College Judicial Consultants

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Archive for the tag “judicial”

Stop Forcing Good People to be Defined by Bad Decisions.

“Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer.” -That Gandhi Guy

 

After running CJC for the last 18 months, being the Chief Judicial Officer at MIT for over 4 years before that, and being involved in student misconduct for 5 years before that I know one thing to be true—almost all students are really good people. That doesn’t mean that these good people don’t do some really bad or really dumb things, but the fact that they do them does not turn them from individual symbols of hope and limitless potential to Jack the Ripper (or even John the Plagiarizer.)

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Who doesn’t love this guy? If he was a student at any college and made as many mistakes as he has, he would have been expelled.

Instead what happens is that once they mess up they find themselves at a place where they think they are totally screwed and their life is over if they get caught, and will be able to skate by if they do not. This isn’t a hard choice for most of them because the consequences of being caught are the monster under the bed, and not getting caught means they get to move on with their lives. Faculty and staff know that students are still developing as people (there’s even something called “student development theory,”) but people act shocked and disappointed when, despite the lack of almost any real-world examples, students don’t make the decisions we expect “fully developed” people to make. We punish them as if they have broken some rules of God and nature that make the university or the community what it is, and that their failures endangered everything good in the world. What we do not do is allow for the fact that, in a lot of cases, we have failed them by not giving them a third option.

 

Before you say what I know you’re thinking, let me be clear: most students are in similar places as the “bad actors” developmentally, face similar pressures, and yet act ethically and intelligently even when things get tough. There is definitely an obligation to the larger community to hold the “bad actors” accountable to reinforce the good decisions and support the majority of students who do the right thing. I get it. I believe it. I tell my clients that. However, that does not mean that we are not remiss by not offering any  opportunities for students and student groups to come clean.

 

The way bad decisions work (and I speak from experience) is that they are made and there is a period of time between the bad decision and when you get caught (assuming you get caught, which is less likely than we pretend it is.) During that time, you worry about what will happen if someone finds out, envisions your dream career and life evaporating into nothing, and the people you love and respect being so disgusted by you that they abandon you completely. For many students the time after the bad decision is when things get worse-they drink to drown the guilt, they start skipping class to avoid the professor, they get angry at the pledge that “makes them” feel bad, etc. Even more tragic is that they occasionally spend so much time trying not to feel terrible that they start justifying what they did. They say things like “everyone does it” and “it’s not that big of a deal.” When we do not help students be reflective and learn the right lesson, they teach themselves the one that makes things better for them.

 

And that’s where we fail all students.

 

What are we trying to teach the next generation of leaders? If the lesson is “never make a mistake or bad decision” then we are simply fools. Nobody goes through life flawless (except for maybe one skinny bearded fellow, and I’m pretty sure even he hung around with whores and thieves.) We should be teaching people that it is not a bad act that defines them, but what they do about their bad decisions. In other words: character is not defined by perfection, but by identifying when your actions have hurt someone or something and doing what you have to do to make it right.

 

Schools must offer a way for a student to come forward before he or she is caught and admit the mistakes he or she made without facing the same (or similar enough) consequences that he or she would if he or she was caught. That avenue should allow them to escape the more common penalty and instead provide them with the opportunity to make amends. SOME schools offer restorative justice options for lessor misconduct, but I don’t know of (m)any that allow larger misconduct to be dealt with in this manner.

For example, If a student copies a solution on a homework, hands it in, and immediately regrets it there should be a clear path for her to confess and do whatever is necessary to atone for that decision. Otherwise students will remain in the situation they are now—covering up all misconduct because they believe (usually correctly) that admitting it will guarantee that they get suspended or that they will otherwise be stopped from pursuing their dreams, even temporarily. 

 

I am not saying the restorative path should be easy, or that students will be willing to do what’s necessary to redeem them. However, there is value in developing the next generation of leaders to be people that admit when they make mistakes and are willing to do whatever is necessary to repair the damage they cause. If a student comes forward for academic misconduct before the act is discovered, a professor could give them an incomplete, make them complete a substantial assignment, and lower their final grade even if they complete the assignment. That’s a punishment, but it also provides an incentive to do the right thing in a way that either getting away with it or having a hearing does not. If the atoning student chooses not to do the restorative work, then that refusal can be used against him or her at a subsequent hearing because their lack of character will make the current sanctions that much more appropriate.

 

Without providing students a “safer” way to come clean we are teaching them that once they make a mistake they should do everything they can to not get caught. That failure to develop character is much more serious to me than someone copying question #4 on the third homework in their Physics I class. Once you create a culture where the people who make the worst decisions do what they can to get away with that bad decision, you are actively taking people who are fundamentally good and train them to be the next Ken Lay or CEO at Bank of America. Colleges should do better.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or at DaveK@Collegejudicialconsultants.com.

 

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.

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.

