Editor-In-Chief Suspended

Gin Dumcius

The editor-in-chief of The Mass Media has been suspended from all “co-curricular activities,” including his job, for a month, stemming from charges of possession of marijuana. A saga of appeals lasted from late October to the beginning of the spring semester, taking Michael Rhys from the Office of the Dean of Students, to a Discipline and Grievance Committee, and finally to the Office of the Chancellor.

Mr. Rhys, who has been editor-in-chief for four years, appealed the original decision by Interim Dean of Student Affairs Angeline Lopes, which he called “unconstitutional” and “extreme” for a first offense. Chancellor Jo Ann Gora, when she handed down her verdict, lessened Dean Lopes’s punishment of disciplinary probation from a year to a month.

On September 27, 2002, Mr. Rhys and another student were found by Patrolman William Ryerson in a lower level stairway that smelled of marijuana. Upon being detained and searched, Mr. Rhys was found in possession of a small amount of marijuana, and the other student a small pipe with burnt residue. Both were asked to provide their names and Social Security numbers before being released.

Nearly three weeks later, on October 16, Mr. Rhys received a letter in the mail, dated October 1, postmarked October 15 and with his previous mailing address printed on the top, from then-Assistant Dean Lopes. The letter charged him with two violations of the Student Code of Conduct, one a violation of “campus policies on alcohol and other drug use” and the other for “smoking or carrying lighted cigarettes, cigars, or pipes in areas posted against smoking.”

Assistant Dean Lopes requested a meeting no later than ten business days from the date of the letter, where he could present information and witnesses to resolve the allegations. The letter also stated that “[b]ecause the above address is the last known address the University has for you, we are not responsible for this letter reaching you at a different address.”

“It should go without saying that your request is physically impossible,” Mr. Rhys replied in a letter dated October 16, “though I would be willing to meet you at your earliest convenience.” Mr. Rhys further stated that he couldn’t understand Assistant Dean Lopes’s difficulty in contacting him, since he had updated his address at the Registrar’s Office over the summer, and had received many letters at his current address from the Registrar’s Office, Chancellor Gora, the Office of Student Life, and even the Dean’s Office. He had received correspondence from Provost Paul Fonteyn and then-Dean Stephanie Janey through the interoffice mail system, and had been in the same room with Assistant Dean Lopes at a Student Senate meeting on October.

In a letter dated and postmarked October 21, Assistant Dean Lopes said that the address originally listed on the letter was the address listed on the police report, “which you provided to the Department of Public Safety and hence it was used.” But a copy of the police report, obtained by The Mass Media, shows Mr. Rhys’s correct address.

“When the letter was returned, we investigated the situation and forwarded the letter to the appropriate address,” she wrote. Often when letters are returned, she stated, the deadline by which a defendant must be notified of charges filed against them, is extended, past the usual ten business days.

“Although I saw you at a senate meeting, I do not discuss individual student judicial cases in a public forum. I reserve the student’s privacy and option to not discuss such matters outside of my role as a judicial officer,” she wrote, and asked Mr. Rhys to call her office to schedule an appointment, since she was “a strong proponent of due process and want to give you a fair hearing prior to making my decision.”

Mr. Rhys and Professor Rusty Simonds, the Political Science Department chair, met with Assistant Dean Lopes on October 29. Professor Simonds was there as an “advocate,” to make sure “policies be applied equally” to all students. Assistant Dean Lopes stated she wasn’t sure how similar, previous cases of misconduct misconduct had been handled. There had been four other incidents on campus relating to marijuana at that point, and the student who was caught with Mr. Rhys a month before still had not been punished at the time, which was pointed out by Mr. Rhys during the meeting.

The other student later received a letter postmarked October 29, dated October 1, leveling the same charges. It came with another letter, dated October 29, where Assistant Dean Lopes stated that the first letter was mailed to the address reported to police, and that after “investigating the incorrect address, we are sending you the original letter and this memo informing you of an extension of ten (10) days to contact the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs.”

The police report does have the incorrect address of the student.

In a letter dated and postmarked October 30, Assistant Dean Lopes stated that she had found Mr. Rhys responsible for the violations, imposed a disciplinary probation from November 1, 2002 through October 31, 2003, which would prohibit him from participating in any club, team, or “co-curricular activity.” “Suspension will be held in abeyance,” and ten hours of community service would be served. She also urged Mr. Rhys to seek counseling for substance abuse.

