Thursday, July 31, 2008

Central Florida replies

We get wafer mail

Remember Benjamin Collard? He's the non-Catholic friend of Webster Cook who accompanied him to mass. Collard got rather lost in the shuffle when attention focused on Cook for his “kidnapping” of a communion wafer. It was, however, reportedly to satisfy Collard's curiosity that his friend brought the wafer back unconsumed to his seat. We don't know whether Collard got a good look at Cook's cracker or not, since loving Christians physically assaulted Cook and drove him from the house of the Lord. Well, actually, they drove him from the University of Central Florida Student Union, since religious services are conducted on campus.

Most of the fuss has centered on Cook's initial action (questionably characterized by many Catholics as deliberately disrespectful), the reactions to it, and the reactions to the reactions. Etcetera. You get the drift. Collard just about vanished from sight. Not everyone forgot about him, however. Catholic Campus Ministries of UCF was good enough to file a formal complaint against Collard for “disruptive conduct.” A hold was placed on his student registration and it was reported that he would not be permitted to register for fall classes. Last weekend I zinged off an e-mail message to the UCF president. Today I got a reply from his assistant.

This is what I wrote:
Dear Mr. President:

The on-line media reports that UCF student Benjamin Collard is being harassed by Catholic Campus Ministries for his supposed role in the incident involving his friend and fellow student Webster Cook. Does UCF have a policy of "guilty until proved innocent"? Why, otherwise, would Collard find a hold placed on his student account and be unable to sign up for classes? Certainly any complaint filed by any competent source should be investigated promptly and appropriately, but it seems that Mr. Collard is already suffering negative consequences simply because a complaint has been lodged against him. How does he merit this kind of treatment?

I hope the UCF administration removes the hold immediately, allows Collard to register for classes, and spares him further mistreatment unless evidence of actual misconduct is discovered. This pre-emptive penalty is disrespectful of due process.


Zeno Ferox
Professor of Mathematics

And here is what the UCF president's office sent to me in reply:
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008
From: PresComments []
Subject: Re: Fairness for Collard

Thank you for your e-mail.

Laws regarding student privacy prevent us from commenting about individual UCF students. But, in general terms, when a student allegedly violates student rules of conduct, his or her student account is placed on hold.

The student is notified of this action and informed that the hold will not prevent registration for classes. A student is allowed to register after making a request to release the hold. The Office of Student Conduct follows this procedure for any student who is referred to it.

More information about the entire Golden Rule and the student conduct process is available on our Web site, Please be assured that UCF is committed to following its standard procedures to ensure fair outcomes in all student conduct review cases.

Additionally, it is the university's policy to treat all people with dignity and respect, without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status, or political opinions and affiliations.

Amy J. Barnickel
Senior Executive Assistant to the President

From Promise to Prominence:
Celebrating 40 Years

I presume it's a form letter, but it's better than most. I am even somewhat mollified, assuming that Ms. Barnickel is correct in saying that the hold does not prevent registration for classes. Preventing a student from signing up for classes can be severe punishment indeed, especially when competing for those courses that fill rapidly and may be graduation requirements for one's major. Benjamin Collard still has to deal with the investigation of the complaint against him, and I'll be interested in learning how that turns out, but at least he isn't being held in academic suspended animation.

Say, do you think Collard is still curious about Catholicism? The next mass service on the UCF campus will be on August 24 at the beginning of fall semester at 6:00 PM in the Student Union. I suggest you don't go, Benjamin.


unapologetic said...

Although I'm sure it will only be seen as some effort to curry favor, I have to say that I'm not mollified here. I could make all sorts of unfounded allegations, leading to all sorts of holds being placed until the administration wades in to sort them out.

Ms. Barnickel answered your question: yes, UCF does have a policy of "guilty until proved innocent".

I don't think that either student is guilty of a collegiate violation -- only a religious one. Mr. Collard likely didn't know that it would be a religious violation, and it's entirely likely that Mr. Cook (despite being a practicing Catholic to some extent) didn't either.

Again: the Catholics can be upset, and can speak out against this, but they can't exact temporal punishment for spiritual wrongs. To try to do so makes them just as much into assholes as others involved later and discussed earlier.

Zeno said...

