Definitions guiding discipline

Combination of state laws, university and Corps rules govern lives of cadets

By Henry Mureithi @henrymureithi5

In the almost 150 years since Texas A&M was established, public attitudes about hazing and sexual harassment have evolved. By extension, this has changed the regulations that govern such conduct at A&M and within the Corps of Cadets.

While the history of the Corps is associated with service and its commitment to molding leaders, that history is also one of trying to keep the conduct of its cadets within the bounds of acceptable behavior.

In 1913, 22 cadets were expelled from A&M — then still the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas — because of hazing offenses. Reflective of the culture at the time, 466 cadets went on strike to protest what they perceived as an unjust decision by the school administration.

The concern about the conduct of cadets didn’t stop there and, in part, motivated some State legislators to submit an amendment to the public that would shut down the A&M College in College Station and merge it with the University of Texas in Austin. The amendment was ultimately defeated at the polls after extensive campaigning that A&M supported.

 As recently as 1992, Texas Monthly reported about rampant harassment of female cadets — about 20 years after they first gained admission into the Corps.

The federal law that governs hazing only pertains to the federal service academies. In terms of state laws, the Texas anti-hazing law was passed as a result of fraternity-related activity at the UT-Austin. The Texas State Legislature passed the law — sections § 37.152 to 37.157 of the Texas Education Code — as part of a larger package of criminal justice bills in 1987.

The law defines hazing as “any intentional, knowing, or reckless act, occurring on or off the campus of an educational institution, by one person alone or acting with others, directed against a student, that endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student for the purpose of pledging, being initiated into, affiliating with, holding office in, or maintaining membership in an organization.”

This definition includes all forms of physical brutality, physical activity, consumption of any substance, intimidation or threats and inducement that “subjects a student to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affects the mental or physical health or safety of the student.”

Student Rule 24.4.5 — the A&M rule that implements the statutes — replicates this law.

However, one noticeable addition is that the A&M student rules make a distinction between the necessary military physical activities of the Corps as compared to those of other organizations.

“The roots of the Corps are in a military culture,” international studies senior and Corps Adjutant and Discipline Officer Thomas Su said. “Because of that, part of the Corps mission is to work alongside the [Reserve Officer Training Corps programs] to make sure that they are developing military officers.”

 Contrastingly, A&M’s policy on sexual harassment as defined by Student Rule 24.4.2.1, is based on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 — the federal education civil rights law. As per that law, sexual harassment is defined as any “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when this conduct is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work or educational performance, or creates an intimidating or hostile work or educational environment.”

A&M rules on sexual misconduct move beyond state laws on the subject. Current criminal state laws on sexual assault — Texas Penal Code § 22.011 — state that excluding cases of impairment, the government has to prove that either party said “no” to prove criminal liability: the “no means no” model. Comparatively, A&M is one of nine universities outside of New York and California that have adopted the affirmative consent or “yes means yes” standard.

Unlike “no means no,” affirmative consent requires both parties to agree to the relevant sexual activity. The dispositive rule — Student Rule 24.1.6 — states that consent for purposes of student conduct must be “clear, voluntary, and positive verbal or non-verbal communication that all participants have agreed to the sexual activity.”

As a student organization, the Corps is bound to all the aforementioned regulations in addition to its own rules.

“Since our cadets are students, they abide by the student conduct rules,” Assistant Commandant for Operations and Training Glenn Starnes, Class of 1981, said. “Now, the Corps will have additional rules because we hold them to a higher standard than a regular student. And if they violate one of them, they are still within the Corps discipline process.”

As discipline officer, Su oversees the Cadet Performance Review Board as its president. The CFRB investigates and hears the majority of the violations of The Standard — the official rule book of the Corps.

“The most common problem I run into as the discipline officer is people not understanding what codes we follow because the Corps has changed vastly in the last four years about how discipline is issued,” Su said.

Assistant Commandant for Discipline Col. Gary Beaty said the Corps regularly reviews its own policies after each semester in response to university changes or to ensure that they adequately address the discipline issues that had been encountered in that duration.

“All those processes, it’s an evolution,” Beaty said. “It’s not a static organization, it’s an evolving organization.”

Su said that although the Corps has an internal process to deal with a myriad of cadet offenses, more serious offenses such as alcohol possession, sexual misconduct and hazing are handled by the Student Conduct Office of the university. 

According to Assistant Director of Student Activities Ann Goodman, for the purposes of the university, each Corps unit is recognized as a distinct student organization, including in matters of student conduct. However, the university handles Corps misconduct cases on an individual basis — not the unit level.

Su said his role, and that of the Corps leadership in this regard, is to supervise the accused cadet for the duration of the university proceedings. These cadets conduct all Corps-related activities with the Corps Staff during this process.

“They get removed from their outfit,” Su said. “They are completely blocked off from any single communication that they can have with their outfit. They can’t attend any outfit events. They can’t [conduct physical training] with their outfit. They are basically put on what’s called detachment. So the discipline officer — so my realm — runs that.”

Su said the biggest misconception that regular A&M students typically have about how the Corps deals with discipline issues is that they overestimate the role that physical activity plays.

“[Regular students] believe that you’ll basically be doing [physical training] as a form of punishment,” Su said. “But no. While that is a form of punishment — there is Corrective Physical Training that’s an integral part of what the Corps of Cadets is — it isn’t the only form of discipline that cadets receive.”

Beaty said the discipline brief that all cadets receive at the beginning of each semester helps reacquaint cadets with importation information about university rules and Corps regulations. 

“We’re proactive,” Starnes said. “We try and identify the land mines out there so that they don’t mess up and know what to expect.”