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Students Should Have More Say in Conduct Policies: Dean Martinez

A profile of Dean Michael Martinez: his background, college experience, work at Haverford College and future plans at NYU Abu Dhabi.

“I was a pretty shy kid,” he confessed. “I remember in that first semester of college, in order to avoid being in a big cafeteria I would like having lunch in the bathroom after ... I was just so overwhelmed by new stimuli.”
Michael Martinez is a human with a story. He was born in Oklahoma, grew up in Texas and lived in Pennsylvania before finally descending onto our little desert island. Half-Latino, his father’s side of the family comes from Chihuahua in northern Mexico. Both his parents worked in education: his father was a college professor and his mother a highschool-turned-kindergarten teacher.
Martinez began college at Princeton as a Political Science major, but in true liberal arts fashion, he ultimately graduated in Religious Studies. Inspired by trips to India, Germany and the U.K., he was a poster boy for NYU Abu Dhabi before it even existed.
“Education seemed like a family business, in a sense,” he shared, explaining that he initially never considered education as a career option.
Martinez is now the Associate Dean of Students at NYUAD. Having arrived in July, he is now starting to feel at home here. “I just went to Dubai for the first time and saw the Burj Khalifa!” he shared. “I think for the two-and-a-half-months I’ve been here for, I feel really comfortable. I definitely feel like I belong.”
Martinez has big plans for student conduct at the university, and aims to engage students in administrative processes. “Be it a question about summer storage or student conduct, looking for ways to engage students in identifying solutions is critical,” he declared. “Whether it's an advisory council or students engaged in some other way, there should be constant mechanism for getting student perception because they're dynamic, they'll change over time.”
These values come directly from his six years of experience at Haverford College, a small liberal arts university in Pennsylvania, where he served first as the Dean for First-Year Students and later as the Title IX Coordinator. The idea of shared governance with students was deeply entrenched in its almost 200-year legacy, he explained. “At Haverford, even the academic honor code violations were adjudicated by students.”
Advocating for student-led restorative justice conferences, Martinez asserted that giving students a greater voice in managing student conduct policies is the most sensible course of action. “It is the student community, so it only makes sense that there be mechanisms for helping students both hold themselves accountable collectively and provide opportunities for their peers to regain trust, rejoin the community and learn something from what they've done,” he expressed. “It serves to invite people back in, as opposed to push people out.”
But Martinez also recognizes that such an approach won’t necessarily work for every single student. “For a restorative justice conference to be effective you have to have a student who is open to acknowledging that they've made a mistake and taking responsibility for it,” he said. “If you've got a student with that mindset, it's a really rich opportunity and can be made even richer if their fellow students are in a position to help them come to that insight.”
Martinez emphasizes that restorative justice conferences must be confidential spaces, and can never be used to humiliate anybody. “That will take a little time. It involves a lot of buy-in,” acknowledged Martinez. “I think it’s possible, but I want to hear from students about whether they think something like that would work.”
NYUAD is no doubt a difficult, complex environment in which to implement such a system. It is a very small school: the person judging your case for an alcohol violation could also be your best friend’s boyfriend or the person who sits behind you in your Colloquium class. So how do we ensure our peers do not arbitrarily discriminate cases and instead actually treat these spaces as confidential?
That's where trust comes in again, emphasized Martinez. “When you're entrusting students with these responsibilities, you're trusting that they're conducting themselves professionally.”
The stakes are certainly high. Our student-conduct policies are now almost entirely run through a top-down approach. Changing that would require a serious commitment from us as students. Martinez has absolutely no prescription for how to do that – he first aims to hear from students. “I want to know how people experience what it means to live on this campus, in this city, in this country,” he said. To this end, Martinez will be holding focus groups.
“I've seen students in other contexts treat those kind of responsibilities very seriously, and I have faith that NYUAD students would do the same,” assured Martinez. “But one of the things I'm most interested in hearing from students is ‘are they willing to trust their fellow students with such a responsibility?’”
Kaashif Hajee is Managing Editor and Aravind Kumar is a columnist. Email them at
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