Your Argument is Wrong, Ms. Grossman–The Realities of Sexual Assault Cases in College

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Click here for the Wall Street Journal Article

On April 17, Judith Grossman wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal describing her son’s experience with his school’s judicial system in a sexual assault case. In the article she raises some concerns about the judicial process that should be explored (and I’ll do that in Tuesday’s blog) but those points get lost because she uses straw man arguments (understandably motivated by a mother’s outrage), incorrectly states the problems, and misses the entire point of sexual assault cases on college campuses.

Sexual assault cases on a college campus are different than other types of judicial cases:

  1. Most sexual assaults between students involve a pre-existing relationship and alcohol. A victim being an “ex-lover” is not evidence in favor of accused students. In fact, predators rely on the idea that past relationships mean sexual assault did not happen, and develop these relationships prior to committing sexual assault to allow for that defense. The issue is was there consent in that particular instance. Nothing else matters.
  2. Most victims of sexual assault on a college campus do not bring cases against their attackers. Among the myriad reasons are the facts that they feel as if nobody will believe them, that they are somehow to blame (they aren’t), and that if the attacker is found not responsible that somehow means it didn’t happen. Ms. Grossman labels herself a “feminist,” but the only point of that characterization I can see is to somehow give credibility to her victim-blaming tone throughout the piece. While I do not blame her for writing as a mother, Ms. Grossman willfully ignores the overwhelming pressure against victims. This includes the very real and well-documented academic, social, and personal impact of sexual assault and the overwhelming percentages of victims that suffer in silence fearing the exact type of response in the piece.
  3. Victims that come forward and hold their attackers accountable have been shown by the FBI and DOJ to be presenting “false” accusations only 2% of the time. Even assuming Ms. Grossman’s son was victim of the incredibly rare 2%, when a victim comes forward and has the courage to see the process through the smart money is on it being true. Her characterization of this woman as a “spurned ex-lover lashing out” is dangerous because it has the very real possibility of preventing future victims from coming forward for fear that they will be classified in the same way.
  4. Title IX and the Office of Civil Rights did not eliminate the presumption of innocence. I have talked about the problem with “innocent” students defending themselves, but If her son was indeed “presumed guilty,” that has nothing to do with Title IX. If she is correct, it does sound as if her son went through a terribly unfair system that misapplied OCR’s instructions, but the instructions themselves do not eliminate a victim’s rights. (I explain the preponderance of evidence standard in these cases here.) In 2011 the implementation of Title IX, as it applies to sexual assault and other interpersonal violence cases, was explained by OCR to require a school to do something when a student comes forward as a victim of these types of crimes. This was done to address systemic issues with colleges covering up sexual assaults intentionally, “accidentally” through heavy-handed administrative responses, or by allowing a culture that perpetuates rape myths, and letting peer pressure silence the victims.
  5. Neither party is allowed an attorney. Ms. Grossman makes it sound as if her son was the only one or as if there was an attorney against her son. Neither is true. An attorney did not question her son, the board does not consist of attorneys, and in all likelihood the only person who had an attorney’s help throughout the process was her son.

There are many problems with the campus judicial system, but the case Ms. Grossman uses and the issues she has do not prove those issues. Her call for changing the system and making it more “legal” is exactly why attorneys are not helpful if you are going through your campus judicial process. While it is true that most campuses do not provide the same specific resources for accused students as victims (we offer both,) that is because the college and world communities (including most people who sit on a judicial body) do not understand these issues, and their ignorance (or outright hostility) support the accused in these cases. As a wise colleague once said only partially facetiously “they don’t need help convincing the world they’re good guys.”

Let me know what you think! I respond to all comments and all emails sent to DaveK@Collegejudicialconsultants.com.

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!

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.

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!

 

 

Don’t Believe the Hype: Positive Implications of Greek Membership

The AFA (Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors) conference is happening right now (11/28/12) in Indianapolis.  There are great programs on expansion, creating change, advising local organizations, restorative justice, masculinity and feminism, social justice and other great topics.  What there aren’t are any programs like the one I’m going to propose for next year.  “Apologize for nothing: addressing the negative impressions of Greek life without accepting them.”

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An article in the Michigan Review details the results of the research done by James Turner at UVA who, after examining the mortality rates of 1150 schools found that for every 100,000 students there were just over 6 suicides and just under 5 alcohol deaths. (Note:  They say “alcohol-related traffic deaths” in the article so my rephrasing may be misleading.  If, as is likely, they specifically mean these types of deaths then when you add alcohol poisoning and the other alcohol deaths then I would imagine they eclipse the suicide rate.  Since the gist of the article is that suicide is the #1 cause of death for college students, that wouldn’t make sense. I’ve therefore made the assumption that they mean “alcohol” deaths.) This got me to thinking about the things I used to discuss with my colleagues on the student crisis teams, and the impact being Greek has on the at-risk students.  Since I’m not in grad school, I’m not going to do actual research studies (although if you do want a great thesis topic, feel free) but I thought I would post my thoughts and invite anyone who knows more to comment.