As I said, Unapologetic, I am only "somewhat mollified" and that, in turn, is conditioned on whether Collard gets his classes or not. If he's actually punished before the disposition of the complaint against him, then I would say the charge of "guilty until proved innocent" is correct. I see at least the possibility that UCF is not penalizing Collard in advance. It remains, however to be demonstrated as fact.

Taz said...

The letter states that "...the hold will not prevent registration for classes", but then goes on to state that "A student is allowed to register after making a request to release the hold." In other words, the hold DOES prevent registration. (I'd be surprised if it didn't. That's basically what a "hold" is for at most colleges.) But Collard can request it be removed so he can register. This is still a pretty bad system where a hold is automatically placed upon the receipt of any complaint, no matter how easy it is to release the hold.

Peter Ashby said...

I too contacted the President with respect to Benjamin Collard and got the exact same reply. I too am not mollified and still consider that he is being punished before guilt has been established.

I told them in my initial message that it looked like they poised to hurtle back to before the Reformation. Looks like they are there.

arensb said...

Catholics can be upset, and can speak out against this, but they can't exact temporal punishment for spiritual wrongs

...anymore. Not since the church lost control of, you know, actual armies and stuff.

Zeno said...

Thanks, Peter. You've confirmed, as I suspected, that I simply received the "Benjamin Collard standard reply." I don't question that UCF has a responsibility to investigate and deal with complaints filed against its students (even though this one appears frivolous and should be dispatched forthwith). I do, however, very seriously question the notion that students should receive punishment in advance of having been found responsible for some transgression. In fact, I denounce it. Thus I am mollified to the exact degree that Benjamin Collard was not punished and was able to enroll expeditiously in the classes of his choice. If, instead, the bit about his being able to overcome the "hold" is just a fig leaf to conceal a bureaucratic nightmare of dilatory paper-shuffling, then I consider that the president's office lied to those of us who complained and Collard is getting screwed simply because a pressure group whined about him (in which case it follows that the UCF administration is run by spineless and dishonest bastards).

At this time, I don't know yet which it is, but I think we'll find out.

BG said...

I received the same letter from the same person in response to the letter I wrote.

I found it lacking and was especially amused by the "Golden Rule" reference that seems to be the title or description of some UCF policy.

unapologetic said...

Hi arensb. Didn't know you read here. Good to see you.

And yes, you're right. But I was speaking normatively rather than descriptively. I suppose I should have said they shouldn't be able to.

Zeno: He's on hold, but that should not prevent him from going about his business. And neither should he be hindered in the course of his ordinary life. ;)

JJ Ross said...

Will you be mollified by a deliberate lie, though? -- seems Cook's conduct complaint against UCF student (and Campus Catholic Ministries PR intern) Michelle Ducker was NOT handled in this reportedly even-handed GOlden Rule manner, holding her records until a full and fair investigation could ensue. Cook's complaints including the one about her physically grabbing him, were reported by the news media to have been immediately dismissed out of hand for "lack of evidence."

It seems to me the only evidence against any of these students is what they're saying about each other, in all directions, so wouldn't that justify treating them all exactly the same to avoid any appearance of improper preference or bias on the university administration's part?

Zeno said...

JJ: Will you be mollified by a deliberate lie, though?

Judging from what I said before: No.

But I wish I were more surprised by UCF's conduct.

Mike Huben said...

If I were Benjamin Collard, I would have filed formal complaints against the people who assaulted Webster Cook and the attending officials of the Campus Ministry for provoking that assault. Let them have "holds" placed on their status, and if the University won't do that, it's good evidence that he is being treated unfairly.

angrylagomorph said...

Its sad to see a state university cave-in so publically to mob-pressure, but it will be entertaining enough seeing them get the state of Florida sued that I think I can keep my depression at a minimum. Considering their obviously selective enforcement, and the other borderline actions they've taken in response to this issue, I'd imagine the only thing that could give them a leg to stand on in court would be a judge ignoring most of the student-rights rulings of the past fifty years.

arensb said...

Hi arensb. Didn't know you read here. Good to see you.

Thanks, but actually I don't. I just popped over here from Chez Peezed. No slight on Zeno; it's just that there are only 48 hours in a day, so I can't read everything I want to.