By Christian Kiely, Contributing Columnist
Published on Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Over the past year, I have become increasingly aware of a serious flaw in the way that the Office of Undergraduate Judicial Affairs (UJA)operates. The heart of my opposition to the practices of the UJA lies in the inconsistency with which different types of offenses are adjudicated. Within the category of "suspension level" cases, which are deemed serious enough to warrant a Committee on Standards (COS) hearing, the UJA distinguishes between cases involving "academic integrity" and "serious misconduct" of the non-academic nature. The differing levels of attention paid to these two types of infractions may surprise you.
All too often, the problem is that cases involving academic integrity are dealt with much more stringently than cases of serious misconduct. Overwhelming proof of not only action but also intent is required to convict individuals of serious misconduct, including cases involving alleged violence. But a very weak standard of proof, especially in regards to intent, is sufficient to find a student guilty of an honor code violation.
My analysis is based on data provided by the UJA and personal experience with individual discipline cases. As discipline matters are inherently private, it is nearly impossible to make blanket statements that incorporate every single aspect of all discipline cases. However, the trend I have identified based on the information available to me is nonetheless alarming.
Although in the 2005-2006 school year about half of all "suspension level" cases in each category resulted in suspension, this percentage belies the true inequity in justice that exists between the two types of transgressions. This is due to the fact that while nearly all cases dealing with academic integrity are immediately classified as "suspension level" cases, only a small percentage of misconduct cases are determined by the UJA to be worthy of a COS hearing. While I understand that the majority of these minor misconduct situations deal with students getting "picked up" by Safety and Security, there also exists a significant number of claims that deal with real wrongdoing. What bothers me is the lack of seriousness with which certain types of non-honor code violations are dealt with.
Of the 427 total disciplinary cases in 2005-2006, only 31 non-academic cases were referred to COS. The vast majority of the remaining 368 cases were misconduct cases, determined by one or more deans not to warrant a COS hearing. While the outcome in COS of both academic and non-academic cases seems relatively equal, the frequency with which the different types of cases reach COS is not. In many cases, this inconsistency can be frightening.
Over the past year, I have had intimate knowledge of multiple non-academic discipline cases. While I will not give much detail for the privacy of the parties involved, I learned a valuable, albeit alarming, lesson about the way in which the UJA operates. Whereas I have known individuals who have been Parkhursted for inadvertently failing to properly cite a source, I have also seen individuals be given nothing more than a slap on the wrist for serious transgressions involving repeated harmful and violent behavior.
In two particular instances of alleged misconduct, the individuals in question were told, almost comically, that regardless of what actually happened, there simply was not enough evidence to prove any wrongdoing. While I certainly do not wish suspension upon anybody, the fact that these same administrators turn around and send someone packing for improperly citing a source is wrong. The details of the cases, were I able to provide them, would only further my argument.
To put it in legal terms, the UJA requires only a preponderance of the evidence to convict someone of an honor code violation, whereas they seemingly require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt -- in fact way beyond it -- to convict someone of serious misconduct. These divergent standards of proof must be reconciled in order to have a judicial system which operates in a proportional and equitable manner. The current system of placing more emphasis on crimes against academia than other types of often more serious transgressions is backwards.
While the UJA is not the only administrative department that would benefit from a vast review and overhaul of its policies, its actions most directly and significantly affect the lives of many members of Dartmouth's student body. Therefore, it requires the most immediate attention. In an administration where endless numbers of ad hoc committees are created to debate meaningless issues, there should be room for one more to deliberate over something that actually matters.