A Surgeon With a Scalpel–Disciplinary Sanctions in College Judicial Cases pt. 2
When you do a “small” wrong (e.g. underage drinking) or something very large (e.g. sexual assault) the system works more often than it doesn’t. It is for the cases in between that it frequently fails. The biggest reason for this failure is that while many schools put systems in place to help students when they stumble, those systems cannot or do not help students when they fall.
When you take a class, if you do the work to the best of your ability and attend class they do not kick you out for failing a quiz. The professor (hopefully) will talk to you about office hours, the TA, academic support centers, and other resources that can help you because the fact that you’re willing to work matters. Even if those support systems do not work and you fail the class, chances are that work ethic will mean that you do well in enough of your other classes to stay off academic probation or fail out. Most schools even allow you to take the class you fail over again and have that grade either substitute for or counterbalance the initial failure.
While I believe student affairs is an academic discipline, the systems are not as forgiving for developmental and behavioral failures. Judicial administrators may (correctly) claim that their system “works” because it does in most cases, but I believe it fails in roughly 5% of the cases. While a school may argue that a 95% success rate is good (and organizationally it might be) if you’re those 5 students in 100 who are affected by the flaws, the system is unfair. There are several reasons the systems fall short:
- All judicial systems are complaint based, and as a result you are punished for being caught and who caught you at least as much as for what you did.
- The actions that bring a student in front of a judicial board are viewed as negative and against community values in a way that academic failure is not. If you get caught smoking marijuana and playing Call of Duty in the residence hall on a Thursday afternoon, the school responds as you have betrayed all values and community expectations. The idea that you can be a leader, do well academically, and still choose to violate certain rules is not one that’s embraced or even discussed.So no matter what else you do, you will be held accountable for that singular act of misconduct the same way the kid who only plays call of duty and smokes weed will be.
- Colleges do not have the resources to provide the educational response necessary to correct a student’s behavior. Even at schools with large mental health departments, doing the type of work necessary to help a student through an alcohol or drug addiction is often impossible. Many schools refer students to outside resources to address this, but many more simply do not have those community resources available and thus send the student “home” to have the work done.
- Many schools have mandatory sanctions. There is absolutely nothing educational about mandatory sanctions, and if someone tries to pretend there is they’re wrong. Sometimes these “mandatory” sanctions mean that each violation (no matter the circumstances) results in a more severe penalty–essentially creating a “three strikes” policy. Again, this problem does not make a system inefficient or mean that it can’t reach the right result, but even when it succeeds, that success is more luck than pedagogy.
- Judicial boards are trained to be effective, not to find people not responsible. Most judicial board training is on the types of questions to ask, getting them to accept the responsibilities of the position, and helping them understand the more liberal evidentiary policies. I fully believe in the preponderance of evidence standard, but it is not a forgiving standard if the person applying it is looking to answer “is it more likely than not the respondent did it” rather than “is it more likely than not the respondent did NOT do it.”
- It is developmentally inappropriate to expect students to be able to articulate their response in high stress situations. I tell my clients not to lie, but when the truth will definitively be held against them it is hard for many students to understand how honesty is rewarded. If a respondent cannot or does not feel he or she can accept responsibility and explain the reasons, a board will not have the information it needs to sanction in a way that educates and rehabilitates.
Doing programs and talking to students without addiction issues about moderation is easy. Punishing students overwhelmed by their lives who feel trapped and take academic shortcuts is easy. The hard part, and the part that separates educators from enforcers, is in being able to do the easy work consistently and well while also being able to do the hard stuff. 99% of the student affairs professionals I know could do that work and want to do it, but they need the resources and support to do so. If a school will not provide those resources then it needs to be straightforward and tell their prospective students that no matter who they are and what their reasons, if certain mistakes are made they will be abandoned and cut off from the community.
Are you a judicial administrator with a different opinion? Are you a student who felt unheard through the judicial process? Let me know either in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great weekend, and be good.