The Annual Report : More Than Busy Work

The great Peter Lake encourages Student Affairs professionals to tell their story in the way they want to tell it instead of others doing so. One of the best ways to do this is through your annual report. Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Oh, the annual report…another waste of my time that will just end up in someone’s file cabinet or electronic folder never to be seen or heard from again!” However, the annual report, especially for student conduct offices, is an extremely useful device. It provides you the opportunity to tell the story of your office, its services and activities, and students from your perspective within the context of the student conduct process. It’s an increasingly important endeavor that also facilitates wonderful opportunities for reflection, discussion, and strategic planning.

This post describes the elements of what I consider is a comprehensive annual report for a student conduct office. Every institution has their different nuances and requirements for such reports but the elements below provide the building blocks of a useful annual report. You can these elements for annual reports in other functional areas as well.

(Here’s a link to my office’s 2012-13 annual report so you can see what it looks like as you continue reading the post –

Many annual reports start out with a letter penned from the department leader (e.g. Director of Student Conduct, Dean of Students, etc.). I didn’t do that for the 2012-13 report but plan to do so for this year’s report. Such a letter provides an “executive summary” and allows the leader to describe some of the big-ticket items readers will see as they read through the content. It’s also useful for framing the office’s strengths, challenges, goals, and opportunities in your words rather than from others.

It’s important to include and describe your “Mission, Goals, and Staff’.” These important aspects of your office drive what you do. You want them to be highlighted early on in your report as they show what you’re all about and give useful context for the sections that follow. I also like to list our staff, their roles, and, at least for the professional staff, note how many years they’ve been in the office. The staff listing provides a human face to the office. I’ve also seen annual reports where ethnicity, gender, and educational attainment are listed to illustrate the “make-up” of the staff.

The “Trainings, Education, and Outreach” section describes how your office interacts with the campus community. In many ways, it’s the public relations section of the report. You don’t realize how much your office is involved and engaged on campus until you reduce it to writing. Most importantly, this gives readers a sense of how much your office is invested in educating the campus community about your process and facilitating student development as a whole.

Another important, yet sometimes overlooked, section is “Campus and Professional Involvement”. These endeavors show the breadth and depth of your office’s involvement in the workings of the campus community. Lord knows that we sit in a lot of meetings during the year, so here’s the opportunity to show what we’re involved with for standing meetings and committees. It also shows the level of engagement your office has with professional development. Student conduct offices need to be engaged in professional development by attending conferences, connecting with colleagues, and expanding the staff’s scope of knowledge, skills, and abilities. This section allows you to not only list these activities but also describe what they entail and how they relate to your operations.

The “policy development” section is dependent on your campus structure and culture. Some campuses limit review and revision of their Student Conduct Code and related policies to specific time frames (e.g. every four years, whenever there’s a system-wide change) but I’m from the school of reviewing and revising the Code each year. This allows us to keep the Code fresh and to respond to emerging issues. Because of this philosophy, my office spends a great deal of time each year working with our policy review group and key constituents to revise and update policy. This section allows us to describe the key changes in an easy to understand fashion. It also ensures an overall level of transparency because the report is electronically distributed across campus and posted on our external website.

The “Statistical Summary” section is crucial because it tells the story of your student conduct process. Resist the temptation to include a bunch of statistical reports. You want the opportunity to interpret and explain the data on your terms rather than having others do it for you. Use a narrative format with graphs, pie charts, and tables to make the data to come alive on the page. It will allow you to weave a story of what the year looked like from the conduct perspective, and most importantly, compare the year to previous years.

One thing that I highly recommend with your statistical summary is to compare the student conduct population to the overall undergraduate and/or campus population. There’s always been a myth on the campuses that I’ve worked at that students are running amok and everyone is getting in trouble. By comparing our numbers to the campus population, I’ve been able to show that, in reality, the percentage of students we see is quite low and comparable to similar institutions. Sure, they’re keeping us busy, but certainly not running wild like the Delta House!

The final section to consider is the “Assessment Summary”. This section summarizes the results of our annual assessment projects. I consider this to be another highly illuminating section. While the statistical data paints the picture of the process overall, our assessment data provides a greater sense of the impact of the process on the students themselves. We include a link to our assessment for all students who meet with a Student Conduct Officer in an Administrative Resolution meeting (more than 2500 total students during the year). The questions focus on their thoughts about the process (e.g. “The Student Conduct Officer I met with demonstrated fairness in assigning sanctions”) and the impact of the process (e.g. “By participating in the student conduct process, I have changed my behavior positively”).

This is the section is where you can really delve deeper into what the students tell you about their experience with the process. I really find this to be the part of the annual report that provides my staff with the most to discern and discuss during our annual retreat (I usually complete the assessment report prior to our retreat because it informs many of our discussions). I’m in the process of completing this year’s assessment report and have really enjoyed the chance to compare and contrast the last two years. We also added an assessment for one of our key sanction programs so I’ll add the summary of it to this year’s report for some extra context.

The annual report is typically seen as busy work that is read by no one. However, if you use it as a way to tell your story and evaluate your process, you’ll find that it provides great value. That becomes quite apparent when colleagues tell you, “I just read your annual report. I never realized how much you all do!”

Imagine That!

(The date of this post would have been my dad’s 64th birthday. This post is dedicated to him.)

