Faculty Senate hears update on student judicial affairs process

Improving overall understanding of the Fundamental Standard and Honor Code is important, the senate hears. Meanwhile, the Office of Community Standards also is working to identify further ways of strengthening the process for student conduct cases.

L.A. Cicero Susan Fleischmann talking to the Faculty Senate

Susan Fleischmann, associate dean and director of the Office of Community Standards, addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Stanford continues working to refine its process for handling student conduct cases to make it more efficient and effective for all involved, the Faculty Senate heard Thursday.

Susan Fleischmann, who became associate dean and director of the Office of Community Standards in June, told the senate that she is focusing in her first year on outreach and collaboration – with students, to improve understanding and communication; and with faculty, to determine how her office can work with them more effectively.

"We want to get out there and discuss with students their obligations under the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard and really get a sense of how we can best reinvigorate their ownership of both the codes," said Fleischmann, who before coming to Stanford practiced law in both the public and private sectors, with an emphasis on compliance and ethics.

At Stanford, the Fundamental Standard, established in 1896, sets overall expectations for student conduct. The Honor Code, established in 1921, defines standards for faculty and students with respect to the integrity of academic work.

The Office of Community Standards administers the student conduct system through which alleged violations of the Fundamental Standard and Honor Code are heard. The process is guided by a Student Judicial Charter, created by Stanford students in cooperation with faculty and staff in 1997, that gives students a central role in establishing judicial policy and hearing individual cases. Judicial affairs matters overall are overseen by the Board on Judicial Affairs, a 15-member panel of faculty, students and staff.

In presenting to the senate, Fleischmann and Eamonn Callan, professor in the Graduate School of Education, referenced an 18-month study of the judicial affairs process that was completed in 2012. Callan co-chaired that review panel of faculty, staff and students.

L.A. CiceroEamonn Callan talking to the Faculty Senate.

Eamonn Callan, professor in the Graduate School of Education who co-chaired a panel to review the judicial affairs process, addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Callan said one of the key points emerging from the review was the importance of faculty communicating with students about their reciprocal ethical responsibilities in a scholarly community. It's something faculty should talk about with students on an ongoing basis, not just in the context of cheating, Callan said.

"There is still work to be done – in particular, work to be done in raising awareness and understanding among faculty and students about their mutual ethical responsibilities," Callan said. "The students we bring here are people who have, for the most part, a strong sense of ethical integrity that goes beyond an embargo on cheating. But if the only time we talk about ethical responsibility with our students is when the topic of cheating comes up, then I think we do not serve them well."

A number of reforms in the judicial process have been completed as a result of the 2012 internal review, Callan and Fleischmann said – including enhanced training for judicial process panelists, procedural changes to facilitate efficient hearing of cases, new alternatives to the hearing process for resolving some cases, and a new name and organizational structure for the Office of Community Standards.

Some other recommendations remain in process or would require changes to the Student Judicial Charter.

In addition, Fleischmann acknowledged that the process of hearing Honor Code cases, for allegations of academic cheating and related issues, can sometimes be discouraging to faculty who report such cases – both because of the time involved and the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof for such cases.

The judicial process includes options that can reduce the burden on all involved, she said, and her office is exploring others.

For instance, the process for Honor Code cases such as those involving cheating includes an "Early Resolution Option" for cases where students are in the judicial process for the first time and do not contest the allegations made against them. This option shortens the process and results in a standard sanction for the student. An increasing proportion of Honor Code cases at Stanford are being resolved this way, Fleischmann said. In 2013-14, 65 charged Honor Code cases were resolved through the Early Resolution Option, while 18 cases went through the hearing process.

In addition, Fleischmann said her office wants to explore with faculty whether another alternative to traditional hearings – a process known as Restorative Justice – might be applied to certain Honor Code cases. Restorative Justice, currently used for some Fundamental Standard cases, is a collaborative conflict-resolution process in which the emphasis is placed on acknowledging and repairing harm done to members of the community.

Thursday's discussion focused mostly on judicial affairs cases involving alleged academic misconduct. Stanford's approach to issues of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking and relationship violence, including the judicial process for such cases, is being reviewed separately by the Provost's Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices.

The full minutes of the senate meeting will be available in the near future on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for Dec. 4.