Monday, May 21, 2018

Final Changes to Social, Academic Disciplinary Panels

Chris Bulfinch ’18

On Thursday, March 8th, Trinity’s faculty voted on proposed changes to academic and social disciplinary policy.
The changes which are the result of a more than three-year process, involved the reinstatement of hearing panels for academic and social misconduct and the implementation of a first-offender policy for cases of academic dishonesty. Student representatives from the Student Government Association and Honor Council were in attendance to offer a student perspective on the proposed changes. After deliberation, the faculty voted, and two of the three proposed changes were accepted; the faculty voted against to change to the composition of panels for issues of social misconduct.
The proposed changes were threefold. In response to a report indicating that two-thirds of all instances of academic dishonesty were handled “off the record” and never reported to any Trinity administrative body, the faculty developed the first offender policy.
The goal of the policy was to ensure that all cases of academic dishonesty were recorded in an administrative capacity, and that professors could not assign grade penalties without submitting their case for administrative review. The policy dictated that professors could not assign any grade reduction as a penalty for alleged academic dishonesty without reporting the instance of academic dishonesty to the Dean of Students Office.
The first offender policy further stipulated that if an accused student with no prior record of academic dishonesty was willing to admit guilt and submit their case to the first offender process, the sanction would be limited to a grade reduction, with no college-level sanctions imposed.
The latter two proposed changes both involved changing the composition of disciplinary hearing panels. Before the changes, academic dishonesty hearing panels were composed of four students and three faculty members; the hearings were chaired by a student. Hearing panels for cases of social misconduct were composed of and chaired entirely by students.
The faculty proposed removing two student positions on academic dishonesty hearing panels, making faculty the majority voice, and eliminating adding two faculty positions to social misconduct hearing panels.
Student leaders unsurprisingly had reservations about these changes, particularly the addition of faculty positions to social misconduct panels.
The proposed changes were developed and discussed largely without student input; student attendance at the faculty meeting on March 8th was intended to allow student concerns to be considered by the body voting on the changes.
Three student representatives attended the faculty meeting on the March 8th, expressing students’ reservations about the changes, especially the addition of faculty to social misconduct hearing panels. The students’ chief concerns   were the largely unilateral development by faculty of the proposal changes and the potential for increased student reticence in the presence of faculty, particularly in regards to issues of social misconduct.
The faculty deliberated for some time, with cursory student participation. Many faculty members lent credence to student concerns about the addition of faculty to social misconduct hearing panels.
As a result of those concerns, the faculty proposed splitting the proposal regarding the composition of both kinds of hearing panels into two discrete proposals. This bifurcation meant that the proposed changes to academic and social misconduct hearing panels would be voted on individually.
The faculty vote would determine which of the proposals would become rules; no further vote would be required to change the policies surrounding academic and social misconduct.
Ultimately, the faculty voted in favor of the first of the proposals, adopting the first offender resolution process, as well as endorsing the reconstitution of academic dishonesty hearing panels.
Student will henceforth have access to the first offender resolution process, faculty will have to submit all grade reductions based on suspicions of academic dishonesty to the Dean of Students Office and Honor Council, and faculty will now be the majority on academic dishonesty hearing panels.
Both of these proposals passed with broad support. The faculty were unable to have a strong consensus with respect to the addition of faculty to social misconduct hearing panels. After some deliberation and consideration, as well as a close vote, the faculty ultimately decided that it did not want to participate in social misconduct hearing panels. The final proposed change failed, surprising many.
The faculty vote on March 8th had great bearing on matters relating to academic integrity on Trinity’s campus and the  handling of violations of academic integrity policies. The first offender resolution process will make academic dishonesty cases more transparent, protect students from arbitrary grade reductions and help the Dean of Students Office track serial offenders.
The March 8th meeting  served as a poignant reminder of the impact that student engagement can have in college administrative decisions. Both the administration and the student body came to a resolution after much deliberation. The student perspective offered by the representatives of SGA and Honor Council in attendance made an impression on the faculty. The faculty’s voting against the proposal involved adding faculty to social misconduct hearing panels could be attributed, at least in part, to the arguments fielded by the student representatives.

 

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