I’ve been blessed to have some fantastic supervisors and mentors during my professional career. Working for the likes of Gregg Elkin, Jack Carnefix, Gloria Nevarez, Francesca Piumetti, Lane Bove, Penny Rue and Alan Houston, I’ve grown from an energetic and ambitious graduate student to an even-keeled, seasoned professional. They’ve all had a significant impact on my personal and professional growth. However, the person who’s had the biggest impact is my original mentor, my dad, Thom White.

We seek guidance and wisdom from a wide-variety of sources. Everything from books to seminars to treatises to the Oracle of Delphi! But, in so many cases, you get the most from those closest to you. I learned this first hand during my first couple of years at Loyola Marymount University when, meeting with students during conduct hearings, I suddenly realized how much I sounded like my dad. I could literally hear myself use the phrases and axioms he used with me when I was growing up. There were a few times I nearly stopped in mid-sentence, almost laughing or just plain taken aback, when I realized that I sounded so much like Thom White.

I told him about this one night during our weekly phone call (usually on Monday nights). He laughed and said, “Imagine that!” He thought that being a student conduct officer was similar to being a parent. “Much like I did with you when you were little, you’re teaching them about making good decisions,” he said. “You’re also helping them understand how it works in the real world.” We talked about the importance of being fair, consistent, and open to hearing both sides of the story. As time went on, I realized that my style as a student conduct officer was quite similar to his style as a dad.  I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree!

Many student conduct professionals are steeped in student development theory and consistently draw on them when working with students. Because of my background (communications, sports administration, and law), I really don’t rely on them in my interactions with students. I find that the concepts and ideas that I learned from my dad, while not necessarily “textbook”, are quite applicable to working with today’s students and practicing the craft of student conduct. Here are three ideas in particular where the lessons I learned from my dad heavily influenced me as a professional.

1. “Tough but fair”

I’m pretty direct with students when discussing next steps and possible future sanctions. If they’re looking at a potential suspension, then I tell them that. If I think they are being a jerk to the residential life staff, then they’re going to hear that as well. And most importantly, I hold them accountable when they violate the Student Conduct Code. However, much like my dad, I listen to their side of the story and hear their perspective about sanctions and outcomes. I try to match the sanctions with the violation. It’s a pretty basic concept but if I hold a student accountable, I treat him/her fairly. Students may not agree with the outcome but they at least know I’ve been fair. And if that’s the case, then I’ve done my job.

2. “It’s not a mistake if you learn a lesson from it” + “draw a line and step over it (and don’t go back!)”

These are two really practical sayings I use when talking through situations with students. The funny part is that I’ve been hearing about them since before I was in Kindergarten!

One of the things I always appreciated about my dad was that everything he taught me had a purpose behind it. In looking back, he was trying to provide me with the skills to recognize when I made a mistake but provide the opportunity to improve and move forward in a positive direction. This is exactly what we practice in student conduct!

I meet with many students who are distraught with how they’ve handled situations. Many have trouble getting past the fact they “screwed up” and are completely freaked out about getting suspended or, even worse (in their minds), having to tell their parents about what happened. I use these “lesson” expressions to help them understand that, while they didn’t make a good decision in the present case, they can learn from it as they go forward. As my dad didn’t want me dwelling on and beating myself up over a poor decision (I still have a tendency to do this even as an adult!), I want students to do the same. They’re not necessarily forgetting about what happened, but rather have a “red flag” in their head to remind what to do (or what not to do) when similar situations happen in the future.

3. “If their eyes aren’t as big as beach balls, you haven’t gotten their attention”

This is one of my favorites. My dad used this one masterfully with me, especially when it came to getting me to understand the bigger picture of what he was trying to accomplish. I use this expression when its obvious a student doesn’t understand the severity of the situation. Once I talk about suspension or other some other fear causing sanctions and I see their eyes open up like a proverbial beach ball, I know I’ve gotten their attention. I try not to overuse this approach because it loses its effectiveness if you overdo it. But it works well when someone just isn’t getting it.

Many times, this approach allows me to engage the student in a deeper conversation about the issue. If all you’re discussing is another warning, students, (like young Ben White) will just go through the motions. But if you really get their attention, you can engage them in constructive conversation while reminding them of what could happen if they don’t act appropriately.

As I progress through my tenth year in student conduct and student affairs, I gain greater and deeper insights about students, student development, and myself as a professional. Even with all of the trainings, books, workshops, and mentors that I access, it all goes back to simple concepts from a not so simple person. And this is just another reason why good parenting and deep interactions between parents and children are so important in any society, especially one as complex and intricate as ours.

The Sunset of Zero Tolerance Sanctioning

I’ve never been a fan of the “zero tolerance” approach to student conduct. Much of that feeling goes back to my experiences in seventh grade.

Our principal, who ran the school like a communist dictatorship, put in a rule toward the end of the school year prohibiting talking of any kind during assemblies. I guess this was in response to “disruptive” behavior from a couple of my classmates. Honestly, I don’t remember a big issue but that’s beside the point. In any event, the new rule stated that if you made one peep and a staff member saw you in the act, you were automatically removed from that assembly and the next assembly.

In the penultimate assembly of the year, I sat with a couple of buddies toward the top of the bleachers in our gymnasium. They started whispering back and forth about some random thing lost to history. The banter continued throughout the assembly.  At one point, I turned to both of them and gave the “shhhhhh” gesture. Just then one of the teachers looked up, pointed at several of us and gave us the hook from the assembly! I walked down to the teacher and told him that all I did was try to get them to be quiet. No if, ands, or buts, Mr. White…you’re out of here! Even worse, there was no appeal or any ability to reason with the principal. Heck, he loved the fact that I was also booted out of the next assembly (that’s a story for another time!). Zero tolerance for allegedly talking at a seventh grade assembly, yeah that’s real fair!

