Judge declines to reverse UMass student’s suspension

  • Stock gavel in court

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — A Hampshire Superior Court judge has denied a University of Massachusetts student’s effort to stop a yearlong suspension brought on by an incident in which he drunkenly entered the wrong home.

Judge Richard Carey this month rejected a request by Zachary S. Tandara-Kuhns to stay a suspension ordered by the university. Tandara-Kuhns, a senior at the university, filed a complaint for judicial review in superior court on Jan. 2.

“Here, the crux of the plaintiff’s argument is that the University cannot discipline him for conduct that occurred off-campus. Not surprisingly, the University disagrees,” Carey wrote.

The town of Amherst is part of the university community, and “it is no more than plain common sense to conclude that having an intoxicated University student, half dressed, trespass into a private home where children are sleeping” and sit down on a bed, Carey wrote, “most certainly could adversely affect the University community.”

Tandara-Kuhns, of Lexington, was arrested Sept. 23 at 6:50 a.m. on Gray Street and charged with breaking and entering to commit a misdemeanor and disturbing the peace. He admitted in Eastern Hampshire District Court Nov. 3 to criminal trespass. The case was continued without a finding of guilt for a period of six months, during which he must abstain from alcohol and engage in counseling, according to court documents.

Four days after the incident, Tandara-Kuhns received a notice from the university which then began the school’s disciplinary proceeding against him. The Student Conduct Board convened on Nov. 29 and found Tandara-Kuhns had violated the university’s student code of conduct and suspended him for a year beginning Jan. 1. The university denied Tandara-Kuhns’ appeal of the board’s decision.

At issue is language in the student code of conduct which states that the regulations in the code apply to student conduct at UMass, on the grounds of the other colleges within the Five College Consortium (Smith Amherst Hampshire and Mount Holyoke colleges) or at any event sponsored by any of these institutions.

The code also states that the university may take action based on student conduct, at any location, “that is contrary to the pursuit of the educational mission of the University or that may adversely, distinctly or directly affect the University community or its international programs.”

In court filings, Tandara-Kuhns’ laywer Dana Goldblatt argued that the incident was not within the university’s jurisdiction. Goldblatt stated that the final decision of the university was based upon errors of law and that the facts did not support the conclusion that Tandara-Kuhns’ actions were “contrary to the pursuit of the educational mission of the University.”

“The University’s final decision is arbitrary and capricious,” Goldblatt wrote in a filing. “The University’s final decision was an abuse of discretion.”

In opposing the request for an injunction, Denise Barton, an attorney for UMass, argued in court that Tandara-Kuhns’ actions did negatively affect the university.

“We’d like to peacefully and thoughtfully and kindly exist with our community,” Barton said.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.