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UM Adopts New Rules for Riot Punishment

University of Maryland regents made it easier yesterday to discipline students involved in the post-game rioting that has caused consternation among officials in recent years.

Nearly four years ago, after riots that occurred after games leading up to the Terrapins' NCAA championship, the system adopted rules aimed at stemming violence and other destructive behavior. But the regents left a loophole in the policy that several students used to avoid being expelled, despite admitted involvement in a 2004 melee. The only way the anti-riot policy -- and the possibility of expulsion -- could be triggered was if the student were convicted of a riot-related offense.

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Yesterday, regents closed the loophole. Now, each of the system's 13 institutions will be allowed to pursue disciplinary action against students accused of setting fires or throwing bottles even if students don't face criminal charges. The revised policy will also allow disciplinary procedures to move more quickly because schools will not have to wait for cases to work their way through the courts.

"We've had several occurrences of dangerous riots on Route 1 after basketball games where there have been fires, there have been serious injuries. After one of them, a man lost an eye. There was hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage," said Regent James C. Rosapepe. "We want to be sure the students are protected and the public is protected."

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The impetus for the policy revision came when officials realized the previous policy "was frankly unenforceable," said JoAnn G. Goedert, the assistant attorney general who works with the regents. Most students, she said, were not convicted but instead received probation before judgment.

In March 2004, after Maryland beat Duke to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title, two students were caught setting a fire near campus. They were charged in criminal court and received probation before judgment. The university couldn't punish the students because they weren't technically convicted -- despite the new get-tough policy that had been written.

Student leaders said yesterday that they supported the policy change because it is flexible and allows each school to determine how to apply the new rules. Many students from schools outside the University of Maryland, College Park believe the rioting problem is unique to the state system's flagship campus.

Student leaders had been worried that the revised policy would be too far-reaching, punishing students just for being part of an out-of-hand post-game celebration or for committing minor offenses, such as failing to disperse. In the end, students and university officials came to the compromise approved unanimously.

"Our main interest is to protect the rights of students not deserving of serious sanctions," said Andrew Rose, president of the student government at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"We need to tell students, 'If you want to celebrate, that's fine,'" said Nicholas Aragon, a College Park senior who is chairman of the University System of Maryland Student Council. "But let's not throw bricks through windows."

The Terrapins play arch rival Duke today at the Comcast Center. If any disturbances take place, the new policy will not apply. It won't take effect until April 15, a deadline set for each school to integrate the rule into its own student judicial procedures.

Chancellor William E. Kirwan said he is pleased with the revised policy.

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"The feedback from students on this policy has made it a much better policy," he said.

stephanie.desmon@baltsun.com


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