From that instance and my professional experience in working in student conduct, I’ve developed a sincere abhorrence to “zero tolerance” policies. Rather than put in draconian policies that don’t take the context of violations into account, it’s better to set clear, meaningful, and most importantly, fair consequences for violations. I’m not saying that, as a campus, you should “tolerate” egregious violations of the Student Conduct Code. You shouldn’t tolerate these behaviors. But to say that “zero tolerance” means suspension or dismissal with no “if, ands, or buts”, that’s a major problem.

I recently ran across an article about how many K-12 school districts are modifying their discipline policies and moving away from pure “zero tolerance” sanctioning.  The article states that many large school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, Baltimore, and Chicago are adjusting their policies to lessen severe penalties for students who violate disciplinary policies.  In Florida, for example, the state legislature modified policies in 2009 to allow school and district administrators more discretion in disciplining students.

From this legislation, Broward County (Florida) took significant steps to revise its student conduct polices. According to the article, in the 2011 school year, the district had more than 1000 arrests, which was the most in the entire State of Florida. The vast majority of these arrests involved misdemeanors such as marijuana possession and vandalism. I completely understand that you don’t want students smoking marijuana or tagging the side of the gymnasium. However, the “zero tolerance” policies employed by these districts require a suspension or dismissal as the appropriate disciplinary response, which is completely antithetical to student development.

“A knee-jerk reaction for minor offenses, suspending and expelling students, this is not the business we should be in,” said Robert W. Runcie, the Superintendent of the Broward County School District. “We are not accepting that we need to have hundreds of students getting arrested and getting records that impact their lifelong chances to get a job, go into the military, and get financial aid.”

Runcie is on the money here. The article also notes that rather than automatically suspending or dismissing students, Broward schools are offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior to keep them in school. This is exactly what University student conduct systems have been doing for years.

I find it ironic that our K-12 schools are supposed to educate and develop students but haven’t necessarily practiced student development with their student conduct processes. Sure, I get the fact that school shootings, stabbings, and rampant drug use have caused some to implement tough discipline policies. But along with a student development focus, administrators should have discretion to assign appropriate sanctions based on the violation and the student’s conduct history. I would think that, for example, if a 14 year old student is documented to for using marijuana, it would be a perfect educational opportunity to discuss the risks and consequences around using the drug rather than instituting a suspension that is accompanied by no educational component.

Ok, so you might be saying to yourself, “Hey Ben, you’ve never worked in K-12 so you don’t know how discipline works at that level.” Sure, I’ve never been an administrator or teacher on the K-12 level, I’ll give you that. However, I worked with a group of eighth graders during my senior year at Washington State and have been a panelist on several disciplinary panels for a local University affiliated charter school. With both experiences, I’ve seen that developing interventions that emphasize the level of conduct in the context of the student and the situation is much more effective than automatic “zero tolerance” responses. Interestingly, in sitting on recent disciplinary panels, I’ve seen fellow panelists with years of experience as principals and administrators, show significant discomfort with having to potentially dismiss a student for making a dumb mistake. I’m fairly certainly they would be quite thrilled if these policies were revised by the San Diego Unified School District. This is especially the case for administrators working at schools located in low socioeconomic areas.

So let’s take “zero tolerance” sanctioning and put it in the dust bin of history, right there with the Stamp Act, lead-based paints, and the Bowl Championship Series!


“Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance”. New York Times (retrieved on 1/14/13)

The Art of Sanctioning

It’s a question every student conduct officer has been asked. No matter if the violation is for simple alcohol possession or a pier six brawl, it really doesn’t matter. The biggest thing a student wants to know in a resolution meeting is what are the consequences for their violations. Sometimes the question is even more direct and to the point: ”Am I going to get kicked out of school?”

Sanctions (and following up on those sanctions) are the linchpin in holding students accountable for Student Conduct Code violations. Conducting a fair process and educating students about their decisions and the impact of those decisions while explaining the applicability of policies are essential for a developmental student conduct process. But another prong, accountability, is in many ways the most important element of the entire process.

Now, accountability, or sanctioning to be more specific, is not meant to be Draconian. Unlike the Massachusetts Bay Colony, students aren’t tossed into the stocks at the main quad for stealing from the bookstore. Similarly, they’re not forced to clean trashcans with a toothbrush for housing policy violations. The goal with sanctioning is not to punish students but rather help them understand how their actions affected themselves and/or their community while providing learning experiences for their growth and development.

Typically, for a first time or lower level violation, a student receives a warning and educational sanctions (e.g. alcohol program, reflection paper, community service). A formal warning, in many ways, is quite powerful if addressed in the right way. Most students are “freaked out” by having a student conduct case in the first place. You can use the warning to alleviate their anxiety but at the same time, explain the applicability of the policies, discuss how they can handle similar situations in the future, and inform them of the consequences for future violations. This is all handled in a very even-keel, straightforward manner with the hope that the student will avoid similar situations but with the knowledge that you might be seeing the student again.

