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The Student Conduct Process: A Guide for Parents - FAQ
A publication of the Association for Student Judicial Affairs, 2006.
How is a conduct complaint filed?
Typically anyone can file a report. Most campuses receive reports from the municipal police department, the campus police department, residence life staff, faculty and other university staff, and students. To file a conduct complaint, your student should contact the office that oversees the campus conduct process to obtain a copy of the institution’s disciplinary procedure.
If your student chooses to file a complaint (which is also referred to as an incident report), his/her role becomes one of witness in the case; however, the student may also be required to assume the role of complainant. The submitter of the complaint is usually asked to participate in the adjudication of the case to explain what he/she saw or heard and to answer questions about the incident.
Please note that filing a complaint with the conduct office does not constitute filing a criminal charge. The conduct office can assist students in contacting the local police department if they wish to file a police report.
If my student is a victim in a conduct case, what support do they receive?
Again this depends on the institution. Colleges and universities are first and foremost concerned about your student’s safety. Many institutions have a victim advocate office that can assist students with safety planning as well as inform them of the various options for resolving their complaint. If a hearing is scheduled, the advocate may be permitted to attend with your student.
How is somebody found responsible of a violation within the conduct process?
On many campuses, in less severe cases, the decision can be made by a member of the conduct program staff, a residence life staff person, or a peer hearing board such as the Student Judicial Board or a Greek Council in the fraternity/sorority system. This is often described as an administrative review. Any cases that are deemed more serious may go to a formal hearing. This usually involves some kind of hearing board made up of faculty, staff and students. Procedures vary from campus to campus as to how these issues are resolved.
Generally, due process provides that a student accused of violating the conduct code will be given written notice of the charges, time to examine the evidence and formulate a response, and an opportunity to explain his/her version of events to an unbiased decision-maker. This decision-maker, whether an administrator or board, will weigh the evidence and the oral arguments on both sides and decide if the student is responsible for violating the conduct code; and if so, will determine the appropriate sanction. The outcome of the adjudication of the complaint will be communicated to the student in writing
Sanctions can be punitive or educational in nature. Examples of sanctions include:
• Warnings or reprimands
• Probationary status
• Loss of Privileges
• Research papers
• Community Service
• Letters of Apology
• Reflection Papers
• Educational Seminars• Psychological Assessments
• Removal from the residence halls
How is the campus process different from a criminal charge?
There are several differences between the systems. First and foremost, rules governing the handling of student conduct matters at institutions of higher education are different from criminal statutes. Criminal prosecutions take place only when violations of law are alleged. On campuses, there are many types of violations that may not be violations of the law, but violate institutional community standards, such as academic dishonesty.
There are other types of violations that mirror criminal statutes such as underage drinking. There are still others that may use similar terminology but are defined differently. Sexual assault and rape are good examples of these. A second major difference between the campus process and the criminal process is the standard of proof. On most campuses, there must be a preponderance of the evidence, enough evidence to tip the scales (i.e. 51% or "more likely than not"), before a student is found responsible for violating the student conduct code. This is the same standard used in most civil cases. Some institutions use the clear and convincing standard that is around 75% - 80%. In contrast, the standard in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a 97%. Standards of proof in student conduct processes can vary somewhat from campus to campus.
Another difference is that the campus process is usually confidential whereas a criminal prosecution creates public records. For more on the limitations on disclosure of student records see the section below on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Many states have laws defining public information and regulating its use.
In addition, a campus's jurisdiction is more limited than the courts. Most institutions of higher education require some connection to the campus in order to address a violation of the code. The connection can be as minimal as the conduct brought negative publicity to the institution or as significant as requiring proof that the conduct had an effect on another student. Still others only address conduct that occurs on campus property.
Yet another difference is that the process on many campuses is an administrative hearing and not a trial, and as such not adversarial in nature. Therefore, the institution’s process may not have the same procedures as a criminal trial. On many campuses, students must speak for themselves. They are not permitted to have an attorney, or anyone else, speak on their behalf. This is mainly to preserve the educational nature of university disciplinary hearings. It is important for students to represent themselves and to explain their conduct to others.
