College Judicial Consultants

Information on college, conduct, Greek life, advocacy, and fairness-published every Tuesday and Friday morning.

Archive for the category “hearing assistance”

Case Study: The Underage Party–Hidden Considerations in the Judicial Process

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[NOTE: All names and identifying information has been changed to protect the privacy of the students involved. Any relation to a case you may know is purely coincidental.]

Steve was a senior at a competitive school living in a residence hall on campus. On Wednesday some underclassmen asked Steve if he would buy alcohol for a “suite” party they are having that weekend that would mostly be attended by other residents. Steve knew these students and has purchased alcohol for some of them before, so this request was not a big deal. Steve bought handles of different hard alcohols and a couple of cases of beer for them, but did not attend the party.

At 2:30AM one of the a freshman guests heading back to his dorm with a BAC more than three times the legal limit, was hit by a car, and was seriously injured. The situation made it to the campus newspaper, and there was a lot of upper-level administrative attention on that case—including the campus attorneys. Steve and the party hosts were eventually informed that there would be a judicial hearing for their actions with the charges being underage drinking, providing alcohol to minors, and reckless endangerment based on the party and the student’s injuries. At the hearing all the respondents argued that since Steve was not at the event he should not be responsible for how much the injured student drank, and that none of them should be responsible for the fact that the freshman was hurt on the way back to his residence since his being hit by a car was a fluke.

What Steve and the other students did not realize was that there were two simultaneous forces affecting their case. They knew about the one clearly written in the charge letter and presented in the evidence against them. They presented a decent (although not great) defense against that one, but they did not see or consider the political impact of the student’s injuries and how their case fit into the big picture. When it came to the case, the judicial board chair was aware that there were a lot of eyes on the outcome and that awareness was shared with the board prior to the hearing.

As the students presented their defenses, the board was listening for information to help address both the case itself and also the various implications of the student’s injuries. Since Steve and the other respondents did not consider that aspect they did not address it and the board was left with only their pre-case impressions and a belief that the respondents did not “get the seriousness” of what happened. Steve was found responsible for providing alcohol and reckless endangerment, and was suspended for the last semester of his college career and had to come back the following year in order to take the mandatory class he needed for his major.

It is important to realize that the board did NOT intentionally punish Steve more severely because of the political undercurrents. By the time the case got to the board, the impact of the politics and attention were already in place, and those factors directly affected the outcome:

  1. While this board almost never heard alcohol cases the fact that they were implied a seriousness they could not ignore.
  2. While the student injury was clearly why the case was treated so seriously, the board and the respondents were not looking at the same issue. The respondents focused on the “fluke” nature of that injury, but the board believed the idea that an extremely drunk freshman getting hurt was actually very foreseeable. All the respondents seemed to be doing was missing the point and not taking responsibility.
  3. The decision to hold Steve accountable even though he was not there was not what was normally done, but the decision to do so in this case was made prior to the hearing. When the board got the case the students assumed that Steve would be fine based on their experience, but the board decided the person most responsible was the older student that supplied the alcohol because he had the ultimate responsibility for how that alcohol was used.

Cases do not happen in a vacuum, and the political climate at the school, the “headline” news, previous cases, and recent history can all play a factor. The good news is that these are not factors in 95% of cases. The bad news is that when those external considerations are factors, it is highly unlikely that a student, fraternity, or sorority will be able to identify and address them properly. If you are in trouble, and you think the people working with your case are treating it like a bigger deal than you think it should be, there are probably more things going on that you know. Contact us for a free consultation to see what you may be missing and how we can help.

Have you had a disciplinary case against you, your fraternity, or your sorority go worse than you expected? Contact me at DaveK@Collegejudicialconsultants.com and share your story for a future piece or share your story in the comments.  Be safe, be good, and be ready.

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Getting Better Advisors–Why Administrators Are Wrong About Us, And Why That Mistake May Hurt You

At College Judicial Consultants we have tremendous respect for judicial officers, Greek advisors, and other administrators, but believe they should be less mistrustful of outside help during the campus judicial process. When that help is an attorney for the non-legal judicial process, that help can indeed hurt a student and cost the student thousands of dollars. While we understand that mistrust, we believe that when you look at the support offered on campus, we are not truly outside.

Fact 1: Every student discipline system allows a student or organization (“respondent”) to have an advisor, with most limiting that advisor to a non-attorney from the campus community.

