College Judicial Consultants

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Archive for the tag “discipline”

Year in Review: The Disappointing Appeal Process (pt.1)–Background

[As this year wraps up, I thought it would be worth talking about some of the good things and bad things I’ve noticed that cut across all systems.]

All college discipline systems have an appeals process that is meant to protect the rights of the respondents. In theory, these are the checks on the authority of the judicial boards that can suspend or expel a student. Since the judicial boards have so much power, the appeals process is meant to ensure that a student was not sanctioned unfairly or against policy. If you’re a student or a Greek organization and you go through the judicial process (“respondent”) and get a sanction you think is unfair or you feel you were denied a fair hearing, you can appeal that decision to a “higher” administrator authority. The idea behind this is a good one—while the boards are very well trained and successfully make dozens of hard decision each year, occasionally there might be a mistake that unjustly impacts a respondent. The appeals process makes sure that these mistakes are corrected and that the “right” result is ensured.

Unfortunately, in most systems the appeals process is merely a false hope offered to respondents, and their actual chance of changing a board’s decision is nil.

Sisyphus

Almost without exception, the appeal is not a rehearing of the case. Since the board heard the case and was in the best position to make decisions of fact, the de facto position is that their conclusions are “true” unless some “mistake”  happened to make their conclusions incorrect. As a rule of thumb, even though a judicial board uses the “preponderance of evidence” standard when deciding facts, a higher standard is used when deciding if those facts are reasonable. (More on that later.) Even more importantly, almost no system allows you to directly attack the board’s findings so you must use a different ground to get to a place where your dispute will be considered-something beyond the ability of almost all students. There are only a few grounds a respondent can use in an appeal (and most schools have some combination of these, although they may be worded differently):

  1. New evidence that was not available during the hearing, but which could/would have changed the outcome—This is an almost impossible standard. It does not mean that there was something a respondent could have presented but chose not to and it does not mean that there was something that they could have found but didn’t. It means literally that something came to light after the hearing that would have been used if it was found before the hearing, and that it was not discoverable prior. (Some systems have a looser interpretation, but this is the common one.) Not only that, but it needs to be different from the other evidence that was presented in order to potentially have changed the outcome.
  2. A procedural error which affected the outcome—This is a two part check. It is not enough that a procedural mistake was made, but that mistake needs to be serious enough that it resulted in a decision that would have been different if it was not made. Since a judicial administrator’s job is to make certain that these types of errors do not occur, these are rarely winners. (This ground is usually a way to argue the facts, but the appeals officer has to agree that there was a violation or she will just dismiss the argument without consideration.)
  3. A misinterpretation or incorrect use of policy—This is less commonly used, but it essentially means that there was a charge that, when applying the facts as the board found them, should not have resulted in responsibility.
  4. The sanction is too severe for the violations—This is where most students couch their appeal because to them this one is both true and understandable. A respondent may not understand what the policy for disdog-chasing-its-tail11puting the impartiality of a board member is and whether or not there was a mistake, but she knows that being suspended for a year is severe. The mistake they make is that in order to win on this ground, the sanction given has to be more severe than the acceptable range for these violations. This does not mean that the appeals officer thinks that the sanction should havebeen lighter, but that the sanction given was not within an acceptable range of potential sanctions. Since most violations that could result in a suspension for a semester could, in theory, result in expulsion this is deceptively difficult.

The problem is not the difficulty of an appeal, but that the system is set up to make it virtually impossible to make a successful argument. On Friday I will discuss why the appeals process is essentially “fixed” to work against the respondent, and next week I will offer some suggestions on how to make it fairer.

Am I missing something significant? Please feel free to comment and correct me, but if you are a judicial officer I ask that you include your appeals statistics for cases that resulted in suspension or expulsion.

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How to Fix The College Discipline System for Sexual Assault Cases

NYT article

Click here for the NYT article on the issues at Swarthmore and Occidental.

Colleges and universities are under scrutiny their (mis)handling of sexual assault and interpersonal violence (IPV) cases. High profile schools are being investigated for violating victims’ rights, while at the same time there is a growing movement advocating for increasing the rights and protections of the accused. There have been calls from both sides to take these cases out of the college judicial process and leave it to the courts, but all that will do is take options away from the victim and result in even fewer perpetrators facing accountability.

