News | Student Life

Students seek change to Dean’s Discipline process

Better watch who you’re rude to—Columbia students may soon have more say in their colleagues’ disciplinary hearings.

Members of the Columbia College Student Council, Engineering Student Council, and advisory board to the Office of Judicial Affairs have formed a Student Judicial Process Ad Hoc Committee to increase student involvement and raise awareness of the judicial process at Columbia.

Currently, low-level behavioral offenses—such as noise violations or drinking in residence halls—are typically referred to the Office of Residential Programs. Higher-level behavioral offenses and academic infractions go through Dean’s Discipline, the process by which administrators deals with student transgressions. Higher-level violations are those that could result in a misdemeanor or felony charge, and include drug dealing and acts of violence.

Council members said they have been unsatisfied with the little influence they have in the process, other than through the Judicial Affairs Advisory Board, which was established last year. The advisory board is composed of student leaders, administrators, and representatives from Residential Programs, Judicial Affairs, the Center for Student Advising, CCSC, and ESC.

“The main issue we have with it is that there’s very little, or actually no student involvement or input,” Nuriel Moghavem, CC ’11 and CCSC vice president of funding, said. Moghavem is a member of both the ad hoc committee and the advisory board.

The Office of Judicial Affairs and Community Standards was established in 2006 to streamline the University judicial system. In the past, academic and behavioral cases were handled separately in the Center for Student Advising and the Office of Residential Programs, respectively, while the OJA now addresses both.

Students still complained of a lack of transparency in the Dean’s Discipline process, a system that was seen by some as inaccessible. Former Dean of Student Affairs Chris Colombo set up a committee of students and administrators, which began meeting in 2008, to make recommendations to OJA. Kevin Shollenberger, current dean of Student Affairs, took the recommendations into consideration and created the advisory board.

Currently, OJA fields complaints and decides whether Dean’s Discipline is warranted, according to the University Web site. Students are informed in writing if complaints will go through Dean’s Discipline and whether they may review their file before the hearing.

“At least two members of the staff of the Dean of Student Affairs Office will administer the hearing. A student may not be accompanied by another person in the hearing, including a family member, a friend, or an attorney,” the Web site explains, adding, “If the student is found responsible, the degree of seriousness of the offense and the student’s previous disciplinary record, if any, will determine the severity of the sanction that will be issued. A student will be notified in writing of the outcome of the hearing.” Sanctions can range from a disciplinary warning to expulsion.

CCSC Vice President of Policy Sarah Weiss, CC ’10, sits on the ad hoc committee, which she says is looking to the honor systems at Barnard and Princeton as possible models for change at Columbia.

Barnard students who dispute charges brought against them by faculty, or students who admit guilt and choose not to use Dean’s Discipline, go before the Barnard College Honor Board.

The board, which typically includes eight students and three faculty members, meets once a month to promote the honor code by distributing newsletters and fliers and setting up tables to discuss the process with students directly. According to Yolanda Lannquist, BC ’10 and chair of the honor board, keeping students involved in the hearings is important. “Students understand how students think,” she explained.

At a hearing, the chair first reviews the charge and evidence. The board then hears from anyone testifying on behalf of the student, and then from the student herself. The honor board decides whether the student is guilty and what sanctions should be imposed. A majority is needed to make a decision.

According to Karen Blank, Barnard dean of studies and adviser to the honor board, most students who admit guilt do not choose to go before the board. From 2004 to 2009, 79 cases were referred to the Dean of Studies Office, but only four cases went before the honor board. The rest of the cases went before the same deans who originally handled them.

“Unless they [students in question] feel that we perhaps wouldn’t be fair … I think they often decide that they would like to have this resolved as soon as possible,” Blank said.

Barnard has also formed a committee to explore handling behavioral cases through a system similar to the honor board. The committee has already created a community code similar to Barnard’s honor code, but has yet to establish concrete plans for changing its behavioral judicial process.

Because Columbia’s committee was established earlier this semester, no concrete proposals or plans currently exist. “We really want to think about if students can be involved and how can they be involved, but we’re still in a thinking-through process,” Weiss said.

But both she and Moghavem have praised OJA for their support and willingness to listen to students’ concerns. “The OJA is really committed to re-evaluating the process,“ Weiss said.

