Review considers Stanford's Honor Code, Fundamental Standard violation resolution

L.A. Cicero Rick Yuen

Rick Yuen, assistant dean of student affairs and judicial officer

The Stanford Office of Judicial Affairs is undergoing a broad review of the process through which alleged violations of the university's Fundamental Standard and Honor Code are resolved. Both policies outline behavior expected of Stanford students. The Honor Code was established in 1921 and deals with academic conduct such as plagiarism. The Fundamental Standard, established in 1896, deals primarily with student conduct outside the classroom.

Rick Yuen, assistant dean of student affairs and judicial officer, who has been at Stanford since 1989, talks about the judicial affairs process he and his colleagues oversee, the review the office is currently conducting and the issues likely to surface as the review wraps up this quarter.


How would you describe the review Judicial Affairs is currently conducting of the judicial process?

Our internal review process is part of an overall evaluation of the Student Affairs units under Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs. Several other departmental units within Student Affairs have completed reviews as well, including the Career Development Center and the Office of Accessible Education.

Vice Provost Boardman outlined three parts to the review: an external consultant to meet with community members to study Stanford's process; our office conducting a self-assessment; and, finally, the creation of a review panel consisting of Stanford students, faculty and staff. That panel has developed four subcommittees that meet once or twice per month.

The external consultant came for a two-day visit in winter and interviewed faculty and students, judicial panelists, judicial board members and staff members in our office. The consultant will return for another visit this spring.


How would you describe the judicial process at Stanford?

The judicial process resolves cases of alleged violations of the Honor Code, which deals with academic integrity issues, and the Fundamental Standard, which deals with student conduct issues.

Since 1997, all charged cases involving alleged violations of the Honor Code or Fundamental Standard are resolved in a hearing process with hearing panelists determining responsibility. The panelists are students, faculty and staff.

In 2009, we instituted an early resolution process, which allowed for an administrative resolution to Honor Code cases rather than resolution through a hearing panel. This has been a positive development because, where appropriate, it has streamlined the process.

Also in 2009, a dean's alternate review process was introduced. We use that process to investigate and resolve cases of sexual assault and dating violence. This has also been a positive development. Both processes – early resolution and dean's alternate review process – are pilot programs through the end of 2011.


What kind of cases do we generally see at Stanford?

The majority of the 120 cases that are investigated at Stanford each year involve the Honor Code. In fact, it's about two-thirds of the cases, as compared to one-third for violations of the Fundamental Standard.

The majority of the Honor Code complaints center around plagiarism, copying and unpermitted aid – in that order. Plagiarism is the most common violation. I suspect that's because students may find themselves in a tight time crunch. They cram and possibly cut corners. They may decide to cut and paste and forget – or they run out of time – to cite properly.

The department that files the most complaints of the Honor Code is Computer Science. In Computer Science, the most common infraction is copying computer code from another student – also due to time crunch and/or cutting corners.

The most egregious cases we see involve data fabrication in research.


What kind of punishments can the judicial process result in?

The standard penalty for a first-time violation of the Honor Code is a one-quarter suspension and 40 hours of community service. Sanctions range from a formal warning up to and including expulsion.

A permanent notation is not made on the student transcript, however. But a record is kept with our office should students need to verify whether or not they violated a student code of conduct for, say, a law school application or security clearance for employers.


How is Stanford's process similar to or different from our peers'?

Stanford is different in that our process encompasses both academic issues through the Honor Code and student conduct through the Fundamental Standard. Many other colleges focus mainly on student conduct cases and not academic [cases]. Or, if they handle academic cases, there is a limitation to the type of academic cases their hearing panels will resolve. For instance, they might limit themselves to something like cheating during a final exam.

One thing that has changed for us is that we recently lowered our standard of proof from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to "preponderance of the evidence" for cases involving sexual harassment and sexual assault. Most peer colleges utilize the preponderance standard of proof for all their student conduct cases.

At Stanford, all allegations of student conduct code violations go through a panel hearing. In contrast, our peers and most colleges have an administrative hearing process. Stanford is just piloting the early resolution option for administrative resolution.


What are the primary issues involved in the review?

The review is all encompassing. The issues that likely will prompt the most discussion include the standard of proof for Honor Code cases. For instance, should that be lowered, as it has been for sexual assault cases? A second might be what the balance should be of the faculty, staff and students serving on sexual misconduct cases. Some schools have only faculty and staff serving as reviewers or panelists on sensitive cases such as allegations of sexual assault. Another issue might be separating out academic cases from student conduct cases. Should a different office oversee each type? And, should exams be proctored? Finally, there might be some proposals for charter changes, which would be permanent changes to the charter of 1997.


Do you have a timetable for the review?

We hope the pieces will come together by the end of spring quarter. More likely, it will take us into the summer months to pull all the information together.