Both sides are correct—colleges are not equipped to handle these cases. However, it is not because the judicial systems are inherent flawed or a lack of awareness by the people involved—it is because it is impossible to have a system  fair to both parties when the people responsible for the different aspects of the case have other interests and responsibilities. To ensure the disciplinary process is followed and fair, a school should hire outside entities to handle the three major components of a case, and allow the college administrators to focus on their responsibilities.

By necessity there will be oversimplification of the issues to make this piece’s length manageable, but I am operating under several assumptions:

  1. Judicial administrators (JAs) and board members want to have a fair system that reaches the right result and do not intentionally revictimize or perpetuate rape myths.
  2. The college judicial system is the lowest barrier accountability system available to victims.
  3. Colleges have dedicated professionals in place to assist victims of interpersonal violence through the process as their only or primary responsibility. (This is more rare than the assumption suggests.)

(In addition, I am only discussing student on student IPV cases and will be gender normative-using “she/her” for victims and “he/him” for perpetrators even though I recognize that these roles are not absolute.)

There are four essential components to any case: the case preparation for each side, the investigation, and the hearing. Each requires a rigid activist committed to the perfect execution of their responsibilities in order for them to be successful. However, each of those by necessity encroaches on the other components.

A victim will have to answer questions she does not want to answer to aid in an investigation, a respondent may be moved or transferred out of a class to protect the victim, the opportunity to confront the accuser by definition hurts the victim, etc.

A victim will have to answer questions she does not want to answer to aid in an investigation, a respondent may be moved or transferred out of a class to protect the victim, the opportunity to confront the accuser by definition hurts the victim, etc.

For that reason, there should be 3 professionals exclusively dedicated to these components without regard or responsibility for the other 2, but with a good relationship with each other in order to assure equal advocacy, transparency and fairness. The JA should “only” be responsible for ensuring due process is followed at a hearing, and that each of the three advocates are engaged in a timely manner. While the JA might be able to assume an additional responsibility (and currently may do all of them,) the only way the JA can be responsible for ensuring fairness and due process is if there is someone else who can fully advocate for each side without concern for the other or for the school’s liability.

Simply put, it is impossible for a school to reduce or eliminate its liability in these cases without outsourcing the advocacy and investigatory responsibilities. As long as an “agent” of the school is working with one side in preparing a case, the school remains at risk of liability from the other side. Schools know this, so even victim advocates are pressured to limit their work to connecting victims with resources and, in the best systems, advocating for “one-sided” accommodations. The advocate may also provide excellent advice in preparing the case, but he or she does so knowing that if the respondent sues that assistance may be used against the school. The victim and respondent advisora needs to be separate from the university, intimately familiar with the college judicial process, and have a good and open relationship with the support resources on campus.

Providing equal and external assistance is crucial since the basis of most claims against a college is “inequitable resources” that resulted in an outcome that breached the school’s duty of care. It is also important that the “outsourced” group not be attorneys and/or not be acting as an attorney to prevent the process from becoming de facto litigation. The judicial process is not a legal process and while these resources will help the parties prepare their cases, get ready for the hearings, and protect their rights and interests it will remain up to the students to present their cases through whatever system is in place.

The last component necessary to increase the fairness is a competent external investigator for each allegation that can interview the parties involved, meet with witnesses, ensure that all evidence is collected, and then prepare a report on those findings to help the parties prepare their statements and/or the board reach a decision. There are some schools, like Harvard, that have been doing this (or something similar) for years, but it is prohibitively expensive for most schools. I believe it is possible to have someone responsible for those investigations that can do them at a much lower cost (and have a few suggestions) but expecting students to gather all that information impartially and without exerting pressure on the people interviewed is unreasonable (and developmentally inappropriate.)

Engaging these outside entities will increase the likelihood that the parties will be able to present their positions fully and clearly, that as much information as possible will be available to get as close to truth and fairness as possible, and limit a school’s liability and giving them clean hands. It would be naïve to ignore the additional costs a school would bear to provide these resources, but compared to the positive impact for the students and the reduction in the liability, the costs would be well worth it.

