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The Student Conduct Process: A Guide for Parents
(Adapted from the Association for Student Conduct Administrators (ASCA), 2006)
The Association for Student Conduct Administrators (ASCA) has been in existence since 1986 and is the primary professional association for administrators working with student conduct. The membership comprises 1200 members working at over 750 colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada.
ASCA is an organization of professional educators who are responsible for administering standards of student conduct within colleges and universities. The membership of ASCA believes that the purposes for the enforcement of such standards are to maintain and strengthen the ethical climate and to promote the academic integrity of our institutions. Clearly articulated and consistently administered standards of conduct form the basis for behavioral expectations within an academic community. The enforcement of such standards should be accomplished in a manner that protects the rights, health, and safety of members of that community so that they may pursue their educational goals without undue interference (adapted from Preamble on ASCA website).
ASCA created this guide in order to aid you in helping your student navigate the student conduct system at his/her college or university. Student conduct systems in higher education have been in existence for many years, and have evolved over time. Today, the main purpose of most student conduct systems is education. The goal is to have each incident of misconduct create a learning opportunity for the student. In addition, conduct officers strive to repair any harm done to the community. There likewise is a deterrent aspect of the student’s participation in the conduct process.
Staff responsible for student discipline at most institutions have very specialized training in student conduct. Most have at least a Master’s degree and some have doctoral or law degrees.
This guide will focus on general procedures of most campus discipline processes, with particular emphasis on the difference between the campus process and criminal prosecution; goals of the conduct process; and student records and confidentiality. Additionally, the guide offers a general overview of the various types of misconduct with a focus on alcohol and drug offenses. It also includes some general advice you can use in working with your student who may be involved with the campus conduct system. We hope this guide aids you in understanding what your student may be facing as they begin to navigate their way through the student conduct system.
Before delving into the content of this guide, it is important to understand its limitations. First, as stated above, institutional student conduct processes are as unique as the institutions’ themselves. Please contact the student conduct officer on your campus to obtain a copy of the student conduct code. This guide is an attempt to discuss some of the most common practices at institutions across the country.
Another limitation of this publication is that public institutions have very different guidelines that they need to follow than private institutions do. Generally, private institutions have greater flexibility in their hearing standards, consequences for misconduct, and what types of conduct they can regulate. We therefore strongly encourage you to check your institution’s own conduct code to find out what types of procedures are used.
Finally, the terminology used at various institutions is very interchangeable. For example, some campuses will call this process the student judicial process; others will call it the student conduct process. Additionally, the administrative unit that handles student conduct matters varies from institution to institution. In fact, the uniqueness begins with what the office that addresses student conduct is called and where it is situated. In general, these offices are called: the Office of Student Conduct, the Office of Student Judicial Affairs, the Office of Student Discipline, the Office of Student Development, or the Office of Citizenship and Community Standards. Many offices are located within the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Residence Life, the Division of Student Affairs, or the Office of Student Life.
This guide serves as a basic introduction to the student conduct system and as a springboard for investigating the procedures specific to your institution. With your support and understanding, you can help your student navigate the student conduct process and encourage the growth, development and accountability that we all want from our students.
General Overview of Student Conduct Procedures
Universities began addressing student misconduct as far back as 1822 when a group of University of Virginia students rioted on the UVA Lawn. In response to this incident Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“The article of discipline is the most difficult in American education. Premature ideas of independence, too little repressed by parents, beget a spirit of insubordination, which is the greatest obstacle to science with us, and a principal cause of its decay since the revolution. I look to it with dismay in our institution, as a breaker ahead, which I am far from being confident we shall be able to weather.”
Student discipline is not therefore a recent invention of contemporary higher education. Discipline as used by Jefferson has however undergone an evolution of sorts over the years. Modern disciplinary practices trace their routes to the 1961 case of Dixon v Alabama State Board of Education. In Dixon, the students argued that their meeting with the administrator did not meet the standards for due process. As a result of this meeting, the students were expelled from the institution. The Court ruled that students should be given at least notice of the charges and an opportunity to be heard. The court also said that a full criminal hearing is not required.
Over the years, Dixon has been tested from time to time. The basic decision still prevails. In a more recent case, Flaim v Medical College of Ohio. Flaim was expelled from the medical college for a felony drug conviction. In Flaim, the court returned once again to the due process standards set forth by Dixon. That is, the more serious the repercussions, the more procedure that is due. However, in both cases, the courts have consistently stated that even where a student is facing expulsion from the institution, the process that is due need not be as elaborate as the process that would be due in a criminal hearing. Thus, students facing disciplinary action from their institution generally are not entitled to have an attorney represent them, to cross-examine witnesses or have an appeal unless the institution’s conduct code allows for these procedures.
These two cases illustrate why there is so much difference from institution to institution. Because the institutions in Dixon and Flaim were both public institutions, the entity taking action was the state and therefore the constitution is implicated more strongly because the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution applies to the states:
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
However, private colleges and universities are not required to provide the same due process rights because the institutions are not agencies of the government; but are more akin to private corporations. Private institutions, therefore, have much more latitude in determining their conduct procedures than those in the public sector.