Fact 2: Only a handful of schools have an organized advisor program where they train a few faculty and staff in how the system works and make those people available for students going through the process. These advisors are well intended and may help a few students each year. However, their job is to make sure the student understands the process and is connected to campus resources; not to “help” the student minimize the consequence or negate false accusations. In other words, they are there for emotional and psychological support only. That support is REALLY important (in fact we encourage every client to take advantage of it) but that type of advising is less than a respondent needs when they are innocent or the stakes are high.

When a respondent goes through the disciplinary process there are two essential parts of that process the respondent needs to understand—the procedure and the content. Judicial officers often say that their system is “different” and thus requires someone with specific training to understand it. While this is technically correct, ask your judicial officer if he or she can understand other systems and I’ll bet you $5 they won’t have a problem doing so. Judicial systems have slight differences, but they are similar enough that there are best practices, model codes, community assessment models, and uniform standards. More importantly, any system they have must be explainable AND in writing in a way to make it understandable. When you meet with the judicial officer he or she will explain it to you and that explanation is essentially the same “training” the advisors from the school receive.

The much more important part is developing the content where the respondent gets the chance to tell their side of the story and present evidence to show how their version is correct and the accusations are inaccurate. It is during this part of the process where respondents make mistakes that can get them found responsible when they are not, and make their sanction worse than it needed to be. It is in this arena that our consultants are miles ahead of any other “advisor” you will get from the school for two very important reasons:

  1. The least experienced of our consultants has seen at least 10 times the number of cases as the most experienced advisor from your school (with that number closer to 50 times more.) This means that your consultant has seen literally hundreds more responses than anyone you will find on campus, and are much more likely to have seen a case with similar facts to yours.
  2. Our consultants’ only goal is to make sure you are not found responsible for something you did not do and have the smallest consequence possible for what you did. We are not faculty who have opinions about plagiarism at your school. We are not administrators who have had to deal with “problem” students. In other words, we do not have any reason to protect the school, the community, or the system.

In other words, we are like the best advisor you might find on campus but with vastly more experience, and without any agenda other than giving a respondent the best chance for the best result. Why would anyone on your campus not want you to take advantage of that?

 Contact us for a free and completely confidential consultation to go over your case and see what we can do for you.

Bring us to your campus!

We have launched a new campaign on RocketHub to raise money to do a nationwide college tour beginning in February.  Go to our page on RocketHub for more info.  If we get enough money I will spend up to 6 weeks on the road going to as many colleges as possible to do workshops and/or presentations on risk management, student advocacy, fairness, or other related topics that meet the needs of each audience.  

Many chapters, IFCs, Panhellenic Councils, and other student groups have asked that we do something.  This is your chance to bring us to your campus for a fraction of what it would cost otherwise. Depending on your donation, we will publicize you, your organization, or whatever you’d like on our site or even our touring vehicle.  Help change the way college students and student organizations understand their power and advocate for themselves!

(Un?)Intentional Bias Against Greek Organizations–Iowa Edition

There was an article in the Des Moines Register that discusses the higher rates of arrest among Greek students than their non-Greek counterparts that was essentially a reprint of an article published in the Iowa Press Citizen.  There are so many things wrong with the articles that I’m just going to choose a few. As a preface I want to remind you that I am not now, nor have I ever, said that Greek organizations are innocent of all wrongdoing and are framed.  I understand that Greeks, on average, tend to have higher rates of binge drinking and other behaviors.  As I said in an earlier post about the systemic bias against Greeks, the problem is that the police, administrators, and people who assess these behaviors go into their interactions with Greeks expecting a particular result.  That being said, here are some problems with these articles:

1.  The assumption that arrest percentages correlate to a proportional increase in illegal behavior.  Let’s look at the Greek men versus non-Greek men.  According to the article in 2010-2011 fraternity men had an arrest rate of 15.1% and non-Greek men had an arrest rate of 8.5%.  (I’m going to make an assumption that most of these “arrests” are alcohol-related for things like underage possession, public intoxication, open containers, and the like.  I can’t believe that Iowa students are committing more serious crimes at the rate of 1 in 10 male student, and these types of arrests are the ones I’m most familiar with on a campus.) On the surface this seems like a lot, but how are these arrests (most likely citations, by the way) made?  When the police appear at a fraternity party do they ID everyone and cite anyone who is over the limit, underage, etc? Or are these singular arrests of students they stumble upon?  I will bet $100 that these arrests/citations are done in masse which means that every time they show up at something they’re making dozens of arrests/citations? This matters because I can guarantee you that the police are not walking the floors of residence halls on Thursday-Saturday nights.  I may be wrong, but I’ll bet the 8.5% of non-Greek arrests are done in small numbers (1-3 students at a time) and the 15.1% are done in larger numbers.  This would mean that the incidents are not dissimilar.  I could be completely wrong, but there is NOTHING in the data that lets me know either way.