What do you think? Are schools equipped to help each party prepare adequately while still protecting themselves? Are there other (and better) ways to approach this? Leave a comment or email me at (DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com). Be good and be safe.

Top Five (or 6) Reasons Students Get in More Trouble At the End of the Year

In my experience, the last 6 weeks of school have the highest amount of judicial incidents. I wanted to share some of the reasons for the spike, and offer some tips on how to prevent them. (As always, if you have any problems or want some advice on how to avoid problems, we can help.)

  • Senior Week. While it may be true that the rules are “relaxed” during this week, there is always someone who will take it too far and confuse relaxed enforcement with anarchy. Every year there are seniors who wake up from a night of debauchery to find that they have a meeting with the judicial office and have placed their graduation in jeopardy. Tip: Remember not to fight, destroy things, do drugs, or commit sexual assault and you should be okay. Better yet, stop drinking before you won’t remember all the fun you had.
  • Senior Week, Greek Version—Once classes and exams are over there are occasionally seniors who decide they can party with reckless abandon. The problem is that if they violate the rules, even if they are the only people left in the house, your fraternity or sorority will still be held accountable for their actions long after they’ve graduated. Tip: Work with your chapter advisors and Greek life office to separate your chapter from any “problem seniors” before they do something wrong. Even letting those resources know you’re concerned will help mitigate the trouble later if something happens.
  • You Are “Sick of It”—Stress makes small sparks into huge flames. If you are in a forced relationship with someone (roommate, project team, etc.) that has been difficult to this point, it is not going to get easier.  Tip: Get help-your RA, hall director, TA, and professors either have some training in mediation or can point you to someone who does. Address these issues BEFORE you lose it on your roommate for putting on Skrillex at 3am AGAIN, or on that jerk in your business class who isn’t doing his part.

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  • Breakups—When you’re in a relationship with issues, nothing brings those to the forefront like the looming specter of finals and summer break. Many breakups happen during the last 6 weeks of school, and someone invariably does not handle it well. This can lead to things like late night confrontations, unwelcomed and repeated texts/phone calls, and other behavior that quickly escalate to stalking and harassment. Tip: Listen to what the other person is telling you regarding his or her boundaries and respect those even if it doesn’t seem “fair.” Connect with the counseling center or administrators you know to safely talk it out.
  • Missed Work Catches Up With You—April and May are also big “academic misconduct” months. If you are too behind in a class to catch up, remember that an earned F is better than a sanctioned zero and a year home on suspension. Tip: Talk to your professor and explain your situation. Addressing it with 5-6 weeks to go will be well received, and your professor may even have some tips to help you feel less overwhelmed.
  • Spring Weekend—In the Spring almost every school has a major event with great musical and comedic acts and day-long functions—essentially they throw a HUGE two-day bash. In addition, there are also a lot of unofficial parties happening at the same time. What you may not realize, is Spring Weekend is also a time where most student affairs staff are required to work. In other words, there are more people on the look out for problems and disruptions than at any other point during the year. So when a student lets loose and comes to campus after they’ve been drinking for 6 hours in the sun or tried mushroom tea for the first time, they get caught. Tip: If you’re going to “get wasted” have a safe place to stay away from campus and people to make sure you’re okay. While you may miss Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on the quad, you won’t miss school for the year you’re suspended. Bonus Tip: Watch your guests! Remember that if your friends come visit that their actions can be held against you as if you did them yourself. Be prepared to keep anyone who visits in check.

Do you have any questions you would like answered regarding judicial issues, risk management, student advocacy, or anything else? Email me at davek@collegejudicialconsultants.com. I’ll answer every email I receive and may use some of them in a newsletter or blog.

Greek Case Study: How to Stop One Member’s Misconduct from Defining Your Fraternity or Sorority

[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.]

