Judicial Board discussion leaves unanswered questions

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Editor’s Note:  The author requests that anyone with information on this subject email him directly.

Jason Coleman

jcoleman5@radford.edu

Whether Radford University is still seen as a party school will be debated, but just like any other college campus, students will drink, some will make bad choices and a few will get in trouble.  With Quadfest right around the corner, many students are ready for a well-deserved release.  If students fail to abide by RU’s codes of conduct, they may find themselves in front of the Judicial Board Review.

After talking to many Radford students, it can be seen that most of what students know about the Judicial Board comes from gossip or friends who have gone through the process.  Unless you have been in front of the Judicial Board, how are you to know how the system works?

“I never had a problem at Radford University,” said former student Julie Rudd.  “But I have heard of people getting strikes and being suspended for one can of beer.”

RU explains the codes of conduct and judicial board review in the student handbook and online on the university’s website.  The explanation of the process is vague because every review is different.  The student handbook explains how many strikes are accumulated for certain actions, but these are guidelines and are subject to change depending on the nature of the incident.

The Judicial Board is comprised of Assistant Dean of Students David Horton, an elected administrator, and one trained university student.  Dean Horton sat down to further explain the Judicial Board in hopes of helping students understand the process and their rights.

Dean Horton: One of the things we stress about the Radford University conduct system is it affords the student the right of due process.  It is a fundamentally fair system free from discrimination.  Once an allegation is brought forth, there is nothing that automatically happens other than we make the student aware of what occurred and encourage them to come speak with us to discuss the incident.

Jason Coleman: What happens when you initially talk to a student?

DH: Once a student is made aware of an incident that has occurred, we have a meeting where the student has the opportunity to share their side of the story to express the opinions that they feel is important.  Then I will talk about the information I have, information from police reports, or information that another student has given me.  They get to choose whether they are responsible.  If they want to accept responsibility then I will assign sanctions.

JC: What are the sanctions that are usually placed upon students?

DH: What I try to do is find something educational that helps them move beyond the incident.  Whether that student takes advantage of that education is up to them.  Usually we will place some level of probation on them.  There will be another task such as a paper or community service.  At this time you need to be at a heightened state of alert and make very intentional decisions because if you violate the standards at this time, it will be treated more severely the second time.

JC: What if a student does not want to take responsibility for the actions?

DH: Students can choose to appeal the sanctions if they feel they are inappropriate.  Typically this only occurs when it is something extreme and they might be suspended.  If you disagree with what you’re being accused, “I absolutely didn’t do this,” we will schedule an administrative hearing which has another administrator, myself, and the violator.  Both cases would be presented and we will make a decision about what occurred.  In more extreme cases a board is brought together made up of faculty, staff, and a student to make a decision on what they thought occurred.

JC: What if the student still does not agree with the sanctions?

DH: The student has the opportunity to appeal at every step.  We advise students to take this seriously; no one is going to make you take responsibility.  If the student appeals, we will go to a hearing board where the student and the university will plead their case.  If a student wants to bring someone in as a witness they can.  They can pull together any evidence they see pertinent or they can just wing it.  The hearing board takes that information and thinks, “is it more likely than not that the student did what they were accused of doing?”  We are deciding whether you are eligible to be a student at the university, and if you are found to be more likely than not, sanctions will be made.

JC: What is the evidence that is presented at the hearing?

DH: We will get a police report and I will ask an officer to testify and they may have a lot of evidence.  The vast majority of problems we see are alcohol, drugs and plagiarism.  In the first two there is not a lot of physical evidence, it depends on the case.

JC: How do you get reports of incidents that happen off campus?

DH: We will get this information from the authorities or the police docket.  Our jurisdiction is, if you are a student of Radford, you are responsible for the standards whenever and wherever you are.  We expect our students to uphold our standards wherever they are and we will deal with it if we feel it is important for the university.

JC: Do students typically go in front of the Judicial Board before they go to court in whatever county or city they were found to have committed said act?

DH: Almost always; we will typically work it as quickly as possible.  One of our goals is that we help address the behavior before it can happen again.  But my goal is to make sure things are done in a few weeks for a couple of reasons: the most important thing is to ensure the health and safety of the campus and the health and safety of the individual.  We have had people who get violations three days in a row.  The vast majority of the students will have only one issue and it will be over and done with, though there are some repeat offenders.

JC: Later, if the court case is dropped and the student has already been found guilty by Judicial Board, what happens then?

DH: It is important to note that these are two separate processes.  The officer may have not done something correct and change the outcome that way.  What happens on the court side does not impact us and our investigation.  It starts from a single incident but moves forward in two different branches.  The judge could expunge the case and put the student on a probationary period.  We provide education, we are still going to hold you accountable and if you continue to do such behavior here at Radford University we are not going to allow you to continue to be a student.

JC: Do many students take the opportunity to appeal or do most students take responsibility?

DH: Many students accept responsibility and we are really proud of them when they choose to do so because they are recognizing, “you know what, I made a mistake, and this is what I’m going to do to get it behind me.”  No one is going to force you to accept sanctions, after the review you have 48 hours to appeal.  Those who don’t like the system will sometimes take the easiest route, let the chips fall where they may.  I don’t recommend this but it is their choice to defend themselves in that situation.

JC: Do you believe students are intimidated by the process?

DH: I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated; it’s tough.  That’s why I ask students to sit right here with me and talk.  I don’t yell, I don’t scream, it’s a discussion.  I know there is some intimidation factor, I get that.  Your meeting with someone who holds your fate in the university in their hands but it’s not done in a way that is designed to make you feel like you don’t have a voice or an opportunity to defend yourself.  Everything about our process is transparent; we want students to know they’re meeting with a peer, not just administrators and staff, but a student as well.  Students have the right to an advisor that can help lessen the intimidation factor.

Last semester, 36 cases were referred to Judicial Board, of which seven cases were found to not be responsible for all charges.  Of these 36 cases, seven resulted in suspension from the university for a period of time, and four resulted in dismissal from the university.

According to the Radford University Police log, from January 2010 to November of 2010, there were 88 cases of drunk in public, of which 33 involved individuals of legal drinking age.

With Quadfest rapidly approaching, many students are more focused on letting loose than upcoming exams.  Dean Horton advises students to think ahead before they find themselves up for Judicial Board Review.

“As an adult you can have an adult beverage, but by choosing to do so, you’re choosing to take a risk running afoul with the law,” Dean Horton said.  “To make the university function in the best way possible, we need to have a general agreement to what we expect from society, and it is not a good idea to drink too much.”