Cal Poly ramps up student discipline

University to punish those cited off campus by SLO police under an option not often used before

acornejo@thetribunenews.comSeptember 8, 2013 

An entrance to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Cal Poly students caught breaking the law off campus face more severe consequences from the university.

The college is taking a proactive response to students who are arrested or cited for alcohol offenses such as being drunk in public and other violations of city ordinances such as excessively loud parties.

Although the college has long had an option to discipline students caught breaking the law off campus, it has not used it as much as it will now.

Disciplinary action, as defined by the college’s student conduct policies, includes suspension from university programs, fines or restitution and community service.

In addition, a new, voluntary program will add an educational alternative to disciplinary action for first-time offenders beginning in the fall. Participating students must attend a 90-minute workshop and write a research paper on topics such as personal health, safety and community responsibility.

It will not directly affect students’ grades.

“The university will hold students accountable; we are just giving an optional education route first in lieu of disciplinary proceedings,” said Keith Humphrey, vice president for student affairs. “Prior to this, there was very little response.”

The college has been perceived to take little action in response to rowdy behavior by students off campus, which has angered some residents who felt beleaguered by college partying in neighborhoods and downtown.

Humphrey, who was hired by Cal Poly in February, said that as he became familiar with the community and his role on campus, he quickly realized that the college could be doing more toward neighborhood wellness.

“It was clear that Cal Poly could be doing more as a contributor to community civility, and this is one way to do that,” Humphrey said.

In July, the San Luis Obispo City Council added the first two weeks of school to its safety enhancement ordinance, which allows the city to double fines for common misdemeanors associated with poor behavior.

“Historically, the San Luis Obispo Police Department has been seen by some frustrated residents as less than effective in addressing issues commonly attributed to college-aged residents,” police Chief Steve Gesell said. “Conversely, many students have historically viewed us as oppressive. In reality, a multilayered approach is far more effective than enforcement alone.”

Humphrey said a new off-campus student-life coordinator is being hired and will monitor police logs to get a handle on exactly how many students are breaking the law off campus.

“In the past, the college would only hear about high-level offenses,” Humphrey said. “Often, we’d find out by reading it in The Tribune.”

Gesell said he is encouraged by the “apparent cultural shift” by the college and its increased focus on compliance and prevention.

“Cal Poly’s focus on student behavior as it relates to academic success is a win-win for both the student and our permanent residents,” Gesell said. “From a neighborhood wellness perspective, initiatives such as these can make a marked difference in improving the quality of life in San Luis Obispo.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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