Johnny is a junior at a competitive school and a member of a popular fraternity with a physical house. While responding to a noise complaint at the fraternity, the school’s police smelled the strong aroma of marijuana coming from the house. They are allowed in and locate the smell coming from Johnny’s room. They knock, Johnny opens the door, and there are 2 bongs going, scales, baggies, and a half-pound of marijuana. Because the police want to cut Johnny a break they do not arrest him, but they do refer him to judicial affairs for possession, intent to sell, and other charges. Judicial Affairs also refers the case to the Interfraternity Council Judicial Board to address the potential fraternity misconduct.

Johnny is found responsible at the judicial hearing and suspended for a year. At the hearing he reveals that he was dealing, but only to people he knew like his brothers and other friends. Since smoking marijuana is only a citation in the state he figured he could make a little money, smoke for free, and that it wasn’t a big deal. That information is shared with the IFC.

At the IFC hearing, the fraternity says that they “did not know” Johnny was dealing, and that they would never have allowed it in the house if they did. They admit that they knew Johnny smoked, but claim that no other brothers smoke and that they too did not think it was a big deal since “it isn’t against the law or anything.” They admit that they should have stopped Johnny from smoking, but deny responsibility for everything else. They are found responsible for dealing and suspended for 3 years.

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So what happened? What could the fraternity have done to prevent the hearing, or failing that, have a much lower sanction? (I’m assuming you know if you deal drugs you risk getting kicked off campus/arrested, and that you’re smart enough not to do it so this is about the fraternity.)

The fraternity did not get in trouble because Johnny was dealing (or even smoking in the house.) The fraternity got in trouble because they did not stop Johnny and thus let Johnny define them. In other words, by allowing Johnny to continue doing whatever he was doing in the house they endorsed the behavior, making that behavior part of the chapter’s culture. Not intervening when a brother/sister does something against the rules or values of the organizations dos not mean you are passively allowing something, it means you are actively embracing that behavior.

Don’t let one brother or sister make all of you into a herd.

When a single member or a small group “go rogue,” you are expected to put a stop to it, and will be held accountable if you don’t. While you can’t stop someone from acting like a donkey, you must stop them from feeling supported or comfortable doing so until the behavior stops OR they leave the fraternity/sorority. When I work with fraternities or sororities I recommend some ways of dealing with this with different levels of severity, but it important that you address it (and move through the options) quickly:

  1. Have the President, VP, Standards Chair, or Risk Manager (i.e. whomever the chapter agreed should address member misconduct informally) talk to the brother/sister and get them to stop immediately and get it out of your house. This will usually be enough, but if it isn’t;
  2. Have an active and effective judicial committee in place to give a formal mandate and sanction. Most chapters I know have someone with a title like “Judicial Chair,” but almost none of them have an active and trained judicial body to address misconduct and keep it in house. Not having one is a huge mistake not only because it is a very useful tool to uphold the values of your chapter, but also because demonstrating the ability to and history of dealing with internal issues will help you if your organization ever gets in trouble. If, after getting the sanction the behavior still does not stop;
  3. Notify your chapter advisor (if that person is unaffiliated with the University) and have him/her speak to the student. This is the “last chance” discussion that should work, but if it doesn’t;
  4. Notify the Greek life office that you have a brother/sister doing something harmful, that you’ve tried to make them stop, and he/she won’t listen. You may still have some accountability for that person’s actions anyway, but I guarantee it will be much less than if you get caught and haven’t dealt with it effectively.

I know it may seem harsh to “offer up” a brother/sister, but when they stop acting like one you can stop treating them like one, and by this point you have given him/her/them plenty of opportunities to change.

When you do not address and correct the behavior of one of more members of your chapter, you should assume you will become known for that behavior. While the necessary conversations to fix that behavior may be uncomfortable, difficult, and hostile, it is a lot easier than proving that the worst of you do not define you.

Do you have any difficult members putting you at risk? Let me know about them in the comments or at DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com!

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.

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.

Know the People That Affect You In College (i.e. the Accidental Good Idea)

When I was in college, I was the classic example of a smart kid who made bad decisions. If there were 2 ways to do something and one way could get me in trouble that was the way I invariably chose…and chose it often. It was so bad that it became pointless for me to try and avoid mistakes, and success became learning a lesson early enough to not make the same mistake more than twice. Some of these mistakes were small and some involved police being called, but any one of them could have been the thing that got me sent home.

