New disciplinary rules include independent investigator in student conduct disputes

Olivia Exstrum, Assistant Campus Editor

The Student Handbook for the 2014-15 academic year includes substantial changes to the University Hearing and Appeals System, namely the addition of a mediating investigator to keep students involved in disputes from confronting each other during a disciplinary hearing.

The new policies, announced to students Sept. 24 in an email from Dean of Students Todd Adams, aim to increase “transparency, timeliness and understanding while maintaining a fair and just process.” 

“We’ve been working to focus on transparency and make sure students have a process that they can access and feel comfortable using,” said Tara Sullivan, director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. “The new conduct process is something we’ve been pretty open about.”

Students can have a disciplinary case resolved through either an Administrative or a Panel Hearing. According to the handbook, UHAS will offer an Administrative Hearing for less serious cases of alleged misconduct “that do not have the potential to result in suspension, exclusion, degree revocation, expulsion, or group dissolution.” 

In an Administrative Hearing, the accused student and a Hearing Officer, a conduct administrator assigned to the case, will discuss the alleged misconduct.

In cases that “do not involve an alleged incident of violence,” but pose a possibility of expulsion, the respondent will be able to choose either an Administrative or Panel Hearing, where a student’s case is heard before a panel of students, faculty and staff members.

Students accused of violence or of violating the University’s sexual misconduct policy will have their case referred to a Panel Hearing.

For the first time this year, in Panel Hearings, the reporting student and responding student will speak separately with an investigator and the panel, rather than at the same time. The investigator may be externally hired by the University, according to the handbook.

“In the past, students were in the rooms together,” Sullivan said. “That was something we heard from students they were very uncomfortable with. Now, they won’t be in the room together to confront each other directly.”

In addition to the disciplinary system, a few changes were made to conduct related to alcohol, according to Adams’ email. The policy now prohibits “drinking practices or games” and alcohol consumption by students age 21 and over in the presence of underage students. However, students and their guests who are older than 21 may consume alcohol in the presence of their underage roommate, but not underage guests.

Although the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution oversees any changes made to the handbook, Sullivan said a variety of student groups provided input. She said the groups, including Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault and Associated Student Government, reached out to the office. Sullivan said the office also sought out groups they thought would provide valuable feedback on potential changes.

“I think it’s important to understand that the changes were made with student groups on campus,” Sullivan said. “It’s not something we wrote in the dark.”

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