As Virginia Tech continues to extend its policies on student conduct, the process itself continues to stay the same despite a shift in student rights in the neighboring state of North Carolina.
In August, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law, known as the Students & Administration Act, granting the state’s public university students the right to have an attorney or non-attorney advocate represent them in campus disciplinary courts, making the law the first of its kind in the U.S.
At Tech, the student conduct process focuses on education, and as such, an advisor or attorney is not permitted to speak on their behalf.
“We’re trying to help students learn, and it’s hard to be able to have a conversation with the student and help them learn if they have someone with them that’s in the middle and not allowing the conversation with the student,” said Angela Simmons, director of Student Conduct.
To achieve that conversation, the student conduct process has two different steps students can go through — a formal hearing and an “agreed resolution meeting.”
Though “more egregious” offenses go directly to a formal hearing, Simmons said, many conduct referrals go through the agreed resolution meeting. During a resolution meeting, the student in question is invited into the student conduct office to discuss the report filed, whether or not there was a conduct violation.
If there’s an agreement in the meeting, the issue is resolved. However, if the issue is not resolved in the meeting, it goes on to a formal hearing. There, a student conduct officer hears the case to determine whether the Hokie Handbook, university’s code of conduct, was violated and makes the final decision.
In the case that the results revoke a student’s privileges, they have the option to appeal.
The types of reports filed by students vary each academic year, however.
The Hokie Handbook is updated annually to address new trends in student conduct. During the 2012-2013 academic year, issues not covered by the code of conduct had surfaced, requiring officials to make necessary changes.
“Things in our culture, society and students are dynamic, and so it’s important that we review those policies and procedures every year and update them,” said Frank Shushok, associate vice president of Student Affairs.
The new provisions include drug paraphernalia as a violation, unauthorized entry at off-campus locations and unauthorized recording and distribution of images that are “likely to cause distress, or damage to one’s reputation.”
While the code has always applied to students regardless of their location, a recurring theme in certain activities led to an extension of policies. Last year, following reports of several students regarding distribution of images and recordings without consent, Student Conduct saw the need to tailor the code of conduct.
“For the victim, who was also a student, it was a big deal to them because they felt they had been violated and the university did not have a recourse to do that. That forced the primary option to be the legal system,” Shushok said.
In many cases, students look for an alternative to criminal charges.
“Fundamentally, the Student Conduct process is about education and restoring people to sense a community and relationship of one another. The criminal justice system is about accountability to the law so the mission of the two systems is very different,” Shushok said.
In order to amend the code of conduct, changes to the Student Conduct go through a meticulous process in the spring of each year. First, faculty, staff and students meet to review and revise the code of conduct and then take it to the Commission of Student Affairs. After two readings at the CSA, they proceed to the University Council and finally the Board of Visitors for approval.
Once the new provisions are put in place, students can report to Student Conduct and begin the process of resolving the issue.
Allison Haley agrees the changes are a step in the right direction for Student Conduct.
“The more protection students have, the better,” said Haley, a senior communication major. “If someone is caught violating another student’s privacy in this way, I believe there should be consequences.”
Although Student Conduct is concerned with holding students accountable for their actions, Simmons said the process serves a larger purpose.
“It really is an opportunity to sit down with the student and talk about what the incident was and how we can help them move forward and be successful as a student at Virginia Tech,” Simmons said.