For serious or repeat violations, the student may be placed on probation. Essentially probation is an enhanced warning. But if a student is documented while on probation, they typically are assigned additional sanctions, in addition to sanctions for the actual violation. Usually these additional sanctions take the form of community service, educational programs, or a probation extension. However, depending on the violation, a suspension could be in order. You can check out a previous post on this blog entitled, “The Dean’s Vacation”, for a more detailed treatment of suspensions.

With the above in mind, when you sanction a student for the first time, you’re laying the groundwork for future sanctions. In the student conduct process, every sanction counts and builds upon previous sanctions. However, you have to be extremely careful that you don’t “over sanction” in the first case or two. For example, if you put a student on probation for two years with their first case, you’ve limited your options for progressive sanctioning. Two years probation usually means the incident was quite serious (e.g. punching someone in the face) so the next step is either probation for tenure or a suspension. By assigning probation too early, you may place a student at risk for suspension before it’s actually warranted. This can complicate things for a student conduct officer, especially if the student has an extremely minor subsequent violation.

As you can probably tell, student conduct records are cumulative. This means that increased sanctions may be assigned to take into consideration the student’s overall record of violations of all types, not just those of a similar type. Many students are under the impression that if their first case is an alcohol violation, the second one is a noise violation, and the third one is another alcohol violation, the incident involving noise would not be included with sanctioning for the alcohol cases. As Lee Corso of ESPN College Game Day likes to say “Not so fast, my friend!” All cases count toward sanctioning and apply throughout the student’s tenure at the institution. In order to “bust” this myth, we need to communicate the cumulative nature of student conduct records to students and specifically spell out this practice in our Student Conduct Codes.

There’s also an impression that a student’s record is “wiped clean” at the end of each academic year. This is another myth of the process (for most institutions). If a student accumulates three violations as a first year student and is documented early in their second year, all four count when it comes time to assign sanctions. In the same sense, if this student has three violations as a first year student but doesn’t have another one until five weeks to go in their senior year, the previous violations still count but the length in time between violations may mitigate the severity of sanctions. Well, that’s unless the fourth violation is egregious in nature (e.g. sexual assault, fighting).

Many institutions have developed sanctioning guidelines to provide direction and structure for student conduct officers while, at the same time, informing students about potential consequences of Student Conduct Code violations. These baselines are not “absolutes” but rather important starting points for determining sanctions. They provide a uniform set of initial sanctions for student conduct officers and ensure greater consistency across the process. Sanction baselines are not meant to be exhaustive and are typically dependent on the circumstances of the individual case and the student’s conduct record.

While baselines and guidelines inform sanctioning, they are not the stopping point. Each case is different and decisions are made based on the unique circumstances of the case, rather than a strict adherence to precedent. While not determinative, previous cases provide yardsticks for similar cases in the future. This provides me with a reference point to how I’ve handled similar situations; something especially helpful if it’s a case type we don’t see very often and if a student wants to gauge what types of sanctions might be applicable. I also sometimes consult my colleagues at other institutions, especially the other University of California campuses, so that I can explain to students that even if we were at another campus, the sanctions would be similar.

Overall, sanctioning is one of the most important functions entrusted to a student conduct officer. It provides an opportunity to address student behavior in an educational manner and facilitates a crucial developmental opportunity for the student. But it’s not just the sanctions themselves that provide this opportunity. Simply assigning sanctions with no explanation or in a purely punitive manner would defeat the very purpose of accountability in student conduct. That’s because accountability is tightly connected to the overall conversation with the student. A conversation that happens on an adult level rather than a “thou shall not” lecture.

Overthrowing the Chicken Scratch Regime

I’ll be the first person to admit that my handwriting will never win a calligraphy competition. In reality, it’s chicken scratch at best. People in my life (including my wife and colleagues) sometimes have difficulty “translating” what my handwriting actually says. It’s not absolutely terrible but still it’s not very good. I think it might be genetic, though. My grandmother has a similar affliction. Fortunately, for others, and myself technology is the great equalizer!

When I arrived at UC San Diego in the summer of 2010, I noticed people using iPads during meetings. Specifically, my colleagues Mentha Hynes-Wilson and eeman agrama minert always seemed to have these devices with them, whether it be for taking notes, checking email, or reviewing online documents. I was quite intrigued by their uses of the device. So I filed it away in my head and focused on the eight million other things I had to tackle at the time.

In the Spring of 2012, I read an article from the NASPA Leadership Exchange describing some interesting use of iPads in Student Affairs, including note taking during meetings and conducting assessments. I did some additional research on message boards and asked colleagues how they used their devices. After collecting this information, I asked myself how would I use an iPad. I immediately identified two key uses: note taking during meetings and reviewing reports/documents during student conduct resolution meetings. I then calculated the number of meetings I attend (which are many, almost too many!) and the number of resolution meetings that I conduct each year (more than 100). After seeing how much I would actually use the device, I had no qualms moving forward in purchasing an iPad.

The result? The iPad has completely revolutionized my note taking in meetings. Instead of having to physically file a bunch of meeting agendas and notes, they’re one in the same in my notes section. I can easily go back and pluck out action items from the notes along with deleting irrelevant or dated information. At the end of the academic year, I upload the meeting notes to my desktop and instead of having a paper file that takes up space, I have a nice, neat electronic version of it on my computer, which I can access almost anywhere. Now that’s what I call efficiency!