Mr. Rhys, in a letter dated November 1, 2002, requested a formal hearing before the Discipline and Grievance Committee. The Grievance Committee has five members: two students, who must be approved by the Student Government Association and/or Graduate Student Assembly, and at least two faculty members. According to one member, it has met four times, and meets at the behest of the Dean of Students, usually regarding disciplinary action. Interim Dean Lopes is a non-voting member, and acts as a “facilitator.”

On November 21, the Grievance Committee convened, made up of Senator Jesse Solomon, Professor Octavio Richetta from the College of Management, an unidentified nursing instructor, Assistant Director of Student Life Bob Cole, and a student who had been working as a receptionist in the Dean’s Office, and was pulled in at the last minute to fulfill the required membership. The committee, in a 4-1 vote, decided to uphold the assistant dean’s punishment.

In his appeal to the chancellor, Mr. Rhys charged that membership of the Grievance Committee did not meet the requirements of the Code of Conduct. The receptionist student had not been approved by the SGA or the GSA, he wrote, and members were picked “specifically because of their negative attitudes toward The Mass Media,” referring to Professor Richetta, whose summer class’s incidents with cheating were written up in The Mass Media in an article by Mr. Rhys, “MS212- ‘Managerial Decision making’ – and Spitting.” The story led to an article in The Boston Globe the first week of the fall semester.

Mr. Rhys further charged that the “line between individual and newspaper editor had ceased to exist,” when the unidentified nursing instructor, in response to Mr. Rhys stating his belief that it was improper for Assistant Dean Lopes to fire newspaper staff, said, “Are you saying there’s no way we can punish the newspaper?”

Mr. Rhys also wrote that while the assistant dean was permitted to be present for and give rebuttal to his arguments, he was not allowed to remain in the room for hers. The committee and Mr. Rhys were not given the chance to question Patrolman William Ryerson, either.

Mr. Rhys appealed the decision of the Grievance Committee. The appeal was forwarded to Associate Dean of Students Christopher Hogan, who upheld the decision, stating, “After reviewing the submitted materials and the tape recordings of the Committee, I have found that timelines and procedures were followed to meet due process guidelines which in turn resulted in a fair hearing.”

Several days after the meeting, Mr. Rhys requested the names and positions of the members of the Grievance Committee. Interim Dean Lopes responded a month later, stating that the Student Code of Conduct does not identify them, “but rather speaks to members,” and “therefore the individual member names do not need to be provided.”

The appeal finally reached the chancellor’s office in January. In a six-page document, Mr. Rhys outlined the case against him, charging that the he was receiving an “extremely harsh penalty for a first offense,” and that the assistant dean had no right to fire newspaper staff.

“UMass Boston employee documents outlining first offense standards include verbal supervisory admonishment and recommended substance abuse counseling. Not until the fourth offense is termination mentioned,” he wrote. “The Code of Conduct also suggests that discipline should be administered in progressively escalating levels.”

“The Mass Media is not a club, center, or recognized student organization, or even an official newspaper of UMB, by Student Life’s own admission,” Mr. Rhys, who was the fifth editor-in-chief in twenty-four months when first elected, wrote. “The entire staff of The Mass Media was hired, or elected in the case of editors, by students, for students, funded by students. The proper way to have them removed is to appeal to the Editorial Board, made up of students, and request that an employee be fired or impeached. Previous editors have been impeached for egregious acts, such has as sexual harassment.”

In a letter dated February 9, 2003, Chancellor Gora responded to the January 13 appeal, concluding that “the prosecution was neither selective nor politically motivated, the procedures were followed in main, although I have some concerns about the composition of the Discipline and Grievance Committee, and the punishment, while not unconstitutional, merits modification.”

According to the letter, the modified disciplinary probation period is from March 1, 2003 to April 1, 2003. Chancellor Gora also asked that Interim Dean Lopes “require additional rehabilitative actions in order to discourage future drug use.”

“As a sociologist/criminologist, I believe the punishment for victimless crimes should place an emphasis on rehabilitative actions,” Chancellor Gora, the author of The New Female Criminal: Empirical Reality or Social Myth?, wrote. “Therefore, I urge Interim Dean Lopes to require additional community service or counseling to be completed prior to November 2003.”

The chancellor’s office is the last stop in the appeals process, and her response stands as the final decision of the university.

Interim Dean Lopes was out on vacation at the time of this writing, and could not be reached for comment.