2.  The use of the word “frat” makes it clear that the author is not Greek.  This doesn’t really matter, but it does make it more likely than not that comments that seem anti-Greek are at least carelessly so.

3.  Arrests happen where the police are.  This is a version of the argument explaining the arrest rates in urban/minority areas so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it essentially says that there is an underlying bias against minorities and the urban poor that makes police in those areas more likely to arrest the people living there.  I think the same is true for Greeks, especially those with fraternity houses outside the school grounds. If you are part of a city or town where the college is a large part of the population, there is often an “us and them” feeling that develops among the non-college population.  For those people nothing expresses the privilege and difference of college students like fraternity houses with neighbors frequently calling the police on anything that is outside the “norms” of the neighborhood.  If you have 30-60 students living in a house, almost everything they do will be outside those norms.  I would ask how many calls to fraternity and sorority houses the police receive, what their patrol patterns are, what their protocols are when the find something in a fraternity/sorority house (as opposed to when something happens in a residence hall) and other questions to give the arrests some context.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll bet you find at least a corresponding 2:1 rate of normal patrols and dispatched calls.

4.  Shame on the University of Iowa (and other schools) for not protecting their students better.  Again, without knowing the actual reasons for the arrests/citations this is conjecture, but it makes me furious when a school allows arrests/citations to be given for drunk in public and underage drinking without fighting the town on those arrests.  An 8.5% arrest rate is ABSURD.  I am all for arresting all students (or anyone) who drives drunk, vandalizes, or commits other crimes where there is either a victim or it is so reckless that a third party-injury is likely.  I also refuse to believe that most of the arrests fall into that category.  So what you have is a police force targeting students for the sole purpose of raising revenue, and the schools allow it.  In fact, “town/gown” relations (the relationship between the school and the local community) almost always has the school apologizing rather than standing up for the students.  I’ve seen it at other schools, but what this type of police profiling does is increase drunk driving (because it’s easier to get away with than walking home), decrease the number of students returning to the safety of their homes (because if you stay indoors, you are less likely to get caught), and other actions that actually decrease student safety.  The solution is not to demand fewer arrests by the students, but to demand that the police treat students the way they treat the rest of the population.  Have the police stop people leaving restaurants and bars, or leaving dinner parties, and watch how quickly the public outrage changes their behavior.

So what can you, as a student government/organization, do?  There are several things:

1.  Organize a week-long boycott of local business.  Remind the city of the benefit students bring to the community and make it clear that the boycott is due to police profiling.  You need to engage the community and get them in the fight because your school won’t do it alone.

2.  Each student should challenge any judicial action resulting from the arrest/citation.  I do not know what action Iowa takes, but I’m willing to bet that there is a protocol that comes into play every time they get a report.  The school is not equipped to handle 8.5-15% of the population demanding a hearing.  Tax the system and maybe you can highlight the injustice to members of the administration who can do something.

3.  Represent yourselves in court and fight EVERY citation.  This is similar to 2, but the impact will be to the courts and the police force.  Most police either can’t attend court or get overtime for doing so.  Make them come.

We would love to help the students in the Iowa Greek community or The University of Iowa Student government develop a system to fight this on behalf of the students.  We can come train a group of you to be advocates, we can represent every student cited for a very reduced rate, or work together to find ways to bring this to a stop.  Get in touch, whether you are at Iowa, Arkansas, or any other school, and let’s see what we can do. Nobody will fight harder for you than you fight for yourselves.  Let me show you how.

If you are a student and want to help us out in less than 3 minutes, please take our survey!  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MGDYXK5 

We Are the 5% Solution

We recently were featured in an article in The Dartmouth. The journalist, Ms. Amanda Young, discussed what we do and then spoke with their Director of Undergraduate Affairs, Mr. Nathan Miller, and Ms. Jessica Womack, a junior on Dartmouth’s “Committee on Standards (COS),” to get a sense of whether or not we are a resource that Dartmouth students should use.  It was a fair article with both Mr. Miller and Ms. Womack saying what you would expect from people in their positions.  Neither of them thinks that a student needs to use our services to get through the process; although they both seem to acknowledge that a student should use anything he or she can to maximize their readiness for the process.  While that position is inherently contradictory, since we essentially agree with them I thought I’d explain it.

