PRINCESS ANNE - Attempting to close a loophole that allows college students to avoid the consequences of rioting after basketball games, University System of Maryland officials proposed yesterday a tougher policy for rioting-related crimes after sporting events.
Under the proposed change, students would be subject to expulsion from school or receive other punishment if they were charged with rioting or related offenses and were not convicted by a judge. Instead, they would receive a more lenient court disposition known as probation before judgment.
Such a designation allows a defendant to be placed on probation without a decision on guilt. If the defendant successfully completes probation, his criminal record is wiped clean.
System Chancellor William E. Kirwan unveiled the proposed policy during a Board of Regents meeting on the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore campus yesterday, calling it "a huge step forward."
Some regents suggested tougher steps.
Officials began working on a new policy this year, after 14 University of Maryland, College Park students were arrested after a February basketball game against arch-rival Duke University.
Students set fires, pushed over signs and clashed with police along U.S. 1 in College Park. Police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
Two students asked for and received probation before judgment when they appeared in court. Because they were not found guilty, the students were not expelled.
The new policy would punish students for being found guilty, or not contesting or receiving probation before judgment for crimes including rioting, assault, theft, vandalism, arson and disorderly conduct.
Students could be expelled or suspended, and the punishment would be noted on the student's transcript, Kirwan said.
Expulsion is now an option only after a criminal conviction. The current regulations were adopted in the wake of rioting after a Duke game in 2002. Similar incidents had taken place a year earlier.
Some regents said the proposed policy should be stronger. Current rules suggest that rioting students be expelled, but the draft calls only for "disciplinary sanctions."
"This draft policy is going backward," said Robert L. Pevenstein, a member of the Board of Regents. "Either this thing is going to have teeth in it or we're going to decide to go over this [policy] year after year."
Students can appeal any punishment in a campus hearing. Under the current policy, any change in punishment must be accompanied by a written explanation from a campus administrator. The new proposal does not require such an explanation.
"That needs to be put back in," said Regent James C. Rosapepe.
During a Senate hearing in March, several state legislators said the riots were giving the state's flagship campus a bad reputation.
In January, UM students chanted obscenities at Duke players during a nationally televised game and waved signs and wore T-shirts that equated the Blue Devils with Saddam Hussein. University of Maryland President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. said at the time that rioting was the school's most serious problem.
"You go three steps forward in national reputation, and then things like this take you a step back," Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat, said during the hearing.
Mote has said that a policy that automatically expels students for unruly behavior after games might be too strict. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Senators urged Mote and other administrators to tighten the policy to deter rioting and close the probation-before-judgment loophole.
Regents are expected to take a final vote in August.