Some changes have already been made—there are now advisers on tap to guide students before their hearings, which was suggested by the committee. The board, which includes both students and faculty, continues to advise OJA, while the committee seeks to make bigger changes.

This summer, OJA expanded training sessions for residential advisers to more clearly address the Dean’s Discipline process. The Student Affairs staff also went through additional training, and have updated their Web site.

“The Judicial Affairs Advisory Board continues to evaluate the success of the changes and consider additional modifications as needed to ensure a fair and transparent process,” Shollenberger wrote in an e-mail.

Moghavem said the committee aims to create a proposal by December and then send it to the student councils for approval. He predicted that the project will be completed in two years, though Weiss said it may be closer to three. “The wheels will really be moving fast once the semester is over and the process of actually making these changes, especially the short term ones, will definitely be in place by the end of the year, if not already done,” Moghavem said.

While details of the proposal are being discussed, the ad hoc committee’s short-term goal is to teach students about the Dean’s Discipline process.

According to Moghavem, most students do not know about the judicial system. “I would dare to say maybe 98 out of 100 kids don’t know the judicial process or the Dean’s Discipline process,” he said.

Saketh Kalathur, CC ’13, echoed that sentiment, saying, “I didn’t even know we had an Office of Judicial Affairs.”

Weiss stressed the importance of students knowing “more about the judicial process before they get there by giving them proactive information, instead of them having a case and then learning about the judicial affairs process.”

Lannquist and Blank both advocated raising awareness as a deterrent to violations.

“There tends to be less academic dishonesty at colleges and universities that have honor codes,” Blank said. “I think we all need reminders in our lives of the values that are important to us.”


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Lions2011 posted on

I'm all for the honor code and everything, and likely will never be in this situation, but the last thing this university needs is a system where you are subject to the discipline of your peers. I agree with Student Judicial Process Ad Hoc Committee about creating the right to have a lawyer present, especially dealing with a matter that could cost you 200k for instance if your a senior who gets in trouble during the last week of being in school, where at least you can have professional advice about the matter. To have Student Judicial Process Ad Hoc Committee strive to gain student control of some aspect of punishment being handed down, is way beyond the line of reason, you all need to check your egos and fight a battle that benefits all students equally. For all I know I may have accidentally looked at one of you wrong freshman year from across the auditorium in frontiers of science, hooked up with you and subsequently pissed you off, there's an infinite array of possible situations, if something like that decided my fate, the system is fucked. Yolanda Lannquist- those who hand down punishments were students at one point in there life. Seriously CCSC, find more ways to make my life happier, rather than find ways to control it!

dwharrington posted on

In my experience as a former instructor, it seems that Columbia does indeed need a peer review system. I came to Columbia as a graduate student from a college that had a very strong student presence in disciplinary and other actions (Grinnell College). The system at Grinnell worked very well, and seemed to me much less punitive than what I saw happen to my students at Columbia for seemingly minor offenses like smoking pot and drinking.

paulnyc1 posted on

First of all, it is shocking that Chris Colombo and Kevin Shullenberger work in tandem in determining Dean's Discipline. As a GS student, who was harassed by a CC student, I followed the procedures and protocols delineated by F.A.C.E.T.S, our school hand book. However, Colombo and Shullenberger put up a road block ostensibly halting my ability to file a complaint. They refused to meet with me, which is a guaranteed right, refused to address my concerns on any level, and astoundingly they went out of their way to protect and coddle my harasser by providing him with an attorney. In addition, they erected road blocks at my every turn, whether it be with the Ombuds Office, Campus Security, and and the Law Mediation Board in their choreographed and unrelenting efforts to protect this CC criminal student.

Why? Because the student's father is a prominent alum of Columbia College, and works for NASA. Even though this student harassed a female student to the point where she was forced to move out of Carmen residence hall, and he engaged with illegal drugs and alcohol on campus, and he was in possession of a fake ID, and he falsified security records against me by forging bogus complaints that were later proven to be invalid, and he cheated on tests by constantly writing answers on his hand, and he harassed a professor because he did not like the final grade received which subsequently led to the instructor taking early retirement, he was coddled and protected by the administrators such as Colombo and Schollengerger.

