall be made public by the staff.

Rady said a potential constitutional amendment drafted and approved by the SG assembly could circumvent the issue in the future, but a timeline on that particular plan of action has not yet been established.

Braydon Jones, SG assembly speaker, said in an internal email that all previously made appointments which were invalidated by the May court ruling, will be reconfirmed at SG’s meeting of the fall semester.

According to Jones, representatives will have until Aug. 22 to review nominees.

Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, who also serves as an advisor to SG, said while individual students have every right to view their personal information under FERPA — or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — an organized group like Student Government does not.

Enacted in 1974, FERPA restricts student records from all parties without written consent, including parents, and applies to all institutions receiving funding from any program under the U.S. Department of Education. Sara LeStrange, spokeswoman for the Office of the Dean of Students, said the Office of the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer has the final decision in matters related to FERPA.

Lilly said she thinks personal anecdotes and stories of triumph, adversity or otherwise should be told at the sole discretion of the student.

“Transparency does not mean ‘at the expense of,'" Lilly said. “It’s up to you to share that story.”

This article has been updated since its original publication.

Victims of pranks in West Campus often lack legal recourse to seek justice through judicial outlets, but the University provides additional avenues for students who feel they have been wronged.

UTPD chief of police David Carter said pranks in West Campus typically fall outside the criminal spectrum, which hinders police action. The less severe the offense, the less police are able to do with it in terms of investigation and interrogation.

“Once we establish that there’s no crime, then there wouldn’t be anything the police can do with [a case],” Carter said. “It’s really hard to prosecute lower offenses. That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be
administrative action.”

Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, who has primary authority and responsibility for the administration of student discipline, said administrative action is a viable option if there is a breach in UT’s institutional rules, on or off campus.

Unlike UTPD, University administrators’ jurisdiction extends well beyond campus.

“Any time something happens — something is thrown from a balcony, for instance — whether it be West Campus, Riverside, North Campus or Far West, two litmus tests determine whether or not and how Student Judicial Services will engage off-campus behavior,” Reagins-Lilly said.

“Student-to-student” incidents are the University’s first litmus test. Reagins-Lilly said the judicial process begins with information gathering and proceeds into an investigative phase. Conduct violations occurring during UT-sponsored activities — the second litmus test — are also included in the University’s jurisdiction.

“If we are in Spain, and the trip is a University-sponsored trip, and we have student-to-student violations, those parameters [will allow us to] begin our process,” Reagins-Lilly said.

According to chapter 11 of UT’s Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities, the University’s expectations for student conduct are grounded in the University’s Code of Conduct and Student Honor Code. Reagins-Lilly said her office will refer to chapter 11 any time they engage a student or gather information specific to a situation, and she encourages students to contact Student Judicial Services if they feel an institutional rule has
been violated.

“The beauty of our administrative process is that we’re focused on the development of students,” Reagins-Lilly said. “What’s most important is that students have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and conduct. It’s not punitive, punitive, punitive. We want to have constructive conversations and help
students reflect and think about their behavior.”

History junior Anne Pennington chairs the Student Conduct Advisory Committee, a group of students that provides student perspectives on matters of student conduct and academic integrity. Pennington said Student Judicial Services wants to address concerns that are relevant
to students.

“I wouldn’t discourage anybody from calling the SJS if something offends you or makes you feel unsafe,” Pennington said. “They can more likely help you than not, and that’s their goal. Their process is extremely constructive. They want to know if something is wrong, and they want to take action.”

Occupy UT member Lucian Villaseñor, a Mexican-American Studies senior, leads group members down to Kealing Park for the Student Forum on Education on Monday. Villaseñor said the group’s biggest challenge and goal right now is recruiting members.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Efforts to raise awareness about the Occupy UT movement have prompted a debate between the group and the Office of the Dean of Students over University policies and procedures regarding on-campus demonstrations.

Concerns regarding Occupy UT’s status as an unofficial student organization first arose in December but are becoming a hot topic this semester as the group’s activity is becoming more regular. Occupy UT members have said a physical occupation and camping overnight at the University is a possibility, and they plan on having a series of teach-ins with faculty members and a walking tour on the history of racism on campus within the next few weeks.

Soncia Reagins-Lilly, senior associate vice president and dean of students, said her office tries to meet with every new student organization and was not looking for conflict with Occupy UT. She said the group has not told her office about upcoming events, making its attempts to facilitate and work with the organization difficult.

Reagins-Lilly said she has informed members of the group about certain policies but cannot make any recommendations without knowing the group’s intentions.

“We facilitate freedom of expression, demonstration and controversial speakers — that is what we do,” she said. “It becomes adversarial when students, faculty and staff that aren’t aware of the guidelines and procedures set up and we show up and say, ‘this is how you have to do it.’”

University administrative members have met with Occupy UT since the group’s inception last fall. Occupy UT member Lucian Villaseñor said the group did not want to become an official student organization because doing so would limit their abilities.

“They can certainly gather, and they have the freedom to associate and be together,” Reagins-Lilly said. “The focus is helping facilitate student and campus life for all that want to be involved in it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the core mission of the institution.”

There is a difference between students gathering together and holding a demonstration, she said, but they need to reserve the location and time just as other students and organizations must.

University police chief Robert Dahlstrom said the UT Police Department did not see any reason to be concerned about Occupy UT because not many protests have resulted in arrests in the past. He said UTPD would only get involved if a person hurts another person, if property is destroyed or if administrative rules are broken. UTPD waits for the dean of students to give a warning and allows time for students to comply before they get involved.

Dahlstrom said it would be beneficial for Occupy UT to register as an official organization.

“I totally disagree with them having less rights,” he said. “They could actually reserve places to protest, and dean of students would help them and UTPD would help them.”

Buddy Price, spokesperson for the University of North Texas, said except in the case of of 23-year-old member Darwin Cox’s death, the Occupy Denton movement on campus was nonviolent and police officers never had to confront the group. Occupy Denton members camped out at UNT for two months but moved their campsite when Cox was found dead in a tent due to alcohol and heroin intoxication, according to UNT’s “North Texas Daily.”

“Disturbing the peace was not a concern, as the group contacted UNT prior to setting up their site, and discussions were held on UNT rules and code of student conduct,” Price said.

Trevor Hoag, English graduate student and Occupy UT member, said he agrees with UT officials on some issues, such as the risks of camping overnight. He said the more pressing safety matter did not concern camping over night but rather the stereotypes associated with the Occupy movement.

Hoag said the Occupy movements were non-violent but were rarely treated as such.

“We’re activists, not criminals and we’re here to spread the message of the movement, not destroy anything or hurt anyone,” Hoag said. “It’s unfortunate, too, because depicting us in this way hurts our ability to bring people into the group.”