Formal hearings are often not the first option in resolving violations of the Student Code of Conduct. A formal hearing is considered to be a formal resolution to a conflict; another option, referred to as an “informal hearing’ exists and is often used in minor to moderate situations. When a student is allegedly in violation of the Student code of Conduct, the student is often given a choice of which type of hearing they prefer- formal or informal. There are advantages to each that will be briefly highlighted.
Informal hearings involve one University administrator and the student in question. The hearing is informal in that a discussion occurs regarding the situation and the extent of the student’s involvement. Based on this discussion, the administrator finds the student responsible or not responsible for a violation and sanctions the student accordingly. If the conflict was between two students, an informal resolution would be considered mediation.
In a formal hearing, each party had the opportunity to bring witnesses and have an advisor. These options do not exist in an informal hearing. As its name implies, a judicial board involves the use of three board members- a mix of faculty, staff and one student- and generally eliminates any perception of bias that can arise in a one on one type hearing. Formal hearings are also recorded in the event of an appeal and adhere to fairly stringent procedures.
There situations where a student is not given an option to resolve a conflict informally. Examples include furnishing alcohol to minors, selling/providing controlled substances, weapons, sexual misconduct, physical abuse, large thefts, and pattern behaviors/multiple offenders. In these circumstances, the alleged violation in deemed serious enough to proceed automatically to a formal judicial board. Additionally, formal boards are almost always convened when a given student faces a possible suspension or expulsion as a result of the allegations against him or her.
Essentially, then, formal hearings arise when one of the following events occurs: a significantly serious altercation occurs: a significantly serious altercation occurs, repeated/pattern behavior or the student of the University chooses the formal hearing option.
- Informal Hearing
- one administrator, no advisor or witness, no audio records
- Formal Hearing
- hearing board (three members), advisor and/or witness, audio recorded
A formal hearing board is comprised of three individuals: a chair and two University representatives; one of the two University representatives is often a matriculating student and/or a faculty staff member.
The chair is a University faculty or staff member experienced with judicial hearings. The chair is responsible for handling the flow of the hearing. Specifically, the chair explains the hearing, reads the charges, directs the flow of the questions, ensures that questions are relevant to the issue at hand and also asks questions of both parties. The chair will also write up the board’s decision and consult with the Director of Student Standards regarding the decision.
Students are selected to serve on the board from a pool of interested students who:
- have completed at least 24 credits
- maintain a 2.00 GPA
- maintain good conduct standing
- complete training session
The Student Code of Conduct is contained primarily in the University Pilot, which is the student handbook and on the Student Standards website. This document represents the standards of conduct that all matriculating Bloomsburg University students are required to uphold. Its intention is to support the learning mission of the University and to create a safe and orderly atmosphere. Additionally, the Student Code of Conduct exists so that students may resolve perceived conflicts in a forum that does not involved legal action. The Student Code of Conduct does not, however, replace local, state and/local federal law.
There is no simple way to determine how often your time will be requested. A request for service is contingent upon many factors including: number of board members from which to choose, number of cases necessitating a formal hearing and work/class scheduled. As a general rule, you can expect to be contacted once per semester. This number may be higher depending on the previously mentioned considerations. Choices are generally made on a rotational basis. It is entirely possible, however, that you may be asked to serve more frequently than others. It, for example, your schedule is more flexible or you have a strong desire to work in this are, you may be called upon more often than the average board member. Be assured that any time you are willing or able to provide is generously appreciated.
As stated earlier, the judicial hearing is a mechanism of resolving conflicts between two parties.
The formal hearing environment in which you will be participating consists of:
- The board comprised of a chair and two University representatives
- The accuser (ie. plaintiff) – either a student or a representative of the University
- The accused (ie. the defendant) – generally a student but occasionally an organization as a whole
Formal hearings can, at times, be lengthy. However, most hearings of this type range anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. You are advised to budget an hour of time to provide yourself with a cushion. Generally speaking, the duration of a formal hearing can be predicated based on previous cases of a similar nature. You are welcome to ask the Director or Assistant Director what the predicted duration of a specific hearing may be such that you may schedule accordingly.