Moreover, Susan Glancy, The Chief of Staff, who had informed me the matter would be handled professionally in regards to disciplinary procedures, refused to meet with me again. She slammed the door in my face once Colombo and Schollenberger got to her office to protect their criminal, and their jobs. Ditto for the Ombuds Office, and Ditto for the Deans of my school. In fact, I was the one threatened with disciplinary action by Dean Dominick Stellini should I continue to file a complaint.

Fortunately, when all the evidence was collected, the NYPD was brought in, and they were shocked by the lack of ethics and the atmosphere of intimidation purposely created around me. They readily recognized that this CC student was indeed a criminal, and immediately allowed me to file a complaint against him for aggravated harassment. Charges were also filed against Mary McGee, the then Dean of GS, for continually threatening me with disciplinary actions should I opt to exercise my rights. Even after repeated requests where I asked her point blank, "do not contact me," she continued. Accordingly, a NYPD police file now exists with Mary McGee's name on it. Ditto for Dominick Stellini, who sent me a letter threatening me with disciplinary action should I dare attempt to file a complaint against my harasser. Fortunately, Mary McGee and Dominick Stellini are no longer at Columbia.

I wish I had never entered the rusted gates of this corrupt and hellish institution know as Columbia Universtiy. Because of my experiences, and similar experiences of others, I will continue to inform perspective students regarding my story, and share with them the vile lack of ethics that dwell within this gated community. One bright spot, I've been very successful in dissuading perspective students from making the same mistake I did.

Columbia's Disciplinary Actions are in shambles. They are in word form only, and are applied at the discretion of the most vile, corrupt, and unethical individuals who not only control the entire administration, but academic hegemony itself. The players again are:

Dean Chris Colombo, Columbia College. He has left and moved on to MIT
and I share my condolences with the students of MIT. He
is the single most unethical, vile, and corrupt administrator
I have ever encountered. He merely rubber stamped Schullenberger's
inaction regarding Dean's Discipline, and lied to me about it.

Dean Kevin Shullenberger, Vile, rude, incompetent, not interested
following policies or established protocol. Stated a Dean's Discipline
would be filed, but never filed it. He enjoys hanging up the phone,
enjoys threatening people when they catch him in is own putrid pile
of lies. He never did anything but pass the buck which was rubber
stamped by Colombo. Truly disgusting individual.

Roxy SMith -Provost. She walked out on a meeting regarding the situation.
Incredibly disingenuous. Considering the money she makes off of
my back, her job was to enforce the policies. She failed.

Mr. Finnigan - Campus Security - Refused to investigate the matter, covered
the entire situation up, because , as he told me, he was instructed to.
His mickey mouse campus security is a farce

Ombuds Office - I was willing to mediate, but they were not. My harasser's
lawyer, Morgan Levy, had already gotten there first, and they refused
to do their job. Must be nice sitting around all day collecting fat checks
for doing nothing, while you are negating school policy and creating an
atmosphere of intimidation. Thanks Marsha Wagner and Bathabile K.S.
Mthobeni. I mean, thanks for nothing.

Dean Mary McGee, Dean of GS, my school, who absolute refusal to do
anything regarding school policy was astounding. When I met with her
and displayed the policy right in front of her face her response was, "we
don't do things like that here." Really Mary... REALLY?
Fortunately she left, hopefully because of the police report filed against
her, and is now at Alfred University in upstate New York. My
condolences to the students of Alfred University.

Dean Dominick Stellini, an advisor at General Studies (GS), who is suppost
to ASSIST people who have bee harassed, but somehow got confused
and assisted my HARASSER. Moreover, he had the audacity to send me
an email threatening me with disciplinary action should I dare try to
exercise my right and file a complaint against my harasser. Fortunately,
Dean Stellini left Columbia, and we are all the better for it!

Ms Finn- Secretary to Dean Colombo and Schollenberger at CC, a very
very, very, very, rude and arrogant individual who performs her job
as about as well as she knows rules, procedures and protocol, which
means she is incompetent.

Dean Peter Awn, Dean of GS, who sat on the sidelines for the entire
scenario, although it was his job to intervene and follow the rules
I received an accusatory letter from him once, which I threw right back
in his face. Never heard from him again. His time at GS is long
overdue, and of any worthless administrator there, it is Peter
Awn that needs to go, and he knows where he can go too!