Volume 7, Number 1, 1997

Technology enhances student judicial system process

The UD student judicial system has been enhanced using technology, according to Nancy Geist Giacomini, student life. The system has been streamlined to ensure that students receive timely and fair resolutions to their cases.

The Office of the Dean of Students processes cases brought by Public Safety and by the faculty, which may involve academic dishonesty. The Office of Residence Life handles infractions that occur in residence halls. Appeals are reviewed by an appellate board.

When charged, a student immediately receives a notification for a pre-hearing and has three days to comply. If a student pleads guilty at the pre-hearing, sanctions, such as a fine, are applied, parents are notified by letter and there is no appeal.

"The pre-hearing is important in several ways," Giacomini said. "It is educational because a session with a professional staff member helps a student to realize the effect of his or her actions personally and within the community. It is an opportunity for a professional to meet with a student who may be having difficulties in other ways and help resolve these problems. In some cases, the student may need help academically or might profit from counseling. It's a one-on-one opportunity to steer a student in the right direction."

If a student pleads not guilty, then a hearing is held with a professional staff member who determines whether the student is guilty or not guilty. If not guilty, the file is destroyed. If guilty, the student is sanctioned or has five days to appeal in writing.

Members of the appellate board, which includes four faculty, four professional staff members and six students, meet and review appeals. The board may deny the appeal or keep the case open for further action, such as seeking further information or reducing sanctions.

Although this total process is longer than a simple pre-hearing, the time should be cut in half, thanks to the new information system implemented over the summer, Giacomini said.

Last year, a total of 1,383 cases was handled--455 by residence life and 928 by the Office of the Dean of Students. Of these, 131 cases were dropped or the student was found not guilty.

Most of the cases handled by the Office of the Dean of Students involve alcohol, drugs or disruptive behavior. "We are up front and are clear about what constitutes an offense and the sanctions that will follow," Giacomini said.

The number of cases involving alcohol has risen from 440 in 1994-95 to 457 in 1995-96 to 658 in 1996-97, and part of the reason for this increase is a step-up in enforcement of alcohol policies, Giacomini said.

"The University has had a good judicial system, which we wish to keep intact. By using technology, however, there will be fewer delays, and cases can concluded in a timely fashion," she said.

The Office of Residence Life has a similar system, and the residence life staff handles infractions and sanctions, according to Kathryn G. Goldman, residence life. Formerly, resident assistants were witnesses in the judicial system. Now, they have received training to become the charging parties who report infractions in the residence halls. The incident report is sent to the area coordinator who reviews it, and a pre-hearing notice is given to the student, who must attend the pre-hearing in three days.

Hall directors then meet with the student for the pre-hearing, and the student pleads not guilty or guilty.

"These meetings are important in getting students on the right track. Our goal is the well-being of students and their success in college. The meetings also pinpoint problems that otherwise may not surface," Goldman said.

If the student pleads guilty, sanctions are administered and parental notification is sent. If the student pleads not guilty, the file is sent to the Office of Residence Life, and an administrative hearing is held by the assistant area coordinator. If found guilty, the student may appeal the ruling to the appellate board.

Freshmen receive a warning for minor infractions, but no students receive warnings for alcohol and drug-related behavior, Goldman said, since they are fully familiar with regulations. Where appropriate, there is a referral to alcohol education or substance abuse counseling.

Fines are $50 for a first offense and $100 for a second offense, and parents are notified of the incident and the guilty finding. Repeated violations can result in suspension from the residence halls and the University.

"We have worked with Lynda Ruggerio, who coordinated project support from Information Technologies staff, including Joy Lynam, MIS, and Ron Nichols, User Services. The help provided by IT was invaluable in setting up the new system," Goldman said.

Goldman conceived the project and chaired the committee, with Giacomini coordinating changes for the Office of the Dean of Students. Instrumental in the implementation of the project were Chuck Shermeyer, Kathleen Kerr, Frank Newton, Brenda Irwin, all residence life, and Barb Morris, dean of students' office.

"Students and staff alike will benefit from a quick turnaround of cases, which can be resolved in 12 days' time for appealed cases, instead of sometimes months under the old system," Goldman said.

-Sue Swyers Moncure