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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has sanctioned a student organization that boasts a mission of promoting a “supportive and inclusive environment for students with disabilities” for, among other things, excluding and then removing a member without due process — or even having due process in place.
That member was kicked out of the UI Students for Disability Advocacy & Awareness organization during the spring semester, and she reported her concerns about policy and process violations to the UI Office of Student Accountability in March, according to an investigative report provided to The Gazette in response to a public records request.
The UI investigation found the organization violated the Code of Student Life by:
- Lacking due process to remove an officer or member from the organization;
- Removing a member anyway;
- Allowing people who are not UI students to serve in leadership roles;
- And failing to seek advisory guidance from UI Student Disability Services, as outlined in the group’s own governing document.
Additionally, the group appears to be without a staff adviser — as promised in its constitution — after both its former advisers expressed concerns and resigned “due to the organization leadership pursuing this action … and not heeding the advisers’ guidance.”
Registered student organizations can access a range of UI benefits — including use of campus trademarks, office space, meeting facilities, technology and student activity fees. By registering, however, the groups must comply with UI policies and procedures.
Conflict over officer duties, group’s future
Although the investigation into the student disability organization — which goes by UISDAA — doesn’t delve into explicit detail or touch on the personal conflicts presumed behind the member eviction, the student who was kicked out told administrators the disagreement was “over officer duties and the future of the student organization itself.”
Specifically, according to the investigative report, group leaders accused the student of overstepping her role by soliciting another member to replace the organization’s leader — a non-UI student who resigned in January and announced what amounted to a “disbanding” of the organization.
“The reporting party is a longtime member of the UISDAA and has invested a great deal of time and energy in the organization, including serving as an officer,” according to the UI investigative report. “She is passionate about the continuation of UISDAA.
“Earlier this spring, when (a group leader) resigned and announced they would be closing the Discord server, functionally then disbanding the organization, the reporting party expressed concern to the other officers, sought another member to serve as (leader) this spring, and eventually was excluded from further discussion about the issue,” according to the report.
Investigators found group leaders — including non-UI students — blocked the excluded student from “secret meetings” to discuss her status with the organization by removing her from communication channels and changing passwords.
“She believes her removal from the organization was without cause, notice, and a fair process,” according to the investigative report.
Per the group’s own constitution: “Membership is open to any University of Iowa student. Students may become a member of UISDAA by contacting the officers or adviser. Membership is voluntary; hence, there is no formal procedure for selection or revocation of membership.”
By way of sanction, UI administrators ordered the group to immediately reinstate any students it removed; educate itself on rules requiring UI students control and lead registered organizations; and update its constitution.
A history of turmoil over student organizations
UI administrators in recent years have faced a rash of student organization compliance issues after its Business Leaders in Christ organization in 2017 refused to allow an openly gay member to become a leader. That spawned two lawsuits and a high-profile dispute that landed with a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling about what qualifies as discrimination, what mandates UI can impose on student organizations and who can be held accountable.
It prompted the university to require all its student groups to adopt a “human rights clause” and deregister those who didn’t or wouldn’t. But faith-based organizations accused the university of persisting in its religious discrimination by allowing non-faith-based groups that didn’t comply to remain registered organizations.
In the UI investigative report on UISDAA, administrators indicate the organization was allowed to maintain its registration without updating its constitution.
“The University of Iowa requires student organizations to submit constitutions/bylaws during the biannual/annual registration process,” according to the UI findings. “These documents must include the UI Human Rights Clause, a financial clause, and require the organization to have both a president and treasurer, who are University of Iowa students.
“The constitution for UISDAA … is dated 2018.”
A UI student listed as a primary representative for the group, which remains a registered organization, did not respond to The Gazette’s questions Tuesday.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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