- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

Higher education officials are weighing changes in the state university system’s policy to stem student rioting, including a provision to close a loophole used by several students to avoid possible expulsion for riot-related offenses.

Administrators at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus have proposed toughening the rules, passed after several violent riots in 2002 after Terrapin basketball games. The new regulations would no longer allow students charged in court who plead guilty before their cases go to trial to avoid punishment by the university.

But student leaders said the proposed regulations are too harsh and fear they could make a student arrested for even minor offenses subject to expulsion. Serious crimes are punished under the current rules, and students have worked to cut down on post-game rowdiness, said Andrew Rose, student president at College Park.

“We are not in favor of changing the policy for a more strict policy,” he said. “If we had the option, we’d like to keep things as it is.”

Mr. Rose and other student leaders met recently with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, which adopted the policy that affects the 13 universities the regents oversee. The regents passed a resolution in February to study whether the policy needed to be toughened, but has not taken any action.

James Rosapepe, the regent who proposed the resolution, said it remains unclear whether the policy needs to be changed. But he said it would take more than just a vote by the regents to reduce student violence.

“We’ve had too many riots. One riot is too many riots. We’ve had riots since the policy was passed,” he said. “I don’t expect the policy by itself to stop the riots. The question is, what does the campus administration need to do, what do students need to do and what do the regents need to do to stop the riots?”

The regents passed the current riot policy in response several raucous celebrations in downtown College Park after the Terrapins’ two Final Four basketball games in 2002.

Thousands of students spilled into the street, lit bonfires and sparred with Prince George’s County police in riot gear.

The rule called for any student found guilty of rioting by a campus judicial proceeding or of riot-related crimes in state court to be expelled for at least a year.

After that time, the student could apply to any state university.

Despite the policy, rowdy post-game celebrations continued in College Park. In March 2004, two students were charged with riot and other offenses for feeding a bonfire on Route 1 after the basketball team clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

But the two students exposed what some say is a loophole in the riot policy.

Both pleaded guilty in District Court and were given probation before judgment. Technically not a conviction, their legal status did not fall under the expulsion requirements in the regents’ policy.

The university did not discipline either student under the policy.

After the regents took up the issue, University System Chancellor William E. Kirwan circulated a proposal in May to the regents to add probation before judgment to the policy.

The regents, however, have not acted on those recommendations.

In his state of the campus speech in September, President C.D. Mote said he expected the regents would classify probation in criminal court as a conviction that would be subject to the policy.

“It would be safe for any student who is arrested for disturbances following a campus event this year to plan on being dismissed from the university,” Mr. Mote said.

That worried student leaders, who say a blanket policy with few specifics on what crimes would be covered could affect students arrested for lesser offenses.

At their Dec. 9 meeting with regents, students brought a list of what they thought should and should not make a student subject to expulsion. Students who commit assault, destruction of property — which Mr. Rose called “the bigger” offenses — should be dismissed, Mr. Rose said. Failure to disperse and similar crimes should be handled at the campus level, he said.

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