When there is a judicial hearing, the judicial body performs a two-step process. First, they must determine whether the respondent (i.e. person or group accused) is responsible (i.e. “guilty.”) Then, if the respondent is responsible, the second step is deciding what sanction (i.e. punishment) should be given. I spend most of my time working with clients on the second step since if the respondent has actually done something “wrong” it is almost not worth the time to try and prove that he/she/they are not “responsible” since the standard of proof is almost always “preponderance of the evidence” (i.e. more likely than not.) As long as there is a negligible enough amount “evidence” more than a coin toss to show that the respondent is responsible (and there usually is) then the real goal is to provide the hearing body with the information it needs to justify the lowest sanction possible considering the violation. While this is neat in theory, it becomes much trickier to do in practice because the systems are not set up to be nuanced in the way they would need to be to truly be educational. While the judicial body and judicial administrators take the heat for this, it is not (usually) their fault. It is because in most cases they do not have the tools, systems, or support to sanction effectively.
Since this is going to be a busy time for judicial offices (and thus students) I thought it was worth explaining the sanctioning process to help people understand what may be happening, why they may seem more punitive than educational, and finally what can be done to fix it. Since that would be a super long blog I’m going to do the first part today and the rest on Friday. If you have any thoughts/questions before that post let me know and I’ll try to incorporate them.
Almost all judicial systems have (at most) 4 categories of sanctions-warning, probation, suspension, and expulsion.
- Warning (a.k.a. disciplinary warning, disciplinary notice, informal probation, etc.)—This level usually means “you did something small you shouldn’t have, and don’t do it again.” It puts you on the radar, but should have essentially no impact on you.
- Probation (a.k.a. disciplinary probation, formal probation, change of student standing, etc.)—This is a more formal sanction that usually makes a notation on your record to put others who access that record on notice, usually a notation on your internal and/or external transcripts. This may stop you from being able to obtain certain positions on campus (resident assistant, orientation leader, student government office, etc.), but it is not meant to severely interfere with your ability to successfully continue with the complete student experience. If you stay out of trouble, the probation will go away eventually, the notation is usually removed, and you can move on with your life.
- Suspension (a.k.a. holy crap, what am I going to tell my parents!)—This is a non-voluntary separation from the college or university for a defined period of time, usually between one semester and two years. While schools may say that returning is “conditional” they usually allow a person back after the suspension period is over. Some students decide to transfer, but being on suspension may limit the schools to which they can be admitted.
- Expulsion (a.k.a. “this is probably the least of my worries.”)—This is forced permanent separation from the college or university with no possibility of return for that degree or any degree in the future (usually.)
In addition, there are “educational” sanctions that can be included as part of any decision. These include reflective essays, mandated counseling (although most counselors I know hate this,) community service hours, and other activities meant to inform a student about the impact of a violation, give him/her the tools to make better decisions in the future, and/or “restore” the larger community.
In theory these levels make sense—smoking cigarettes in a stairwell should not be treated the same as habitual plagiarism. I have already talked about how I think suspension is antithetical to the judicial process as an educational tool, since taking a respondent out of the campus community limits the type of education and oversight you can provide. However, the judicial administrators and hearing bodies did not cause this problem. Most judicial administrators I know really want the process to rehabilitate and enable the respondent to have success in the future. The problem is that with the more serious violations, the judicial administrator (who I would like to call “judicial educator”) needs a scalpel to carefully cut away a respondent’s developmental and personal failings that lead to the more serious violations, but all they have are the awkward clubs—suspension and expulsion.
If you have any questions or suggestions you possibly want considered in Friday’s conclusion, leave a comment or email me at DaveK@CollegeJudicialConsultants.com. Be good.