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Faculty Senate agrees to new student disciplinary system

Faculty uncertainty about how to handle cases of suspected student cheating was much in evidence at the Faculty Senate on May 1, when the senators discussed a new judicial system for handling alleged student violations of student behavior codes.

The senate approved the proposal for a new student judicial charter that includes provisions for greater student involvement in adjudication of cases. The student body voted for the change last month during the annual student government elections. The new policy will clear its final hurdle soon when Stanford President Gerhard Casper signs it.

Casper told senators he intended to approve the new charter "promptly" but needed to consult with staff members about how soon the machinery could be put in place. Implementation would normally occur Sept. 1, he said, but that may not be possible because the charter calls for expanding the full-time judicial affairs staff from one to two people and for appointing and training students, faculty and staff to serve on six-member judicial panels - juries of sorts - that will decide cases.

Several senators expressed confusion or discomfort about the way faculty deal with their obligations to report cases of suspected cheating to the judicial affairs office. The university's Honor Code requires both faculty and students to be honest and to take action when they discover that someone else in the community has been dishonest. It calls on the faculty not to proctor exams or to "create undue temptations" that might cause students to violate their agreement not to receive unpermitted aid in their academic work.

Professor Mark Zoback, chair of the Committee of 15 that drafted the new charter, said one of the reasons the old system didn't work was because faculty had lost confidence in it and some were handing out their own punishments for suspected cheating. The committee doesn't want individual faculty to act as "judge, jury and executioner," he said, because that subverts due process.

In response to questions, Casper said he thought it was possible that disciplinary action could be brought against a faculty member who sanctioned a student outside of the university's formal judicial system, although he knew of no such action having occurred.

Jennifer Perkins, acting judicial affairs officer, told senators that she cannot press formal charges of cheating when faculty members, their teaching assistants or student complainants have no solid evidence. The new charter, like the last one written in 1968, requires those responsible for deciding student guilt or innocence to be convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt," the same burden used by U.S. courts in criminal cases.

About two-thirds of the cases handled annually involve the Honor Code rather than the Fundamental Standard, which covers nonacademic behavior, Perkins said. Of the 162 inquiries made to the judicial office last academic year, 98 prompted investigations and 48 resulted in penalties for misconduct. Under the current system, those penalties are usually imposed by an administrator because accused students have the option of choosing administrative hearings over hearings by panels that include students. The new system would require formal complaints to go to a panel that includes four students, and complainants could insist that a panel hold a hearing even when no formal complaint is recommended by the judicial officer, an administrator who will act as prosecutor of formal cases. A second administrator, the judicial adviser, will be the chief judicial officer and will serve as a neutral adviser to all parties involved.

Faculty senators quizzed Perkins and Zoback on whether it was appropriate for them to have discussions with students they suspected of cheating before consulting judicial affairs and if they were obligated to file a formal complaint if a student admitted cheating to them. Arthur Veinott, professor of engineering-economic systems and operations research, said that "an awful lot of the cases I have encountered have been gray areas."

But sometimes, he said, "students are more willing to admit [to a faculty member that] they cheated in situations where they are not going to be thrown out of the university. That troubles me."

In its report. the Committee of 15 said that many students and others wrongly assume that judicial convictions result in expulsion. "In reality, it is extremely rare for any student to be expelled from Stanford. There have been only a handful of such cases during the past 20 years, according to the report.

John Bravman, professor of materials science and senior associate dean of student affairs at the engineering school, suggested that faculty can get into ethical predicaments, similar to those of police officers who elicit confessions without first advising suspects of their Miranda rights. He noted that exam blue books advise students of their Honor Code obligations but no such warnings are automatically given on other assignments, which could lead some students to conclude that collaboration is acceptable on them.

Law Professor Robert Weisberg suggested the Miranda comparison was an appropriate concern because professors' confrontations of students can be "coercive." He suggested it would be inappropriate for a teacher to say to a student, "C'mon ­ fess up to what you really did."

Franklin Orr, dean of earth sciences, offered a suggested approach from his own experience. In a conversation with a student, he said something like "Gosh, I looked at this and the evidence looks like cheating. I'm honor bound to report it. Is there any explanation you would like to offer before I do that?"

Orr suggested the new judicial adviser prepare a pamphlet with sample situations that faculty members and teaching assistants could consult as questions arose.

Perkins said she offered orientation seminars for teaching assistants this year but the turnout was low. The senate's discussion "clarified the need for education of the faculty," Zoback said. "It's clear maybe that's the next step."


By Kathleen O'Toole