Judicial Process Focuses on Responsibility, Concern, and Change
By Jennifer Spencer
While no parent hopes to become expert on the disciplinary policies of their child’s university, Fordham University student affairs professionals say they work to make the judicial hearing process as constructive and supportive as possible.
Fordham’s code of conduct exists to create a safe and respectful atmosphere for students to learn and grow. It’s tied closely to the University’s mission to prepare students to become men and women for others.
It’s those expectations that are communicated when there is a violation.
“We want to try to set high expectations for our students and be as clear as we can about them. We feel that by setting high expectations, students will live up to them,” said Keith Eldredge, dean of students, Lincoln Center.
Christopher Rodgers, dean of students, Rose Hill, said the entire disciplinary process is infused with a deep commitment to helping students on their journey to adulthood.
“Just like inside the classroom, where a professor instructs students to make mistakes and through those mistakes learn something, the campus itself is its own classroom,” he said.
Whether the incident involves alcohol abuse, drugs, or simply a quiet hours violation, an educational philosophy is pervasive throughout the entire process.
Students who are documented for violating a policy participate in judicial hearings, a one-to-one conversations typically with a hall director or other student affairs official.
Dennis Velez is the resident director for upperclass students at Lincoln Center’s McMahon Hall. He said the judicial hearing process is a valuable opportunity to determine not just what a student did, but why they did it.
“The hearings provide me an opportunity to have a really intentional conversation with the resident, make sure they’re doing well, and if not,” said Velez, “it allows me to connect them with resources or help them.
“When I see them again, it allows me to have a conversation because there is now a familiarity there.”
Eldredge said the discussion about why students violate policy is a key part of the developmental aspect of the process. Sometimes students were unaware of a policy. Sometimes they were just trying to fit in.
“A lot of students come in saying, ‘OK, I got caught. What’s my punishment?’ But we encourage them to think about things. Maybe you’re trying to make friends, so let’s talk about more positive ways to do that,” Eldredge said.
The University communicates the expectations of campus life at new student orientation, residence events for all students, and through the Student Handbook.
But, Eldredge said, administrators are realistic about the fact that not every student will pay attention to the rules until after they are caught breaking them.
“We do our best to be proactive, but sometimes I think the more beneficial conversations happen after the fact. We try to take the approach of addressing even low level infractions in this consistent, thorough manner,” he said.
For certain violations, such as illegal drug use or alcohol use by underclassmen, it’s standard procedure to notify the student’s parents. This gives students an opportunity to exercise adult communication skills.
“When we notify parents, I have students say, ‘You’re treating us like kids,’” Eldredge said. “But part of being an adult is stepping up and having that difficult conversation. That’s part of your new adult relationship with your parents.”
Through all steps of the process, student affairs professionals hope that students will learn from the conversations and make better decisions next time.
Conducting personal interviews with every student who violates policy is time intensive, but effective. A very small percentage of students violate policy again after their first judicial hearing.
In 2011-2012, only 23 percent of the judicial cases heard were for students who had violated policy more than once. At Lincoln Center, just 10 percent of all cases involved students who had broken the rules a second time.
While the disciplinary process is of course uncomfortable for students, Velez said he affirms to students that they can move forward after a violation without damage to their reputation.
“I always end hearings by telling students, ‘If you see me in the hallway, you can still say hi,’” Velez said. “I’m not going to judge you, and you will still be respected.”
Velez said that while Residence Life keeps a confidential record of violations to keep track of any repeat offenses and have a more complete picture of each student’s situation, disciplinary violations do not go on a student’s transcript or otherwise follow them beyond Fordham.
What will follow them, the deans hope, are the lessons about living responsibly in community with respect toward their fellow citizens.
“We always lead with the idea that what they learn out of this conversation is the most important thing,” Rodgers said. “And we want to help them look at this thing they have done from the other person’s eyes.”
Ultimately, Rodgers said, the education gained through policy violations may be some of the most valuable lessons students learn during their time at Fordham.
“We say we create men and women for others,” Rodgers said. “Parents, if you entrust your sons and daughters to our care, and give us four years, they’re going to graduate ready to serve others.”