Office of Community Standards emerges to oversee judicial process

A new name, new director and new organizational structure reflect the broad range of responsibilities and emphasis on education of the office responsible for the administration of the Student Judicial Charter and the review of allegations of Honor Code and Fundamental Standard violations.

The Student Affairs office that oversees the university's internal student conduct process has changed its name to better reflect the breadth of the office's responsibilities and its emphasis on education.

The Office of Community Standards was created last fall to replace the Office of Judicial Affairs. A new director has been appointed and new procedures have been implemented based on the recommendations of a faculty, staff and student panel tasked in 2010 with reviewing the judicial process at Stanford. The 18-month study, completed in May 2012, focused on the procedures that enable the university to process allegations of Honor Code and Fundamental Standard violations.

The Honor Code, established in 1921, defines expectations of faculty and students for integrity in academic work. The Fundamental Standard, established in 1896, sets the standard for student conduct.

The changes reinforce the centrality of student involvement in the student conduct system, according to Chris Griffith, dean of student life.

"The importance of student participation in all aspects of the student conduct process can't be overstated," said Griffith. "This process was created primarily by students for students, and its integrity relies on students and their commitment to the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard."

As a result of the review, Koren Bakkegard, formerly associate dean of Undergraduate Advising and Research, was appointed associate dean and director of the Office of Community Standards. She has been overseeing the reorganization of the office and the implementation of new procedures. Among the changes implemented in the past nine months are:

  • A reorganization that increases accountability and clarifies roles among judicial staff members
  • Incorporation of student group conduct process and informal resolution options
  • Enhanced methods of soliciting student feedback after hearings are completed
  • Increased training for student, staff and faculty volunteer hearing panelists
  • Better coordination with ASSU (Associated Students) Nominations Commission to ensure a larger and more diverse pool of student judicial panelists

The faculty, staff and student review committee was appointed by President John Hennessy and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman and advised by a nationally recognized expert on higher education judicial systems. In their report, committee members concluded, "The judicial process at Stanford is not broken, and no radical overhaul needs to be undertaken. On the other hand, some substantial reforms are required if we are to keep faith with our core values as an academic community."

As a result, the committee recommended steps to better communicate to the campus community an appreciation of the values reflected in the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard, institute a more efficient conduct process without sacrificing fairness or student participation, increase the educational effect of the process and maintain quality.

The committee’s review and recommendations have been the primary source of changes made to the Office of Community Standards. But Griffith said administrators have also been influenced by recommendations and insight from several students and alumni.

"It's important to remember that the judicial process at Stanford – as at many colleges and universities – is designed to foster student development and learning," she said. "It isn't designed to be adversarial, nor should it be. It is about learning from experience."

Griffith said the university's judicial processes rely on the Student Judicial Charter created in large part by Stanford students in cooperation with faculty and staff in 1997. The students who contributed to the creation of the process envisioned a student-centered system in which students would serve as hearing panelists and would speak for themselves if accused of violating the Honor Code or Fundamental Standard.

As an example of student involvement today, Griffith cited the recent passage of the Alternative Review Process (ARP) that changed the way sexual assault allegations are considered. The ARP changes were approved by the Board of Judicial Affairs, which is a standing committee that includes faculty, staff and students; the representative governments for undergraduates and graduate students; and the Faculty Senate. The changes were, in part, prompted by directions received from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

With the office reorganized and recommended changes made, Griffith said the Office of Community Standards intends to expand its outreach to the campus community beginning next fall. The intent will be to increase understanding among students of the values behind the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard.

"The review committee stressed the importance of the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard as the foundations of the academic community at Stanford," said Griffith. "But their review suggested that neither is as widely understood as they ought to be. So, beginning in the fall, we'll be refocusing our efforts at helping our community better understand how a stronger culture of academic responsibility can be achieved. We welcome input into that process."