Congress Updates

by The Cowl Editor on March 1, 2018

Congress Updates

by Connor Nolan ‘19

This week the Providence College Student Congress welcomed Gail Dyer to speak at its meeting. Dyer is the associate general counsel for the College. As one of the top lawyers at the College, she came to field any questions the members of the congress might have regarding changes or problems here at Providence College.

One member of the Congress questioned the future consequences of changing from an Office of Safety and Security to an Office of Public Safety with an increase in trained officers.  The student wondered if this would lead to records for small offenses on campus staying with someone for life, similar to a police record.  Dyer disagreed with the idea that this will occur, and referenced the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Acts that protect students at the College, except in the case of an investigation involving police. A student questioned if the school is fully compliant with FERPA, and Dyer said that the school is as compliant as they can be and takes the law very seriously, as all schools should.  If there have been small hiccups involving FERPA laws, she promised that they had been swiftly dealt with.

The conversation then turned to off-campus issues.  One Congress member asked what role the College takes in off campus issues and what Dyer believed should change regarding students living off campus.  Another student added that it can often feel like the cops are “out to get” students from the College.  Dyer spoke to the fact that the school has always attempted to work alongside the Providence Police Department, and that she believes most of the issues people refer to off-campus regard small violations such as open containers.

One student fed off of this, asking how much money the school gives to the police in order to subsidize their increased patrols and other activities around the College.  Dyer said she was unsure of the amount, but did state that it’s true that the school subsidizes police efforts.  This led to another member of Congress questioning whether the increased police presence over recent years as a result of this funding had truly led to a decrease in crime off-campus.

As a follow up, one student wondered if it was fair for the College to say they have no role in off campus life or the increase in arrests, tickets, and door stickers if they were subsidizing the police in the area. She disagreed with the premise of the school’s money being the cause of more violations, but thanked the speaker for posing these important questions that need to be discussed.

The discussion then gravitated towards students’ rights on campus, with one Congress member asking why rape kits aren’t offered in the health office. Dyer felt strongly that this was an important question but explained that trained professionals are necessary to perform a kit, and that we are lucky to have great hospitals close by that can administer one when necessary.

This led to a student questioning what exactly the College’s response is in the case of a sexual assault. She explained the reporting process and its intricacies more in depth as well, showing how the College deals with these important issues.

A student also wished to know about the College’s academic freedom and freedom of speech policies, referring to a situation where the student had attempted to discuss sexual safety on campus.  Words had been censored and certain topics were unable to be discussed such as contraception.

Dyer explained the academic freedom laws on campus, but stated that as a private institution the College does reserve the right to curtail certain speech due to factors such as the “harm principle.” She added that many teachers have applauded how well the College does in allowing free speech in recent research.

A student followed up asking how the school can clarify what can and cannot be said, as many students are unsure and it can lead to issues.  She believed that as a society we are still trying to figure that out, and that students must be wary of illegal harassment.

One member finished the questions by asking about tenure laws. Dryer answered that “it [tenure] is a permanent appointment.” In response to a follow-up question about retirement age, she answered that “that does not apply to us, that although some fields – such as some police and fire departments – have such requirements – those are not applicable to faculty.”

The Congress would like to thank Dyer for taking the time to field its member’s questions.

As for old business, the Cooking Club and Astronomy Club were passed, and a recommendation regarding placing professor’s office hours on the PC Portal passed.

Correction: The paragraph discussing tenure and retirement originally misquoted Dryer, but has been changed with direct quotes.