At the same time, the iPad has significantly enhanced my resolution meetings and hearings. During the meeting, I have the report and other documents already open on my screen along with a clean resolution checklist. Instead of having a paper file to thumb through, I can quickly switch between reports on the iPad. I also enter my meeting notes and the resolution (e.g. what the student accepts responsibility for and the sanctions, if applicable) directly into the checklist. This saves time in that I don’t have to do it later and potentially forget key pieces of information. It also counteracts my chicken scratch handwriting because if I need to change something, I can delete it rather than cross it out.

After the meeting, I review my notes and upload the checklist to our online student conduct database. Then I copy and paste the notes into my resolution summary and craft it into a narrative format (e.g. “During your meeting, you stated that you consumed six beers in a two hours span on the night of the incident. You also told me that…). I then click on the alleged violations the student has accepted responsibility for, enter in the sanctions, and review the letter template. Many times, in a half hour to hour period, I can meet with a student, compile the meeting notes, upload them to the database, compile the resolution letter, and email it to the student. It might not sound like a big deal but after starting with a completely paper-based process during my early years in student conduct, it’s efficiency at its best!

Getting the iPad also helped, in large part, change my meeting style with students. Previously, I used a table in my office to meet with students or colleagues. I reasoned that I needed to have a good surface to write on and I didn’t want to have these meetings from behind my desk (the whole Dean Wormer authority dynamic). I had colleagues who had nice chairs or couches in their officers to conduct meetings but I myself was never fully been comfortable with this for my own office (although I liked the idea in principle). However, after getting the iPad, I realized that I didn’t necessarily need a hard surface to write on. On an impulse, I moved the leather couch and chair from our reception room into the office just to see what it would look like. Well, let’s just say it made my office look much more “executive” and welcoming at the same time!

Students are always a little bit nervous having to come in for resolution meetings. I’ve noticed having a nice comfortable couch to sit on can put them at ease. I also feel more comfortable and less formal with students. Our conversations flow better sitting on couches and chairs than at a table. I was concerned initially with the new format, especially when discussing suspensions or other serious incidents. However, that has not been the case at all. Every so often, I ask myself, why didn’t I do this sooner?

With the success of the iPad and our online student conduct database (Advocate Powered by Symplicity), I’ve been trying to find additional ways to harness the power of this technology. We recently purchased iPad minis for use with one of our sanctioning programs (Ethics Workshop). Instead of filling out a paper evaluation, students complete our online assessment before they leave the session. The results are automatically captured in Student Voice and I can check them the next morning on their website. After seeing the results of our student conduct assessment this past year, I’m excited to see the how the results from this assessment affects this program.

In some ways, I’m a little behind the curve when it comes to using the iPad. The article that I reference is from Spring 2011 and I started using the iPad in Summer 2012. But the important thing is that I made the transition. I encourage my colleagues to think about how the iPad or similar devices/programs will help their operations. Sure, there’s an initial cost, which in a tight higher education budget, can seem significant. However, when you look at the value, efficiency, and productivity you’ll get from the purchase, it’s worth every penny that you’ll spend.


“Student Affairs Applications for the iPad” NASPA Leadership Exchange.  Spring 2011, Page 42.

Take Out the Papers and the Trash

First off, if you know the song that he title of this post comes from, you definitely know your oldies music.

I recently ran across an interesting story on the Chronicle of Higher Education website. The story describes how an admissions staff member at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota confiscated copies of the student newspaper from a campus building before an event for prospective students and their families. The article described the prevalence of alcohol use before campus events and various perspectives about the impact it has on campus. It appears from the article that the staff member was concerned “for the impression certain stories may give prospective students and their families about the school”.

I find it interesting that the staff member was so concerned with the article that he/she threw them away. Sure, the article describes various anecdotes about student drinking and risky behavior. I can understand why someone might think the article would raise concern on the part of visiting parents. However, the article is balanced and discusses the reasons why the number of alcohol-related incidents increased. It also quotes two students who express their concern with negative behaviors around alcohol abuse. Finally, the article describes event security and safety measures taken by the campus address some of the issues.

Concern, however, does not necessitate censorship. Whether at a public or private institution, you cannot just simply commandeer copies of the student newspaper off the racks and toss them in the trash bin because you don’t like its content. If you think such content sheds a negative light on the campus, it doesn’t matter. Newspapers enjoy significant First Amendment protections and such actions abridge those protections.

Interestingly enough, I’ve dealt with a similar situation in my career. During my first year at Loyola Marymount University, several racks of The Loyolan newspaper were cleaned out and tossed in trash bins across campus. The issue had a story about how the president and vice president of a sorority were allegedly terminated because they were involved in a hazing incident. Some 400 papers were found in trash bins, prompting an investigation of the incident.

A key part of this incident is something pointed out in the article discussing the thefts. The article notes that the paper’s Editorial Policy, located on the Opinion page, states, “The first copy is free of charge. Additional copies are $1”. Basically, if you take more than one paper, it’s considered theft. By taking the papers and throwing them away, the students technically engaged in theft of newspapers worth $400.

Three members of the sorority eventually came forward voluntarily and accepted responsibility for throwing the papers away. These students were referred to our office and I had the opportunity to meet with them for their student conduct cases.

Upon being assigned the case, I consulted with my good friend and colleague Tom Nelson, who oversees The Loyolan as LMU’s Director of Student Media. In talking with him, he said that he wasn’t overly concerned with the students getting “punished”. He wanted them to understand the impact of taking the papers, especially on the people who work behind the scenes to distribute them to the campus community. After some discussion, he and I came up with a creative sanction, which would address the incident in an educational way. Our idea: have the students help deliver the papers around campus.

