Dean Thompson visits ASG to talk college policy updates

Everybody makes mistakes; everybody has those days — even Allegheny students. This imperfection is being taken into consideration as part of the 2019 review of the Student Code of Conduct policies, specifically regarding students who are disqualified from graduating with Latin honors because of academic violations.

In its general assembly Tuesday, April 2, Allegheny Student Government was visited by Dean of Students April Thompson to discuss the proposed revisions to college policies as part of the 2019 revision process.

The Code of Conduct revision process is completed by subcommittees whose members consist of staff, faculty and students who work to revise and update current college policies. Thompson said Allegheny’s current policies are littered with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, so those involved in the updating process wanted to make sure all policies matched across all campus resources like The Compass and the academic bulletin.

“We wanted to provide students greater input into decision making, so this is what we have as a proposed plan from the subcommittees,” Thompson said.

ASG members were given a bound copy of the proposed changes to the Student Code of Conduct, so they could review potential edits.

“There are some big themes here,” Thompson said.

The broad policy changes, Thompson said, aim to correct “policy mismatch.”

“What this does is try to align all of the policies and to confirm that all of the policies have gone through governance, which means that they have all been approved of by you,” Thompson said.

A majority vote cast by Allegheny faculty and members of ASG is required in order to approve changes to the Student Code of Conduct policies. During her presentation, Thompson said the subcommittees were not able to confirm whether or not ASG had voted to approve some of the policies outlined in the handbook.

“We went back to the history of the latest ones that we could confirm had an ASG vote, and then we build the new policies from those,” Thompson said. “In the future, we’re putting this together in such a way that it should never again occur that any policy gets passed from this section of The Compass that doesn’t have ASG approval.”

Potential edits focus on changing Allegheny’s current “single adjudicator” appeals process to a board system.

“One person investigates the cases, meets with the student, issues a finding — responsible or not — and then issues a sanction,” Thompson said. “If the student is unhappy with that sanction, they can appeal it to a board, and at the board level, there are students on the board and staff members and faculty on the board. By the time the student gets to the board they have already been found responsible by Joe Hall, (assistant dean of students), and so, we were concerned that students needed a presumption of innocence before they appear before the board.”

If this change is approved, cases would be investigated just as they are now, and the student would meet with Hall. The student and Hall or the student and another staff member, assigned to the case by Hall, can either agree to an outcome together. If the student and staff member are unable to agree on a solution or if the student denies responsibility, the student is then entitled to have a board hearing. During this hearing, the student would begin the meeting with a “presumption of innocence.”

Support options for students during hearing processes was also a topic of discussion. Currently, students have the option to pick an adviser of their choosing within the Allegheny community; however, Thompson said there has been a recommendation to allow students to select an adviser who is outside of the college — meaning a parent, an attorney or another individual in the student’s life.

“The recommendation is that we allow students to choose anybody they want …” Thompson said. “We think the best choice for a student is a trained adviser who actually knows the process, but I don’t want to make that judgment for students.”

Thompson said there are pros and cons to this system, but one point Thompson highlighted was the minimal involvement advisers have in specific cases. Currently, advisers are not allowed to read case reports; however, Thompson said the proposed edits work to remove that limitation from college policy.

“My concern is that how can advisers actually advise you if they can’t read the material?” Thompson said. “… The record belongs to the student, and the student can designate, if they would like, their adviser to have permission to read the report at the student’s request.”

During the faculty reading of the proposed changes, Thompson said members were hesitant to allow attorneys to serve as advisers.

While his gut reaction was to let students choose whoever they want as their adviser, Jason Ferrante, ’20, chief of staff, said it may present an “equity concern” for students who cannot afford an attorney.

Because Allegheny’s system is meant to be a “restorative justice” system, Ferrante said he thinks bringing attorneys into the discussion would make incidents more serious than they may need to be.

An additional policy change would give students more rationale behind sanctions if they were to receive one by the college.

Each section Thompson discussed focused on a different branch of college policy: Purpose, college authority, academic conduct, non-academic conduct, organizational conduct, sanctions, disciplinary records, interpretation and revision, general college policies and FYI only.

One change Thompson touched on states that if someone is accused of discriminatory harassment, the dean for institutional diversity must be involved in the case handling and decision process.

The college has clarified when it permits officials from entering a student’s room or locker.  

The proposed change reads: “With authorization by the dean of students, public safety officers or a designee of the dean of students may enter and search a student room without the student’s consent to respond to an emergency, or, based on reasonable suspicion, investigate violation(s) of College policies.”

ASG President Camila Gomez, ’19, suggested adding a definition to explain what constitutes “reasonable suspicion.”

“We’ve learned that this document contains a whole lot of definitions that we probably just need to have a definitions section,” Thompson said. “And make sure that all of the terms that might be ambiguous get defined for students. We can add that one.”

The academics section of the Student Code of Conduct has, for the most part, stayed the same, according to Thompson; however, there were various forms of college academic policies, so the revision process wanted to create consistency across college resources.  

