College Judicial Consultants

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

Archive for the tag “expulsion”

A Surgeon With a Scalpel–Disciplinary Sanctions in College Judicial Cases pt. 1

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 Be good.



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.

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