To make the math easy, let’s say that, on average, 5% of college students get into some kind of trouble each year.  This trouble can be anything from the silly (violating copyright through “illegal” downloads) to the horrible (sexual assault.)  To make it even simpler, let’s pretend that Dartmouth has 2000 students so each year 100 of them get in some sort of trouble.  Ms. Womack and Mr. Miller both think that the process works well and that the support offered is sufficient for the students involved.  Let’s say they’re right, and give them an A on their process and the support offered.  That means that there is a 95% rate of what I call “sufficient fairness” where the resources and the process are enough to ensure that a student is prepared to obtain the best result possible. That would be an amazing system, and something that the people on the COS (like Ms. Womack) and the person responsible for the process (Mr. Miller) should be understandably proud.  In fact, at College Judicial Consultants we assume that every system is at or near 95% with the people involved in the process acting beyond reproach and really doing the best they can for students.

That still leaves 5% of the time where some additional help is needed or would help a student be more prepared.  Using the numbers above that means that at Dartmouth every year, 5 students could benefit from competent outside help.  In other words, it is completely consistent for the world to have judicial systems with an efficiency and customer satisfaction rate higher than almost anything offered anywhere by anyone, and also that the students subjected to that system could on occasion, use help and support beyond that system. We are here for that 1%, 3%, 5% or higher percent of the cases where the resources either are not sufficient or the student/student organization cannot use them fully so they are, in practice, not sufficient.  We are not trying to suggest that systems are out to get students or are happy when a student organization gets screwed over. We believe that systems of accountability are good things, managed by good people who work hard, and adjudicated by good people with the best intentions.  The problem is that sometimes that isn’t enough.

I can hear the defensiveness of some of our critics now “you’re just making up numbers!” Correct. I did. I have no way of knowing how many students that have gone through a process believe that they understood it all, did everything they should have, and would change nothing about how it went.   I do know, however, that if systems were perfect there would be no need for an appeal process.  If everything worked out as it should AND the students subjected to it were always satisfied with the result, they wouldn’t want to appeal because there would be no need. However, the appeals process is there for when a student believes that something very wrong has happened, and that the result is unfair. (I talk about appeals in an earlier blog so I won’t go into it more, but if you don’t see this point let me know and I’ll explain more.)

We love to assign blame in this country. If something isn’t working, or if there is a breakdown in something that does work, we love to point to someone and say “this is why it doesn’t work.”  If a student thinks the system is unfair, then it is that student or that fraternity that is “broken,” not the system. ($5 to the first person who can send me an article where the upper administration of a school, before any legal action began, said When we say that systems with underprepared participants are inherently unfair, we are not criticizing the people involved in that system (usually.)  We believe that most systems are inherently fair and that almost administrators and board members are trying to get the right result.  In fact, we count on it.  Our fundamental belief is that no matter how fair a system is the outcome will not be fair if the person subjected to it is not able to use it fully.  We are not challenging the fairness of a system when we say that.

Schools do have varying levels of support–some have advisors they train on the process, student advocates who help they prepare their responses, and other resources to help a student be prepared.  As I’ve said, in most cases they are probably fine and will be enough help.  However, when something is really serious, when a student or student group feels that they want someone who’s goal is to help them minimize the sanction against them or make sure they are not held accountable for something they didn’t do, when they want judgment free help, or when they just don’t trust the resources, we are here.  We have seen thousands of cases in different kinds of systems.  We have seen administrative hearings (run them in some cases,) all student boards (advised/created them in some cases,) boards made up of faculty, staff and students (trained them in some cases,) and “special” boards made up of more highly trained people to hear more serious cases (and served on them in some cases.)  We study the judicial system of every client’s school, and by the time the hearing happens understand it better than almost anyone. More than that, when we help a student or student group, our only obligation is to them.  We have no obligation to disclose and will never tell anyone what our client tells us, a promise that administrators simply cannot make. We also do not care about any political pressure on an office to deal with hazing, the anger of a faculty member about allegations of academic misconduct, the ego of a dean who believes that he should be able to control student behavior, or any of the other things that consciously or subconsciously shape a system. It is also worth noting that we encourage our clients to ALSO take advantage of the resources on campus.  Go to the counseling center, the academic resource center, your RA, and get yourself a hearing advisor so you don’t have to sit there alone!  Just don’t think that any of them have the combine expertise, experience, and knowledge that we do about Greek life, judicial systems, and case preparation.

If you have any questions about what we do and why we do it, email me.  We try to be as transparent as possible, so if we are doing something and you want to understand why, just ask. You can email me at DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com, or the office in general at Info@collegejudicialconsultants.com, or you can call us at (617) 287-8782.

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