When I met with the students, they were extremely remorseful for their actions. They told me that they were angry about the story and were trying to protect their friends. They didn’t think it was a big deal but understood the consequences of their actions. They expressed their desire to make things right and when I explained the “delivery” sanction; they all agreed it would be a good resolution to the case.

All in all, the sanction worked well. The students, up and about much earlier than they were used to, had the opportunity to see the time and effort it took to deliver the paper around campus. In their reflection papers about the incident, they expressed appreciation for the students they worked with in delivering the papers. The resolution also educated them on how to express their feelings about such an incident while understanding the consequences for their actions. The sanction also provided The Loyolan staff with some closure because the incident was handled in a way that educated students about how much work it takes to produce the paper. Maybe Concordia College should have the admissions officer who took the papers participate in something similar.

NOTE – The title of the post comes from opening line of the classic oldies tune, “Yakety Yak”, by The Coasters.


“Story in Concordian about students’ use of alcohol triggers controversy”, InForum: The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (retrieved 10/25/13) (

“Alcohol prevalent before campus festivities”, The Concordian (retrieved 10/25/13)

The Dean’s Vacation

When I entered the field of student conduct in 2004, I was intrigued by having the ability to suspend or dismiss a student. Maybe it was my inner Jack McCoy talking, but wielding such power seems great in theory. But when you actually have to do it, you realize it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Suspensions and dismissals, probably the hardest part of my job, are just that thing.

What exactly is a suspension or dismissal? Basically, they’re a separation from the institution for a specific period of time. With suspensions, a student can return to campus after, say, a semester or year, but a dismissal is permanent. While the concept of a suspension, in particular, is the same for all levels of education, there’s a major difference between getting suspended as a high school student and as a college student.

This difference is the typical length of a suspension. In high school, if a student gets suspended, it’s usually for a couple of days. For example, according to the San Diego Unified School District’s website, a teacher may suspend any student from his or her classroom due to certain serious violations for the day of the suspension, and the day following. Additionally, a principal or his/her designee may suspend the student for a maximum of five consecutive days. However, a student cannot be suspended for more than 20 days in a year.

In contrast, a suspension has a more significant long-term impact for a college student. Suspensions typically run for at least one term (quarter or semester, depends on the academic calendar at the institution) and can run as long as two to three years (I’ve heard of five year suspensions at some institutions, but they’re the exception rather than the rule). This means the student usually loses at least a term of progress toward their degree. For students at institutions with heavily impacted majors and classes, a one quarter suspension could force them to spend an extra year on campus because they can’t enroll in specific classes that are offered only once a year. It also can be a severe financial hardship because students don’t receive financial aid when they are not enrolled in classes. Some students are able to take classes at a community college during the suspension and transfer the credits back to the home institution but they’re limited in what they can take.

Additionally, most students aren’t able to participate in campus activities during the suspension. Some private institutions also have the ability to ban the student from entering the campus grounds during the suspension period. Along with this period of separation, most students suspended are assigned additional sanctions such as probation for tenure, community service, educational programs, and counseling assessments.

So why do students get the proverbial “Dean’s Vacation”? Typically, suspensions at the University level fall within two broad categories:

1. Egregious/serious violations – The easiest way to get suspended is to engage in a “big ticket” violation of the Student Conduct Code. These violations include, selling drugs, engaging in sexual misconduct, and punching someone in the face. They are grounds for suspension or dismissal because they directly impact the safety and well-being of the campus community. Additionally, plagiarism and blatant academic cheating will typically earn a student a suspension.

The length of suspension is usually determined by the seriousness of the violation. For example, at UC San Diego, the baseline suspension length for fighting is a quarter, but if physical injury is involved, it may be lengthened to a year or more. Many campuses have created sanction guidelines for their Student Conduct Officers to create a baseline for sanctions while providing consistency so that sanctions aren’t all over the board. However, everything is looked at on a case-by-case basis, taking the unique facts of the case into account when assigning a sanction.

2. Multiple violations – In 2012-13, we had a 15 percent recidivism rate at UC San Diego, meaning that about 15 percent of the students in our process had repeat Code violations. While many of these students’ violations are minor in nature (e.g. alcohol, noise, etc.), the cumulative effect of multiple violations is cause for concern. All violations where a student accepts responsibility or is found responsible at a Student Conduct Review (e.g. formal hearing) count toward their total number of cases. When a student gets three or more violations (especially in one term or academic year), they are putting themselves at risk for suspension. While progressive sanction informs students about the consequences for further violations, there comes a point where suspension becomes appropriate.

Typically, with these cases, a one quarter suspension is appropriate. The suspension gets the student’s attention and provides opportunity for serious reflection. During my time as a student conduct officer, I’ve suspended several students for committing multiple violations. The vast majority of these students actually express appreciation for being suspended. They usually come back to the University with extra motivation to do well in classes, get more involved with campus activities, and make better decisions. They realize what they lost in their time away and don’t want to go down that road again. There are others who don’t have that realization. They’re the ones who get the permanent “Dean’s Vacation”!