There was exactly one reason I was able to be that donkey and still graduate (and it wasn’t because I had good grades or my almost unbelievable charm.) The simple truth is that I got to know everyone in a position of authority that I could. I knew not just the RAs on my floor, but I knew the ones from my building and when someone came around I didn’t know I introduced myself. I knew the hall director, the student government advisor, the judicial officer, and every one of my professors. I met some of them when things went wrong, but for the most part I knew them simply because they directly or indirectly had authority over my life. This was not an intentional strategy, but it turned out to be a good one.

When I started working in higher education I was reminded of my relationship building because a small percentage of students took the time to do the same with me.  There are several reasons this is a good idea:

  1. Almost without exception the people working in student affairs and with students are good people with interesting stories. If you know that first hand it will improve your interactions down the road.
  2. People are more inclined to help when they know you. This is simple human nature. If you are “Jennifer” and you get caught smoking marijuana in the dorm, the first instinct will be to do more for you than if you’re “that girl in 205.”
  3. You get the chance to let someone know who you are so they don’t just judge you when they “have to.” This is similar to #2, but more positive. When I was in charge of judicial issues, if someone came up to me to change the way something was enforced I was a lot more open to it than if they tried to make the same argument because they were “caught.” The truth is that when a person in authority knows you he or she is much more inclined to trust the motives you present rather than make assumptions you may not like.
  4. There are numerous opportunities that get presented to these people, and the better they know you the more likely it is that you will be informed of them. This can be as simple as being on a committee or information about a paid internship.

If you are going to get to know someone, remember that they are busy as well. If the person is an administrator make (and keep!!!) an appointment. Go to programs, say hi, help out, and do other things that show you’re a good person before you need them to believe it. Besides being a good way to check out some other life options, it can also be fun.

Obligatory plug: Subscribe to this blog, check out our website, follow me on Twitter, or like us on Facebook (if people still do that.) Also check out our friends at The Greak Tweak if you’re in a fraternity, sorority, or just want some good advice.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind–Why Disciplinary Suspension is Not Educational

I do a lot of outreach to student life administrators at colleges and national organizations to let them know about our services for individuals and groups. Occasionally I’ll get a response from one that aggressively claims that our job is to “stop students from having any accountability” and thus “contrary to the “education” of a judicial system.” There are a lot of problems with this accusation, but the biggest one is that the severity of a sanction is not inherently related to the educational merit. If the purpose of a campus judicial system is primarily to educate the person or organization going through the process, then temporarily pulling that student out of the environment where the people most capable of educating him are located makes no sense.

Let’s say Tim Student plagiarizes a paper and gets caught. One of two things is true-either Tim is a completely dishonest person who cheats repeatedly or Tim demonstrated weakness and made a really bad decision. If Tim is a habitual cheater, sending him home for a semester or a year might make him reassess whether cheating is worth the risk, but it will not teach him that it is wrong. It may teach him that the price of getting caught is not worth the benefit of cheating which may be a deterrent, but it is not educational. It’s the judicial equivalent of shocking the mouse if he hits the wrong button. There will be some point where a situation has a benefit that is worth the cost, and Tim will absolutely cheat again. If, however, Tim is like most of us and makes occasional bad decisions, then suspending him teaches him nothing. It does not address the issues that lead to the decision to plagiarize and it separates him from the support resources he would need to develop the tools that will allow him to maintain his integrity in the future. Tim staying on campus allows the school, and specifically the student support professionals, to do actual development work with him.

I should point out that there is also value in sanctioning to protect the students who are doing the right thing. In other words, if someone cheats he should be sanctioned strongly enough that the majority that does not cheat feel justified in doing the “extra” work (i.e. they do not get outperformed by cheaters.) However, if Tim is and will remain a cheater, why allow him back into that community at all? Expelling him sends a stronger message, protects the community more, and makes the cost to Tim even higher. If Tim loses everything and associates that loss with “getting caught,” there will be even fewer things worth that cost and thus fewer times where Tim might cheat again in the future. Expel the cheaters and keep the students worth saving on campus. Of course nobody comes forth and says “I absolutely did this on purpose and will do it again,” so it is difficult to identify the habitual offenders.  A good system should therefore err on the side of helping a responsible student grow and develop into the type of person the school wants their graduates to be. Allowing him to stay on campus can still protect the community. There are many things you can do to someone while keeping them on campus (e.g. fail them for the class, put them on probation for the rest of their career, place a notation on their transcript, mandate self-improvement sessions, etc.) If Tim cheats again or he fails to meet the terms of the sanction, he will reveal himself as irredeemable and then expelling him will make sense.