Finally, as the student conduct process is considered an educational tool, the sanctions imposed tend to focus on repairing harm to the community, to victims, and to the institution as a whole. They also take into account what the accused student needs to learn from the situation. The process focuses on helping the student understand why his/her behaviors violated community standards and how the person can avoid making the same mistake again. It is also focused on helping the student see how the instances of misconduct affect others. These are generally not addressed in the criminal process. However, where weapons or violence are involved, students may be facing separation from the institution. In these instances, the campus’s primary concern is maintaining a safe environment and an educational response would not be appropriate.
Does being convicted of a campus violation give you a criminal record?
A college or university’s student conduct process does NOT lead to anyone being "convicted of a crime." It is a process to determine if a student is to be found responsible for violating the Student Conduct Code and other campus regulations. It can only result in a student discipline record that is maintained for a finite time (however, some public institutions are required by state law to hold disciplinary records in perpetuity). Also, no criminal record is automatically generated.
Can criminal charges be filed at the same time as a campus complaint?
Yes: the criminal justice system and the student conduct process are completely independent. Student victims are encouraged to discuss their situation with a police officer to help decide whether or not to file a criminal charge as well. In most cases, it is up to the victim to decide if he or she wishes to file a criminal charge. This is not something a college or university, or any other third party, can do on the victim’s behalf.
Why is this not considered double jeopardy?
As stated above the goals of the two systems are not the same. The term double jeopardy is generally understood to mean that a person cannot be tried for the same crime twice. The institution is not charging an accused student with a crime, or violation of law. Instead, the student is being accused of violating a code of student conduct with the domain of the campus. Therefore, being found guilty simultaneously of a crime in the court system and in violation of a college or university’s student conduct code does not constitute double jeopardy. The two domains are separate.
What are the appeal rights in our system?
This varies greatly depending on the institution. Some campuses only provide appeals in more serious cases. Others allow it in any kind of hearing. Appeals are generally limited to specific conditions. Generally, some reasons of granting an appeal include:
• Procedural error;
• New evidence not available during the original hearing;
• The conclusion reached was not supported by the information provided in the hearing; or
• The sanction imposed is unduly severe compared to the nature of the violation.
In most student conduct processes, a student is not granted an appeal automatically if he or she objects to the outcome of a case – one or more of the above conditions must be substantiated.
Is the case reheard in an appeal?
In making their decision, an appeal body usually limits its review to the record of the case including written statements submitted by the complainant and the accused student. The appeal body will determine if there were serious errors made in the case, if significant new evidence has been revealed, or if the sanctions are appropriate given the nature of the violation. If any of these conditions are proven, the appeal body may alter the decision or, if permitted, modify the sanctions. At some institutions, when appeals are approved cases are reheard in their entirety.
How long does it take to resolve a case?
Cases that are handled informally are often resolved within a couple of weeks. When a formal hearing is required, the process takes longer. All parties have the right to develop their respective arguments. It can take 4 – 6 weeks time to arrange for a day when all the parties and the hearing panel are available.
Once a decision is made, the student then has a finite amount of time to file a notice of appeal. Getting materials prepared and the appeal body scheduled to meet typically takes about a month. (As noted above, only the right to appeal is guaranteed. Once an appeal is filed, the review body must determine if the appeal is granted based on guidelines outlined in the institution’s code of student conduct.)
What are the long-term affects of being found responsible for violating the student conduct code?
This really depends on the institution and its record keeping policies, the type of violation and the sanction, and any applicable state law. Generally, minor violations will really have no long-term impact. A more serious violation and sanction can have significant long-term impacts on your student. Graduate schools and some jobs typically look for a pattern of inappropriate behavior. One or two violations, if minor, probably won’t have a significant impact. It is generally acknowledged by most colleges and universities that testing limits and making mistakes are part of the “college experience.” However, if students aren’t able to show how they learned from those incidents and changed their behavior over time, this will more likely impact their being hired or being accepted to graduate or professional school.