  1. Alcohol/dependency issues. I think there’s no doubt that Greeks have more students that are assessed in the “dependent” range for alcohol than their non-Greek counterparts.  I do not know if the same is true for drugs, but I assume that it would actually be drug dependent.  For example, I would not be surprised to hear that Greeks smoke more weed, but I would be surprised if they did more psychedelics or abused more pain medication. That being said, they drugs they do use may make them higher users of “drugs” in general. WINNER: Non-Greeks. That being said, I would be REALLY interested in comparing the alcohol consumption and drug use on campuses without Greek life (e.g. Bowdoin, Brandeis, Middlebury) with schools that have Greek life.  I suspect that the actual consumption rates would be similar and in which case I’d have to say “Tie,” but I can’t prove that.
  2. Depression/Suicide.  I think that Greeks are clearly the winners here. No matter how you feel about the types of connections people make in their fraternity/sorority, the fact remains that once you join these organizations you are rarely alone.  You are usually sharing meals and running in the same social circles as a large group of people you like, so I would expect that there is a lot more “dude, what the f*#k is wrong with you” type of intervention than there would be in traditional male relationships. I can actually think of dozens of examples of fraternity men and sorority women supporting their brothers and sisters through disease, parental death, and other situations, and have heard from students directly that they wouldn’t have “made it through” without their brothers or sisters. WINNER: Greeks!
  3. Violence (non-dating):  When you hear of a student writing manifestos, buying guns, or doing other crazy stuff that necessitates a threat assessment, it is almost never a member of a fraternity or sorority.  In fact, find me one example without the word “loner” attached to the description of the student and I’ll be stunned.  WINNER: Greeks!
  4. Inter-Personal Violence (e.g. sexual assault, dating violence, stalking.)  I think the literature makes it pretty clear that Greeks have a higher incident rate for sexual assault (both as perpetrator and victim) but I would bet that stalking is lower mostly because of the ease of intervention both for the perpetrator (“dude!  Let it go.”) and the victim (“That guy’s a freak.  I’m taking you to the police.”) (That bet is based in nothing, so please feel free to correct me with actual data.)  At schools with Greek life I’d have to probably say WINNER: Non-Greeks, but again the difference is narrow (and when you compare numbers of actual students I’ll bet there are more INCIDENTS among non-Greeks) and where there is no Greek life I would be interested to know once again about the actual incident rates to see if there are fewer per capita.
  5. Missing Students. Students occasionally get fed up and “disappear” for a while, usually by staying with a friend or taking a small road trip of some kind. Usually a parent will then call campus police after not hearing from their kid and file a campus missing persons report which triggers a pretty specific (and potentially lengthy) administrative process.  As with the depression/suicide category I would bet that there are many more of these among non-Greeks for the same reasons.  WINNER: Greeks!
  6. Campus Retention and Graduation. This isn’t a crisis matter, but another big issue on campuses is retention.  One of the biggest selling points I see on Greek Life websites is that membership in Greek organizations make a student more likely to complete their college degree. (see, for example http://arizonagreek.orgsync.com/benefits) WINNER: Greek life!

So what’s the point?  College administrators are quick to point out the areas of Greek life where the members are higher risk than non-Greeks, but I can’t think of a single upper administrator who has stood up and said “While drinking may be a bigger problem in the Greek community, membership in a fraternity or sorority decreases the likelihood that a student will drop out, be overwhelmed with depression, or commit suicide.” I’m not saying that you have to be Greek to have a happy and healthy college experience, but I encourage all or you to challenge your administrators, newspaper editorials, or anywhere else that tries to polarize people into “Pro” or “Anti” Greek camps.  Constantly remind everyone that the things that people use to vilify Greeks are also true for non-Greeks while the positive aspects of being Greek are not easily replicated in traditional residential situations.  Schools push co-curricular involvement to get a student vested in the college and the college experience, but completely disregard these benefits so they can talk about “hazing” and “binge drinking”–like that occasional aspect of Greek life is the ONLY purpose of Greek life. It isn’t, and I encourage you to refuse to accept that it is.

NB: A few housekeeping notes:

1.  Go to our website to know more about what we do and what we can offer.  We are working on a separate site/section for student organizations, but the services are similar.

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3.  We are raising funds to (hopefully) tour colleges around the country this spring.  Go to http://tinyurl.com/CJCSpringTour to donate.  Any amount helps (especially since we have no donors at this point.)

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5.  I think the photo is Kent State Greeks.  Completely snagged off the internet without permission. 🙂

Why We Are Better Than Hiring An Attorney (Exhibit A)

We understand the process; know how to prepare for hearings; can work with national organizations, alumni or advisors; we don’t threaten the university; we don’t make it about us; and we don’t make you humiliate yourself in public.  Plus, we’re not homophobic.

 

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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