These same ideas are true with a fraternity, sorority, or other student organization. If a chapter makes a mistake, suspending them for a year does not help them improve. Again, if an organization is dangerous enough to merit removing them from the community for a limited period of time (i.e. suspending them) then why allow them to return at all? If they are a hazing fraternity, suspending them for a year does not protect the students or the community. Expel habitual offenders that are a danger to the community because of their inability or unwillingness to change, and work with the rest to make them better. Suspension neither protects nor educates. We do everything we can to keep an organization on campus so that the very people who criticize us for doing so can help that chapter be what it should.

At College Judicial Consultants we believe that most students or student groups get in trouble, that action is a symptom of a personal or cultural problem, requiring the help and support that separating them from the school does not give. Those students who stray, those students that make serious mistakes, and even those students of flawed character need the support and encouragement of administrators and other authority figures even more than those who do not. Sending them home or suspending their existence as an organization does nothing more than make the lesson “don’t get caught.” Suspending an individual or group treats them the same as the worse offenders, puts them on the defensive, and obfuscates any lessons that are trying to be taught. The solution is a sanction that requires the student or organization to work on the deeper flaws in character or judgment, partner with campus and other officials to do so, and has measurable outcomes to ensure that they make positive change. This is much more difficult, but education is not supposed to be easy.

The Guidelined Dead—Chico State and the Greek system.

I’ve written before about Chico State and the “nuclear option” they used in response to repeated misconduct in the Greek community. Their rebuilding plan following this was released on Valentine’s Day and outlines guidelines that “must be agreed to” by the end of February in order to grant the Greek chapters recognition. In doing so, Chico State attempts to present a reasonable response to both protect itself and also allow the Greek tradition to continue. In actuality, what they do with rigid definitions and intractable minimum responses, is demonstrate a hostility to Greek life. What this does is diffuse the potential student and alumni response to shutting down the chapters while setting the stage to do just that- a practice becoming more common across the country.

I am in no way saying that fraternities and sororities that engage in severe hazing or other serious violations should be protected or immune from consequence. On the contrary, in presentations on next step risk management I talk about how certain activities are never worth the risk and will and should result in a chapter being shut down by the school or national organization. My issue is not that Chico felt the need to respond to what they believed was unacceptable conduct. The issue is that these conditions essentially ensure the end of Greek life, and will allow them to blame the students for that end.

In Chico’s plan, they essentially make anything that happens where 2 or more Greeks live together a chapter event, and any violations that happen at that “event” have a mandatory minimum consequence of a one-semester suspension. This means 2 sophomore roommates in a dorm that have friends from home over are now automatically a fraternity event. No other evidence or intention to do so is needed. This may not be and uncommon “standard,” but where it exists there is some allowances for reasonableness in both determination and response. Here there is neither.

The agreement uses all the language that a Greek community would want like “self-governance” and “student development” while paying lip service to the “rich and significant contributions to the quality of its student life.” However, when you look at the expectations you will see that those articulated principles are made meaningless with the way they define chapter activity and mandate the school’s response. They use the ideals of most chapters-that they are leaders living to higher standards-as an excuse to set unreasonable standards ensuring non-compliance in the future. Greek membership is treated as little more than an interest group (like chess club or Chinese dance) with no real regard for the fact that the lifetime commitment of being Greek means meaningful personal dedication to ideas that both support and surpass those of the university.