Formal hearings attempt to adhere to specific guidelines regarding questioning, presentation of information, witnesses, advisors and a host of other elements. However, circumstances arise when deviations from this script occur. This entire flow is controlled by the chair of the hearing and will be discussed in more detail shortly.
Below is a brief demonstration of a "typical" hearing process/procedure:
- Chair informs all that the proceedings will be recorded.
- Chair states date/time/location/purpose of the hearing for the record.
- Chair asks members of the board to introduce themselves for the record. Parties involved (i.e. accused and accuser) are asked if they object to any members of the board.
- Chair has parties introduce themselves for the record. Advisors, if any, introduce themselves at this time.
- Chair reads the charges from The Pilot brought against the accused.
- Chair asks the accused to respond to each charge by saying that s/he is “responsible” or “not responsible”.
- Once the accused indicates that s/he is responsible or not, the hearing continues so that the board may make a decision that either agrees or disagrees with the accuser’s assertion.
- At this point, the chair would ask the accuser or individual presenting charges to state his/her case. The accuser may speak from memory or read a written statement, whichever they prefer.
- The chair will then instruct the board (including him/her) that they may now ask questions regarding the information presented by the accuser. Once the board is finished with their questions, the chair will ask the accused if they have any questions regarding the information presented before them. After the accused is finished with any questions, the board has a final opportunity to ask questions of the accuser.
- At this point, the accuser has an opportunity to call witnesses. The witness is to present his/her information and the accuser has an opportunity to ask questions of his/her witness. Once the accuser’s questions are complete, the same ordering of questions described above begins for the witness.
- The same process is repeated until all witnesses for the accuser are called and have presented their information. The exact same process occurs for the accused. The accused will present his/her information and call any witnesses. Once again, the same ordering of questions will commence.
- The final process is the opportunity for the accuser and the accused to make summative/closing statements. This is optional, however it frequently occurs.
- Once final statements are finished, the chair dismisses the parties involved and the board convenes to discuss the information presented. A decision is reached and this is forwarded to the Director in the form of a recommendation. The recommendation will be checked for appropriateness and severity.
- Once complete, The Director, will write a formal letter to the accused regarding this decision. A meeting is arranged between the accused and the Director at which time the letter is delivered and discussed.
The flow above represents a standard formal hearing. However, please be advised that not all formal hearings will flow in reality as nicely as they do on paper. The role of the chair is to ensure orderly and efficient administration of the hearing. S/he is in charge of maintaining control, allowing/disallowing questions, informing parties/board members when they can ask questions etc. Any procedural/process issues or complications are the sole responsibility of the chair.
It is important to reiterate that formal hearings are heavily reliant on proper administration and procedure. Failure to abide by designated guidelines can result in an appeal and potential reversal of a decision. The role of the chair is vital in maintaining the orderly fashion of the formal hearing. It is imperative that you, as a University representative, also abide by these designated guidelines including waiting for the chair to give permission to board members to ask questions.
Witnesses are often used in formal hearings, which is one of the advantages of this type of hearing. In order for the accused/accuser to have witnesses, s/he must submit the witnesses’ names at least 48 hours prior to the hearing. Witnesses must present information that is relevant to the case at hand. If a witness presents information that is not relevant to the case at hand, it is the responsibility of the chair to redirect the witness. Additionally, scores of witnesses designed to essentially provide the same information is not necessary or acceptable; one or two witnesses will suffice if information is relatively similar.
Both the accused and the accuser are afforded the opportunity to have an advisor(s). The advisor is essentially a support person who can speak with, or pass notes to, their advisee during the hearing. Additionally, a new provision for advisors contained in the Pilot allows advisors to make opening and closing statements to the judicial board.
