Pomona's Student Affairs Committee (SAC) issued a proposal last week that would allow for changes to be made to the Student Handbook during the year and which would formally define the SAC procedure for opening up SAC policy changes to a student comment period. The proposal also affirms the right of Pomona College, which includes the President, the Board of Trustees, the Dean of Students, and SAC, “to make changes to any part, portion or provision of [the] Handbook without advance notice” at any point during the year.
The Student Handbook, which defines all of Pomona’s college policies, became an online-only document last year. Prior to that, an updated print version was issued to students each fall, so changes to the Handbook could only be made on an annual basis.
Some students expressed concerns that the phrase in the proposal concerning changes to the Handbook “without advance notice” might threaten student representation in policy decisions.
“Who writes the policies?” said Jeff Levere PO ’12, a former SAC member and candidate for ASPC President. “Basically it’s not very clear.”
ASPC President Stephanie Almeida PO '11 said that although the proposal does affirm the school's right to make changes to the Handbook at any time, SAC would still deal with all policy changes that have a large effect on student life.
“We’ve been assured that all major changes will still go through SAC,” she said.
SAC is a committee composed of half students and half faculty and administrators. According to Almeida, policies that are reviewed by SAC include changes to the Student Judicial Code and college policies that deal with drugs, alcohol, academic honesty, and other topics in the area of student affairs.
Furthermore, such changes are subject to a 30-day comment period, in which student input is solicited via e-mail. Under the new proposal, the process for soliciting input from students would be formalized in the Student Handbook.
“All policy changes decided on by the Student Affairs Committee are sent to the student body for comment,” said Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum. “Many other colleges do not have such a process; I think it is has been very useful for us to solicit student input with regard to policy changes.”
The 30-day comment period associated with this proposal lasts until April 30 at 5 p.m.
Almeida said she has already noticed a trend in student responses.
“There is some concern about the no notification piece,” she said.
Feldblum downplayed the phrase.
“This is actually a common legal phrase for all kinds of handbooks,” she said.
Almeida explained that changes to the Handbook could include non-policy issues, such as grammar and spelling mistakes, which might not warrant the notification of students.
A change in federal law might also prompt a quick change to a policy without student comment, she added.
In her e-mail, Feldblum said that the language of the proposal “provides a written policy about changes and corrections to the Student Handbook that is usual, legal practice.” Although the right of Pomona College to make changes to the Handbook at any time has been de facto policy at Pomona, this proposal would officially lay it out in writing.
Levere argued that the change would create “a dichotomy between Pomona College on one side and students on the other.” He said that the policy would be divisive, especially in light of student perceptions that the administration is encroaching upon their freedoms.
Almeida recognized this concern but said she was “mostly in support of the change,” adding that she did have reservations about the fact that changes could be made without advance notice. “I would want some assurance that nothing major would happen without students knowing about it,” she said.