Keep in mind that even if a student is suspended or dismissed, they have the opportunity to appeal. At UC San Diego, undergraduate students appeal to the Council of Provosts, which determines whether the sanction is “grossly disproportionate to the offense”. Basically, they’re looking at whether the Student Conduct Officer followed the sanction guidelines and if he/she decided to increase the baseline sanctions, whether that sanction is “too harsh”. In handling appeals, most institutions review the written record and the student’s written appeal. Some institutions, including Loyola Marymount University (where I worked from 2004 to 2010), provide suspended or dismissed students an opportunity to personally appear and state their case why the suspension or dismissal should be overturned.

Suspension and dismissal are extreme sanctions and are not assigned unless absolutely necessary. Last year at UC San Diego, we had 2640 administrative resolutions and 19 Student Conduct Reviews for non-academic cases (Note that my office does not handle academic cases). For a total of 2659 sanctioning opportunities, there were only 13 suspensions and one dismissal; meaning that less than one percent of cases ended in a separation from the University. Much like a wishbone offense throwing a pass on first down, suspensions and dismissals don’t happen very often, but when they do, it’s a big deal!


“Authority to Order Suspension” – San Diego Unified School District (retrieved on 10/17/13)


Assessing the Student Conduct Process at UC San Diego

Assessing the Student Conduct Process at UC San Diego

Check out pages 11-13 in the attached link to an article I wrote for the Fall 2013 NASPA Region VI Newsletter. The article is titled “Assessing the Student Conduct Process at UC San Diego” and summarizes the results of our student conduct process assessment from the 2012-13 academic year.

A Long Time Coming – The Code Revision Process at the University of Idaho

I recently ran across an article about the University of Idaho looking to revise and update its Student Conduct Code. This isn’t a big deal in of itself. Campuses regularly update their Codes to address emerging issues or problems with their processes. At UC San Diego, we typically update and revise our Code at the end of each academic year and re-wrote the entire Code two years ago. But what’s most interesting in U of I’s case is that its Code was written and implemented during the Nixon Administration. A lot has changed since then!

In reading the article, a couple of things popped out at me:

1. As I referenced above, U of I’s Code was originally written during the 1969-70 academic year. This was during a time where Student Conduct Codes were much more legalistic and less focused on student development. I took a look at the Code (see link below) and found that it has been amended by an ad hoc Faculty Council committee four times since it was implemented (1992, 1993, 1998, and 2005). In the article about the proposed changes, Dean of Students Bruce Pittman stated, “It was written before Virginia Tech, before Title IX … the environment, the culture and the students were, frankly, different when this was originally written.” That’s sure an accurate statement!

In my experience, I’ve found that, while a strong foundation is essential for an effective Student Conduct Code, continually updating it to handle emerging issues is crucial. For example, during my time at Loyola Marymount University, we reviewed our Code on an annual basis, something I have continued now that I am at UC San Diego. One year at LMU, we realized that we did not have a statement in the Code that student conduct records were cumulative. Given that we wanted students to know that each case counted towards the sanctions they would receive, at the end of that academic year, we included language in the Code about cumulative records. Similarly, at UC San Diego, after handling several cases where multiple students in a case requested a student conduct review we realized we had no specific language to handle such situations. This past year, my colleague Jon Carlos Senour helped me develop language for these situations and we included it in our most recent revisions. Making adjustments on the fly is crucial. Hopefully, the Code revision process will also allow U of I to adopt language to do this on a more regular basis (see #3 below).

2. The article states that the most controversial change would be to include jurisdiction for off-campus conduct. Most institutions are able to extend jurisdiction for off-campus student behavior that adversely affects the University in the pursuit of its goals and objectives. Many urban campuses have a very liberal off-campus jurisdiction policy due to the issues created by large numbers of students living in the surrounding community. Other campuses only extend jurisdiction for big ticket items such as sexual assault, physical assault and battery, hazing, and dealing drugs.

Given that they’ve never been able to address off-campus conduct, I hope U of I thinks through this issue carefully. The more you extend your jurisdiction, the more issues you have to handle over a greater geographic area. If you don’t have a carefully crafted jurisdictional statement, it can have far reaching effects. I know that the students will have a major say in how this addressed and I hope their jurisdictional statement finds a good middle ground between handling the big ticket issues and over regulating student conduct in the Moscow community.

3. Here’s the most interesting angle of the entire story. The article quoted Dean Pittman as saying that once campus administrative and student leadership have approved the changes, any amendments to the Code must be approved by a student vote. Section Six of the Statement of Student Rights (Section 2200 of the University of Idaho Faculty Staff Handbook) states that at least 35 percent of the student population must vote on the changes, and of that 35 percent, two-thirds must vote in favor of the changes. In addition, an affirmative vote of a majority of the university faculty at a meeting where a quorum is present is required. However, the Code may be amended by the Board of Regents.

The University has nearly 12,500 students and if 35 percent of the student body (the provision does not delineate between undergraduate and graduate students) is required to vote on the changes, that means about 4375 students have to participate. Of that number, two-thirds (about 2918 students) need to vote in favor of the changes. Basically, they would need about 23 percent of the student body to vote yes on the changes. In an article I found about the 2013 U of I Associated Students elections, it said that nearly 1800 undergraduate students voted (21.2 percent of population). Taking those numbers at face value, the University would need to more than double the turnout from this most recent election and get two thirds of voters to approve any changes. In addition, a majority of the university faculty would have to vote in the affirmative to approve the changes. I can see why Dean Pittman said these “are very difficult parameters to work with.”

