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.”