At the conclusion of the hearing process the chair will dismiss all parties from the proceedings and the board will remain to review the case and come to a decision. The decision at the end of the hearing is based on information presented during the course of the proceedings. Board members should discuss their opinions as a group and reach a decision that all three individuals can agree with. The first decision that must be determined is whether the accused party is responsible for violating policy (if the party has already accepted responsibility then this step is obliviously skipped). As with any group decision, it is entirely possible that disagreements will exist. Should this be the case, a compromise is to be made that best represents all individuals. In the event of a serious disagreement, the chair is responsible for resolution of the issue.
Sanctions result when the accused party is found responsible for the violation of policy. Essentially, sanctions attempt to support the learning mission of the University to the extent that the misbehavior allows it. Depending on the situation, the assigned sanction can be very educational/development in nature. However, circumstances do arise that would not be best served through implementation of this type of sanction. In these cases, suspension or expulsion is often the result.
Sanction headings that are available to you as a formal board member:
- Disciplinary Warning
- Disciplinary Probation
- Alcohol and Drug Probation Level I or Level II
- Suspension in Abeyance
Specific conditions must exit for suspensions or expulsions to result. For example, furnishing alcohol to minors or selling/providing controlled substances is an automatic suspension for at least one semester. Other offenses may be candidates for this type of serious action; multiple offenses over time may also warrant consideration of these sanctions.
The aforementioned sanctions represent the “headings” or “title” of a sanction. Board members have the opportunity to assign any number of line items and require the student to complete them as part of their sanction.
Examples of these line items:
- Community service
- Alcohol and drug assessment (ie. checking for potential addiction)
- Attend educational programs
- Duration of the sanction (ie. 6 months, 1 year, etc.)
- Compliance requirements (ie. monthly meetings with Office of Student Standards)
- Parent/Guardian letter in certain drug alcohol violations
- Reflection papers/journal writings
- Release requirements
Some of these line items may make intuitive sense while others may seem a bit more obscure. An example should clarify. If a student is found responsible, of their second offense, by a formal board of violating the Laws policy due to a Town citation for underage drinking, then the following sanctions may result:
- Alcohol and drug Probation Level II for one year
- 20 hours of community service
- Alcohol assessment
- Educational alcohol program
- Parent/guardian letter
- Required to petition for removal from probation
- Failure to comply results in more serious action
The example provided demonstrates a sanction that could be expected for someone who committed his or her second alcohol related offense of mild severity. It is by no means required that each of these items be included; those decisions are up to the board. In most cases, the board has a range to work within. Individuals not familiar with the sanctioning process may ask questions of the chair. If the board decided to suspend the student, instead of the above sanction- or something similar- the decision would most likely be overturned due to the overly severe nature. Generally speaking however, decisions made by the board are retained.
The delivery and implementation of the sanctions are the responsibility of the Director of Student Standards and/or the Office of Student Standards as a whole. Once the board forwards their recommendation, a formal letter is written and a meeting is scheduled with the accused party. During the meeting the Director will deliver the sanctions and answers any questions. Supervision of the sanction, including compliance, is the responsibility of the Office of Student Standards.
All students are provided with the opportunity to appeal. However, specific reasons for appeal must be met as listed in the Pilot. Appeals must be filed in writing to the Student life Office within 72 hours after receiving official notice of the hearing results. Specifically, The Pilot describes the following conditions under which an appeal may be entered.
The appeal in accordance with these directives:
- New evidence not considered during the initial hearing
- Evidence leading to charges of unfair disciplinary action
- Evidence leading to denial of rights
All members of the University Conduct Board must hold confidential all materials viewed and/or information spoken prior to, during and after the hearing process. Any violation of confidentiality will not be tolerated. Any violation of confidentiality will not be tolerated. Anyone violating this directive will be permanently removed from the University Conduct Board. Additional action will be taken wherever appropriate.