At UC San Diego, we are required to present all revisions to the Student Conduct Code and Student Conduct Regulations to our Student Conduct Standards Group for review and feedback. This group is made up of staff, students, and faculty. Once the group and other constituents (including Vice Chancellor – Student Affairs, Campus Counsel and the UC Office of the President) have reviewed the changes and provided feedback, I typically set up an open comment period (usually two to three weeks) for the campus community to review and provide its feedback. Once that’s complete and feedback is incorporated, I present the final version of changes to the Vice Chancellor – Student Affairs for approval. When the Vice Chancellor gives the proverbial “thumbs up”, the revisions go to the Chancellor for final approval. There are many steps in this process but it ensures that the campus community has ample opportunity for review and feedback without having to put it to an all-campus vote.

Overall, this will be an extremely productive and worthwhile process for the University of Idaho. If experience is any indicator, they should be able to raise awareness about their Student Conduct Code and get strong involvement from the student population. It will allow them to tailor their Code to the campus in a modern context while providing flexibility to handle emerging issues. In the end, they should be able to provide the students a fair and effective conduct process while giving the University community a workable framework to address student behavior, on and off the Moscow campus.



“Starting the Conversation – Dean of Student Presents First Draft of New Student Conduct Code”, University of Idaho Argonaut (retrieved on 10/9/13)

University of Idaho Student Conduct Code (retrieved on 10/9/13)

“And the Votes Are In” – University of Idaho Argonaut (retrieved on 10/9/13)

What would you say…you do here?

It’s a classic line from “Office Space” and the type of question I get from people when I say that I’m the Director of Student Conduct at UC San Diego. My best response usually is to ask if they’ve seen “Animal House” and if so, I tell them that I’m Dean Wormer…but a little nicer!

In all seriousness, the job of a student conduct director is somewhat difficult for people outside of a University setting to understand. People usually understand what an admissions counselor does or what a basketball coach is responsible for doing. But there’s a shroud of mystery when it comes to the Dean Wormers of the world!

Most people assume that college students are too busy with classes and other activities to get in trouble. If that were the case, you certainly wouldn’t need a student conduct office! When I tell them this isn’t the case, they’re surprised to hear about the wide variety of cases we see over the course of a year. I guess you’d expect cases involving alcohol and drugs but people are surprised when I tell them about issues relating to illegal file sharing and downloading, theft from the bookstore, fighting, and failing to comply with campus police. Our students are good people but like the rest of us, they don’t always make the best decisions.

So, back to the title of this post…. what does a student conduct director actually do? The major part of the job is to meet with students who are accused of violating the campus Student Conduct Code. In some ways, this role is equivalent to the high school vice principal or dean who meets with students when they’re kicked out of class for disruptions, getting into fights, or just being late for school (I’m glad we don’t have to deal with truancy in my office!). However, there’s a big difference handling issues involving high school sophomores and college sophomores. The big difference is that our sophomores are adults and we have to treat them as such.

When I meet with students to discuss alleged Code violations, my main purpose is to provide them an opportunity to tell me their perspective about what happened. During my experience with student conduct work, I’ve found that what most students really want is to be heard. Looking back on my own experiences, I would completely agree!

Students want someone to listen to their side of the story and make a decision based, not just off the report(s) but also what they have to say. They want to meet with someone who is open to their perspective and who hasn’t already made up their mind. As former federal judge Alfred Murrah used to say, “hear the case before you decide it”(The legendary Gary Pavela uses this quote often in his ASCA Law & Policy Report). I’ve found this to be invaluable advice over the years, especially when you think you know the direction of a case, but meetings with students and witnesses take it in a whole different direction.

Two other significant areas that student conduct directors are typically responsible for are training and policy development. I spend a lot of my time, especially at the beginning of the academic year, training the key participants in the student conduct process. For example, at UC San Diego, I conduct annual Fall quarter training programs for our student conduct officers, judicial boards, university representatives (staff members who present cases at a formal hearing), resident advisors and student advocates. In order for our system to function at a high level, these key participants not only need to understand their roles but receive continual training to keep their skills sharp. The hard part with training is that you’re delivering similar content but to very different groups. I’ve found that I have to train students with a different energy and strategy than I do with staff and faculty. Some groups need a lot of specific technical information while others just need the big-ticket items. Training in student conduct is definitely not one-sized fits all!

The other big area I devote my time to is policy development. Most campuses have an extensive array of policies applying to students. Many campuses, including UC San Diego, have system-wide policies that drive the policies on each campus. Each campus has a student conduct code that, much like a state or federal constitution, sets forth the “law of the land”. These codes can be quite difficult for members of the campus community to understand. A student conduct director has to master the Code and be able to explain its provision in plain English when colleagues and students ask for assistance. To understand, interpret, and apply all of these policies to the facts of an incident and how everything interrelates with each other can be a Herculean task. The funny thing is, I really like this part of the job!

While meeting with students, training the key players and developing policy are three key areas student conduct officers deal with; they’re not the only responsibilities in one’s portfolio. Most student conduct directors oversee a small to large staff that assists with hearing cases, managing an online case database, coordinating student and sanction follow-up and developing educational programs. Student conduct directors are typically on a lot of campus committees; especially when it comes to students of concern, threat assessment, and sexual assault. Oh and don’t forget that you need good people skills, too!

I know there’s one last question readers may have…can you actually put someone on “double secret probation”? While I love the term and often make joking references to it, I don’t have the ability to secretly put someone on probation. Even if I did, I don’t really want to end up like Dean Wormer at the end of Animal House!


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