A new Associated Students office aims to help students accused of misconduct by explaining to them their rights and clarifying communication with the university.

The new Office of the Student Advocate (OSA) assists students accused by the university of offenses such as cheating in classes or violating Housing and Residential Services’ policies. The office provides students with the information necessary to resolve the situation by themselves, or students can ask for continued assistance until the matter is settled, said Student Advocate General Neil Dipaola, a fourth-year philosophy and environmental studies major.

“We are here to facilitate clear communication between students and the university,” Dipaola said.

Once the UCSB administration approves the Student Advocate executive plan, Dipaola said, the office will send letters to accused students, offering support prior to their initial meeting with a UCSB judicial affairs officer.

Dipaola said the goal of OSA is to keep the judicial process fair for accused students.

“We strive to fulfill the university’s commitment to integrity in education, by making possible fairness and equity in the judicial processes,” Dipaola said.

OSA employs four staff members and one legal advisor to help students with their questions and concerns via telephone or e-mail. Dipaola said OSA provides a good point of contact for students who feel uncomfortable talking about sensitive matters with staff and faculty advisors.

“The staff and faculty do not act as representatives of the students – they do not go to meetings with the students,” Dipaola said. “The beauty of our organization is that we can provide students with free and confidential peer advice.”

Dipaola said OSA was formed, in part, after an incident last year in which eight students from the 1300 wing of Santa Cruz Residence Hall were evicted before having a hearing on their conduct. Dipaola said there were problems with the university judicial office throughout this particular incident, something the administration has since realized and attempted to remedy.

As a result, Dipaola said, the university organized the Judicial Affairs Officers, who consist of university staff and faculty who assist students in university judicial matters. However, Dipaola said the program is flawed because many students do not trust faculty and staff with their problems.

Aside from using the available resource of the Judicial Affairs Officers, Dipaola said students cannot obtain advice from the A.S. Legal Resource Center when accused of violating university policies, as such assistance would be a conflict of interest. The Legal Resource Center provides students with access to legal assistance in non-university related legal affairs.

“If you’re caught cheating, you can’t go anywhere to get help right now,” Dipaola said.

Just as the Legal Resource Center cannot give advice on university matters, Dipaola said OSA cannot help students in non-university-related situations.

“We’re not lawyers,” Dipaola said. “We can’t give advice on legal matters to students.”

He said OSA can help students write official correspondence to the university administration, gather witnesses, go through the appeals process, and write requisite letters.

OSA Chief of Staff Chris Karlin, a third-year political science major, said the office works within the university’s current protocol and is not trying to change its code of conduct. OSA exists to help students, Karlin said – not to let them avoid accountability.

A.S. currently provides funding for OSA. Dipaola said he does not know if or when the office would ask for a lock-in fee.

Second-year law & society major Mark Regus, OSA director of the university division, said his position provides him with invaluable experience.

“The office is giving me a great opportunity to act as a public defender for students in trouble,” Regus said.

Karlin said he enjoys his work because students now receive fair representation.

“I’m excited that the organization will ensure students get fair and equitable treatment,” Karlin said. “We’re all just really excited to help anyone who’s interested in being helped.”

Students can reach OSA by email at advocate@as.ucsb.edu, by phone at (805) 893-2566, or through the office’s website at http://www.advocate.as.ucsb.edu.