Academic Policy changes decrease student voice

By Chris Bulfinch

Proposed changes to the hearing panels for issues of academic dishonesty and social misconduct, as well as the implementation of a first offender policy for issues of academic dishonesty, have been the topic of discussions among faculty, administrators and students for several weeks. After an initial meeting with members of Honor Council and the Student Government Association on Feb. 9 to broach the issues, students, faculty, and certain administrators agreed to reconvene at a later date to continue addressing student concerns and considering minor changes.

The proposed changes, which entail the implementation of a First Offender Policy (FOP) for select cases of academic dishonesty, and the reconstitution of hearing panels for cases of both academic dishonesty and social misconduct, will be voted on by the faculty on March 8. If the proposal is approved at that meeting, the changes will be implemented. The changes would significantly increase the influence that the faculty has in disciplinary proceedings, giving them the majority vote in cases of academic dishonesty, and giving them a significant voice on matters of social misconduct, a voice that they had not previously had. The proposed changes are the result of a long process involving faculty, administrators, and some students; though it is worth noting that campus-wide student input was only sought starting this semester, and even so, the response from students has been sparse.

The proposed changes seek to address a number of salient issues on campus. The first is the low rate of reporting for cases of academic dishonesty. A survey found that two-thirds of instances of academic dishonesty cases are handled without any administrative oversight. In essence, the vast majority of instances of cheating are handled between a professor and student “behind closed doors,” as it were. The FOP would prevent faculty from imposing grade penalties without involving the Dean of Students Office.

The change of the composition of academic hearing panels helps to promote faculty involvement in academic dishonesty cases, cases which deal with issues integral to the educational process at the college. Faculty participation on academic dishonesty hearing panels could help to make faculty more aware of the prevalence of academic dishonesty issues, as well as acquainting them with the adjudicatory process. According to a survey, only 37% of respondents felt “very familiar” with the disciplinary process for matters of academic integrity, and only 24% of faculty had ever served on a hearing panel; greater faculty presence on hearing panels would likely make all faculty more cognizant of the procedure.

The reasoning behind the changes to the social misconduct panels strikes a different tone; the faculty would like to have a better sense of what social life is like here on campus, and participating on hearing panels is, at least in theory, a way of getting faculty better acquainted with student life outside of the classroom. The faculty wanted to assure students that their desire to participate in social misconduct hearing panels was not borne out of any desire for quasi-parental oversight but out of a genuine desire to understand student social life. Disagreement exists around whether such a method is the faculty’s best avenue for learning some of the realties of student social life.

The meeting on February 25 was attended by a number of faculty, administrators and students, who picked up the discussion of the proposed changes where it had been left on the ninth. Students expressed concern about the reconstitution of the hearing panels, particularly the social misconduct panels, where previously the faculty had had no voice. The faculty seemed receptive to the idea of modest alterations to their proposed changes.

The proposed changes to academic affairs policy are on the cusp of being voted on by the faculty. If the changes are approved at the faculty meeting on March 8, they will go into effect. The SGA has resolved to have representatives at the meeting, but the vote will occur irrespective of their presence. These changes may not directly affect all students on campus, or even most, but it is a significant change and is representative of a shift in college adjudicatory policy, one that affords a more significant voice to the faculty.

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