The Disappointing Appeal Process (pt.3)-Fixing the System
The campus judicial system is, as a whole, outstanding. If you consider the tens of thousands of serious cases heard each year, and how few true mistakes are made by a board, there is an effectiveness not seen in most systems. However the systems in place must be transparent and allow all parties to be heard fully heard in every step is inherently unfair regardless of outcome. In order to have a fair appeals process that serves and protects the students, some of all of these changes should be adopted.
- Completely separate the professional connection between the appeals officer/board and the judicial officer/board. The person or board considering the appeal should have no knowledge of the case prior to reviewing the records and materials for the appeal. If there is a relationship, especially a direct reporting relationship, between the two it is impossible to prevent a respondent from thinking that relationship played a part. It is almost as important that a system seem fair as it is that it be fair.
- Allow a ground for an inability to prepare an adequate defense for reasons outside of the respondent’s control. Most students subject to the judicial process are not developmentally or intellectually able to be effective advocates for themselves, and even if they are this is likely their first time having to do this sort of thing. A student should be able to make a case that he or she did not prepare as he or she should have due to a misunderstanding of the complaint, issues raised at the hearing not provided prior to the hearing, etc. A school concerned with reconsidering every board decision could make the remedy for this ground a new hearing rather than a reassessment of responsibility or the sanction.
- Allow an appeal for all sanctions, and not just the most serious. Most schools maintain records of disciplinary violations for well after a student graduates. If a student feels cheated by the system or if there were gross procedural or other errors, he or she should have the ability to challenge the outcome. In order to limit the appeals to those cases where actual errors or injustice exists, make certain the appeals officer/board can increase the sanction as well to prevent this from being a risk-free way for students to appeal everything.
- Provide detailed explanations for the finding of responsibility and the sanction in every decision letter. Not only will this allow a student to understand the basis for the decision against him or her, but it will also ensure a more educational process since the board will have to be able to articulate its reasoning vis a vis the violation and the student involved. It will also make it easier to modify a sanction while still maintaining the educational intention if an appeals officer knows the rationale behind a sanction.
- Loosen the “new evidence” rule. Currently most systems limit new evidence to that evidence that was unavailable at the time of the hearing, but to a student going through the judicial process relevant evidence may not be clear until the actual hearing. An easy way to adjust this policy would be defining “new” evidence as it currently is defined, but also allowing evidence not predictably necessary based on the response but that can be shown to have been raised and/or considered at hearing.
- Make the standard of review the same on appeal as the standard of proof is at hearing. If a respondent can show on appeal that a mistake was made, the review standard should also be preponderance of evidence. If the mistake or error had not been made the respondent would not have had to prove clear and convincingly that they were not responsible so why make them do so now?
- Remember that ties go to the student. When a finding of responsibility was made because a student just barely crossed the threshold of more likely than not, the sanction should reflect that level of responsibility. In other words, someone 100% responsible should not ever have the same sanction as someone 51% responsible. If on appeal the decision is too close to call, you should find in favor of the respondent.
- Allow students to appeal sanctions no matter what system was used to give that sanction. Many schools have administrative hearings/meetings where students are given the option of accepting responsibility and getting a sanction, but the student almost always must waive his or her right to appeal. This is patently unfair since the student does not have the experience or understanding to grasp the impact of a particular sanction. I have had many clients who accepted a “plea” because they were told that they would get worse at a hearing. If you tell an 18 year old that he could get suspended if he doesn’t accept probation, it would take a highly developed 18 year old to risk a hearing, no matter his responsibility.
- Any questions asked of one party or the judicial officer while considering an appeal should be shared with the other party. It is simply unfair to have someone be able to respond to a claim without allowing the other party to hear that response.
- Allow suspended students and groups to petition for earlier readmission. For some students and especially some student organizations, the growth and development a board wanted may be accomplished in less time than initially thought. There should be a way for a student to petition for reconsideration during a suspension. I imagine this will be a hard case to make for the suspended student, but it should be possible.
What do you think? Are there other things that could make the process more transparent and ensure that students are given every chance to defend themselves?