“The Honor Committee had one version of the academic code, the compass had one version, and the academic bulletin had one version so they collapsed them all into one version,” Thompson said.

Students asked that the deadline to challenge issues of academic conduct be extended to give students more than five days for the appeals process. After deliberating between five and 45 days, Thompson said 14 calendar days has become the suggested timeline.

“They have a full two weeks, calendar days to appeal,” Thompson said.

The “big, exciting” section Thompson discussed was proposed changes to Allegheny’s non-academic conduct policies.

“We wanted to make clear to students that they could report in multiple ways,” Thompson said. “Currently the code says you can only report a violation in writing, and some students are just not comfortable putting things in writing, so we offered interviews. People could be interviewed rather than being in writing.”

Thompson said the college is trying to be more detailed in its descriptions of what students can expect in the reporting process. One additional edit suggests a “mutually agreeable resolution,” meaning that if both parties are able to compromise and agree on an appropriate solution, the case is resolved without a formal board hearing.

“I’ve used this system at a previous institution, and about 90 percent of the cases end up getting resolved through mutual agreement,” Thompson said. “If you’re drinking a beer, and you get caught drinking a beer underage, there’s not a whole lot to dispute, and if you and the conduct officer can agree on a reasonable outcome, then that’s how it gets resolved.”

If a student neglects responsibility for the issue and an agreement is not reached, there are two options. The first option consists of a five-person board hearing where the student is viewed with a presumption of innocence and then judged by the board members. This option would only be available if suspension is a potential punishment for the issue at hand.

The second option is available for minor incidents where suspension is not a possible outcome. The student would be judged by a board of his or her peers in residence halls. These boards would be advised by a college official or faculty member.

“This is an effort to help students really be responsible for adjudication for what happens in their own residence halls or in their own community,” Thompson said. “Mostly, these are noise violations, pot smoking, having a beer, having a party, and they’re usually things that involve community impact.”

Potential outcomes from the student board would result in community service requirements in exchange for the violation.

Members of residence life are not allowed to sit on the student boards, and students would be selected through an application process. First-year students are not eligible to serve on the boards, and a pool of 25 students would hear cases.

Ferrante suggested including an additional definition to help distinguish between major and minor violations of college policy to help students know the difference.

“There’s also a difference in doing something one time and doing something over and over again,” Thompson said.

The section on college sanctions will be reviewed during the Fall 2019 semester because the subcommittee responsible for revisions asked for more time to review edits. Thompson also said more confidentiality agreements would be involved in the process because more students would be in positions of authority while serving on these peer boards.

One change, Thompson discussed, pertained to student eligibility for graduating with Latin honors. During the revision process, a suggested change would switch wording from “will” to “may” in regards to disciplinary records and academic violations.

The proposed edit reads: “All potential recipients of Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, Cum Laude will be screened for Honor Code violations. The sanctions of probation, suspension or expulsion received for academic violations may disqualify a student from consideration for Latin honors.”

Thompson said if a student has ever been on probation, he or she is unable to graduate with Latin honors; however, that may change with the 2019 revisions.

“We wanted to change the ‘will’ to ‘may,’” Thompson said. “It’s a big deal with faculty, so we’re probably going to leave it as ‘will’ and move this to the academic bulletin because the Code of Conduct is not really where this should live.”

While the change has been proposed, Thompson said she is unsure of whether or not it will pass. Most concern stemmed from the probation stipulation because students can be placed on probation for minor acts like stealing the 13th plank or moving lounge furniture into a dorm room.

Other edits consisted of office title updates to improve policy accuracy.

ASG will vote on the proposed changes during its next meeting on Tuesday, April 9. If the changes are not passed by both ASG and Allegheny faculty members, the current Compass will remain in effect until the next revision process.

“There is a backup plain if this doesn’t get a majority vote,” Thompson said. “And the backup plan is we just live with the same rules and policies and everything that are in place right now, and several students have said they were concerned about that plan.”

Thompson urged ASG members to “please vote on something.” Faculty will be presented with the second reading of revisions Thursday, April 11.

After Thompson’s presentation, ASG continued its normal meeting operations.

Ferrante updated ASG on the College Curriculum Committee’s work to examine staff salaries and pay raises. To conclude his report, Ferrante told members to express any issues they may be having with colleagues to himself, Gomez, or Vice President Gillian Greene, ’20.

Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs Cat Lord, ’20, said the college will be working to make sure trash is being sorted properly over the summer.

The Class of 2019 swore in Sydney Lewis as its newest senator. Class of 2020 President Elyse Cinquino distributed the edits to the class resolution, and ASG voted to approve.

During her president’s report, Gomez thanked ASG members for their “thoughtful” and “curious” input during Thompson’s discussion.

To conclude, ASG voted for the second week to approve the removal of the first year liaison position and shift those duties to the director of organizational development. ASG created a new position for director of community relations and approved it during the meeting.

Answering a question from Class of 2021 President Emma Godel, Ferrante said there has been interest in students filling the newly created position.

As Ferrante and Cinquino prepare for their inaugural year as ASG president and vice president, Ferrante said he and Cinquino will announce cabinet selections next week.