College Judicial Consultants

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Archive for the tag “options”

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.

 

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Apples and Oranges—Sexual Assault as a Judicial Issue (pt. 2)

There is a lot of understandable outrage from sexual assault and interpersonal violence advocates about the way they see assaults mishandled on college campuses. The criticism I hear most often is that since sexual assault/rape is a crime it should be handled by the police and the criminal justice system. They worry that a college will mishandle things or pressure a victim, and that the victim will not be able to avail herself of the criminal courts. As a result, they fear that the rapists and assaulters on campus will go free or, if they are punished they will get a slap on the wrist compared to what would happen if things were handled “correctly.”

Let’s be clear—recent history has given these advocates a lot of cause for concern. I have already discussed investigations about the way very prestigious schools have mishandled sexual assaults and the reporting of incidents, and those failures (along with the other anecdotal ones any advocate can tell you) have engendered an understandable belief that schools are actively (or at least negligently) silencing reports to make themselves look better.  After all, they only have to report sexual assaults they know about so the less they know the fewer “occur,” and the safer their campus will seem to prospective students and their families. Since I do not know the actual story at any of these schools, I do not want to comment on their intention. I have already talked about how a bad system can hurt victims; however, the college judicial system is no worse than any other system and in some cases has distinct advantages for a victim. If you believe that the solution to the problems with some judicial systems on some campuses is to eliminate their ability to hear these cases, you will be hurting more victims that you help.

As a hypothetical, let’s say that a victim comes forward and says that she was sexually assaulted at a party in an off campus apartment. She says that she went there because she liked one of the guys that she knew from class, but since she was nervous she drank more than she normally does and got very drunk. While she remembers flirting with the guy she liked, she doesn’t remember much after she played a drinking game with “jungle juice” but that she woke up in his bed with him and knows they had sex. When she woke up and realized what happened, she freaked out because she would NEVER have had sex with him. In fact, she is known as a good girl, and that has made her somewhat of a challenge to the boys that know her. When the boy woke up he was being very nice as if nothing was wrong, and offered to take her to breakfast and asked if she would spend the day with him. She made up some excuse she can’t remember and went back to her dorm. A week later her RA brought her to the sexual assault advocate’s office when she heard what happened.

There are much more “horrific” cases that occur on a college campus, but do not be confused—this is sexual assault. Situations like this were the majority of cases that came to me as a judicial officer-ones where the extent of the sexual act was never a question, the victim and attacker knew each other (and often in a positive way prior to the assault), and alcohol was involved. In these cases a victim is often unsure about what she wants to happen to her attacker. There are times where she wants him thrown in jail, times where she wants him kicked off campus, and times where she only wants him to understand what he did to her so that she can “move on.” In fact, I have had more victims back out when they thought their attacker would be suspended or expelled than I have victims back out because of an uncertain outcome. So how do you advise her?

If she wants him held accountable there are three roads she can take. If she decides to go the criminal route she may be able to get him arrested, thrown in jail, and if the case is successful he may face time in prison. However, she has very little control over what happens in the case, it can take a long time, a victim is often kept out of the loop, and in the type of situation described above many DAs will not prosecute. She could decide to sue him, but this option is expensive and takes even longer. Finally, she could decide to bring him up on campus judicial charges. While this option would  result in a much smaller consequence for the attacker (i.e., even if he’s expelled that’s much better than prison,) but the hearing will likely be confidential, she will be allowed to dictate much of what happens, and she can surround herself by the resources set aside for victims in these cases. That is at least true in good systems. Most importantly, if she chooses to use the campus judicial system she can still decide to use the other two because choosing that option does not in any way prevent her from changing her mind and also using the criminal or civil systems.

I know there are many survivors, victims, and advocates that don’t think the above benefits make the judicial system worth it, and will never accept that the system is “effective.” However, I think “effectiveness” should be defined by how a victim’s desired outcomes are met, and by the level to which a system can avoid revictimization. If you want to look at the systems based on their failures, none of them are “effective.” If you want to look at them by their successes, each of them can be. However, I believe that if you look at them as distinct and often not mutually exclusive options, the campus judicial system has the most potential to be victim-focused, minimize revictimization, and meet the victim’s desired goals to allow her to continue healing.

Of course, that’s only true in good systems.

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 This is a plug. If you do not want to read a plug for services, stop now! We will still adore you.

For the 2013-2014 school year we are going to be offering a victim assistance package to advocacy offices on campus. This will include:

  1. Serving as an on-call judicial resource for unlimited complainants for one academic year.
  2. Allowing the extent and nature of the assistance to be completely determined by victim and/or the advocate including maintiaining as much anonymity as a victim desires.
  3. Helping the victim build the most effective case against the attacker possible.
  4. Allowing advocates to exclusively focus on support.
  5. Identifying situations that may require outside legal involvement (e.g. a denial of due process, forced mediation, etc.)
  6. Reviewing the sexual assault policies, and offering recommendations for improving them.

We are in the process of ironing out the details, but if you want to retain our services we will charge half of what we would charge when these services become publicized in August. For less than the cost of hiring an outside investigator for one case, we will help as many victims as possible build strong judicial cases. We believe this will increase the numbers of cases that are heard, help advocates prove there is a problem on their campus, and by removing much of this responsibility from the advocate it will increase the trust and support between them and the victim. Contact DaveK@CollegeJudicialConsultants.com with any question or to discuss costs.

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