Do not be surprised when this draconian “agreement” eliminates cooperation between chapters and the school administration in an attempt to actually improve their chapter. Why would chapter leadership admit any problem when doing so appears to mean that they will be suspended for at least one semester? I am sure the response from Chico State would be “we wouldn’t do that, and of course we’re going to be reasonable” but there is nothing in the new provisions that suggests that anything other than 100% compliant behavior of 100% of the members will allow a chapter to continue to exist. While I think it would be a mistake, I firmly believe that each college and university has the absolute right to abolish Greek life. If they have reached a point where they believe the risks of having a Greek presence is not worth the reward (student retention, academic achievement, alumni donations, etc.) then they should shut it down. However, they should have the courage in their convictions to do so cleanly and openly.

Instead we are seeing campuses across the country doing what they can to make Greek life so untenable that students will either choose not to join or will invariably be the architects of their own demise. One need look no further to Trinity college forcing all Greek organizations to be co-educational, or the University of Central Florida beginning down this same road to get a glimpse of what’s ahead. I hope that students remember that leadership means both demanding good behavior from the people you lead, and also standing up against injustice when it surfaces.

Good luck to the chapters at Chico State. They’re going to need it.

Avoiding Looking Guilty During Finals

Most college students will have their finals next week, and I wanted to share some frequent “mistakes” students make to hopefully help a lot of you avoid getting into trouble.

  1. Make sure you fully understand your professor’s interpretation of the collaboration policy.  You are probably allowed to work together on final projects and presentations, but many professors have individual twists on the collaboration policy especially around finals.  You are responsible for whatever is written in the syllabus, whatever is said in class, AND whatever your school’s policy is on this issue.  Check with your professor to make sure your understanding of the policy is correct.  This is ESPECIALLY true for take home exams.
  2. On take home exams, follow the instructions regarding collaboration and acceptable source material exactly.  If you have 3 take home exams, chances are you will have 3 different sets of rules and expectations regarding collaboration and what you can use when completing the exam.  Your professors know that many students will cheat and use prohibited resources so he or she will be looking for some signs of academic misconduct. Take the B or C rather than trying to cut corners for the A.  I know take home exams suck, but getting caught sucks a lot more.
  3. Make sure you know how your professors feel about using past exams to study, especially if you are in a fraternity or sorority and have a “bible” with old exams in it. While I think it is fine to use old exams to study, avoid these mistakes:
    1. Do not bring in old exams you have as part of any “open book” test.
    2. Do not memorize solutions.  Even if you have memorized them because of your giant brain, do each problem/answer each question from scratch.  Faculty, especially faculty that use old exams, usually have things in the questions that they expect students to get wrong or answer a certain way and when someone doesn’t they get suspicious.
    3. If you have been told expressly what you can and cannot do in terms of using old tests, follow those instructions.  Professors have more experience catching cheaters than you do breaking the rules.
  4. Do not make the common mistakes people make when doing their final paper. I know many of you are going to half-ass your final papers especially if they are in a “blow off” class, but make sure that no matter how little effort you put in you avoid doing the following:
    1. Do not use Wikipedia.  I know that is almost hack advice at this point, but people do it every semester.  Here’s how they get caught:
      1. They actually quote Wikipedia and try to attribute that quote to a different source. Professors Google phrases.  You will get caught.
      2. Using a source sited in Wikipedia not in their library and that might be considered a “rare” book (i.e., no way you found it.)
    2. Make sure you cite your work properly.  A lot of plagiarism cases are based on students either not citing their work or citing it improperly in a way that looks like they are trying to take credit.  Go to your writing center or check with your TA to make sure you understand what’s expected
    3. Do not use a paper from another class.  Professors who teach similar subjects usually know each other and there is zero defense for doing this other than “I didn’t know I couldn’t” which never works.
    4. If you have someone proofread make sure his or her edits are put into your own words.
  5. Don’t cheat. I do not know a single person who didn’t know they cheated when I was in school, but as a professional I met dozens each year that claimed they didn’t know.  You know, and if you aren’t sure whether something you’re doing is cheating, it probably is.

All that being said, if you do make a mistake it is crucial that you handle the consequences properly. We have continued our 20% off sale though December 20, 2012.   The best time to get our help is before you meet with anyone officially, but we have a variety of services to help you.  So don’t do anything to get in trouble for academic misconduct or violating the honor code, but if you do get in touch with us ASAP.

Good luck on finals and congratulations on finishing the semester!

 

 

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