How does the College balance the confidentiality of a hearing with the community's interest in knowing that disruptive behavior has consequences?
This is a delicate balance. On the side of confidentiality, students are more likely to participate in a hearing with candor when they are assured that this information will remain private. This applies to students responding to charges, to witnesses, and to alleged victims of other students' behavior.
On the side of disclosure, it is important to community members to know that Middlebury holds people accountable for their actions, especially when those actions have had a negative impact on others in the community.
We strive for a reasonable compromise. We support the confidentiality of judicial proceedings in a number of ways. Board members are not notified in advance of their arrival at a hearing the details of the case, and they pledge to maintain the confidentiality of all proceedings after the hearing is over. This can be difficult for board members, as other students are often aware of more high-profile cases and are naturally interested in learning more about the hearing details. It can be especially challenging when rumors are accepted as fact, as is often the case in small residential communities.
We also support disclosure by providing the Judicial Log, which offers a summary of all cases heard by the AJB and CJB or resolved through Disposition Without Hearing, or cases in which Commons deans have assigned official College discipline. While the outcome of each case is dictated by its particular circumstances, we hope this provides a general sense of the kinds of issues that arise at Middlebury and the range of outcomes they generate.
What determines if a hearing will take place?
Not all alleged policy violations result in AJB or CJB hearings. Different factors influence this outcome for the AJB and the CJB.
When a professor reports suspicions of Honor Code violations to the judicial affairs officer, the judicial affairs officer may determine that there is simply not enough evidence to move ahead with charges. This generally happens in cases where the evidence is largely circumstantial, and a plausible explanation may be available to explain suspicious behavior. In cases like this, professors are encouraged to share their concerns with the student(s) in question, and to reiterate their standards for academic integrity in their course and their accompanying policies regarding authorized and unauthorized aid, citation policy, etc.
When there appears to be enough evidence to warrant further investigation, professors notify the student that the situation has been turned over to the judicial affairs officer. Students then meet with the judicial affairs officer to discuss their options, which include petitioning for Disposition Without a Hearing, or an AJB hearing. The Middlebury Handbook states the following:
1a. Disposition without hearing.
Upon receiving written notification of the charges, the accused student has the option of petitioning the Judicial Affairs Officer for a final disposition of the charges. The Judicial Affairs Officer will review the petition. Students who take full responsibility for the charges, and in cases where other parties are not impacted, will have the opportunity for a disposition without hearing. After reviewing the case, consulting with other administrators, and considering the best interests of the College, the Judicial Affairs Officer will determine a final disposition of the charges, as well as any sanctions that would accompany an acknowledgement of guilt. The student will not have the opportunity to reject the disposition. In circumstances where the Judicial affairs Officer (after appropriate consultation) determines that a final disposition of the charges is not in the best interests of the College, the petition will be rejected and the case will go forward to a hearing.
Students who do not contest the charges may petition for disposition without hearing; otherwise, a hearing will be scheduled. In cases where all parties agree on what took place, and the student takes responsibility for his/her actions, this petition is generally granted. In situations where the allegations are contested, a hearing is scheduled.
In cases of alleged non-academic policy violation, the Commons deans and the judicial affairs officer generally consult with each other and with other colleagues as appropriate to determine whether further investigation is warranted.
Commons deans and the judicial affairs officer have the authority to assign unofficial College discipline to students without a hearing. Unofficial discipline includes letters of warning, and letters of reprimand (parents are notified), as well as fines as dictated by College policy. They can also assign disciplinary probation, which is official College discipline.
In cases where if the alleged behavior is substantiated, probation or suspension are possible outcomes, the Commons deans, the judicial affairs officer, and in some cases, the dean of the College, will determine whether a hearing is warranted. In this case, the students are notified that they have been charged with an alleged policy violation, and a meeting is scheduled with the judicial affairs officer. They, too, may petition for disposition without a hearing (also called a Dean's Sanction). Any student who would prefer a hearing may have one.
What kinds of cases do the boards typically hear?
The AJB generally hears cases that fall into two categories: allegations of cheating, and allegations of plagiarism. Because faculty members do not have the authority to address cheating and plagiarism cases on their own, they are required to report any suspicions they may have to the judicial affairs officer.
The CJB hears allegations of College policy violations that are of a nature that is serious enough that formal College discipline--i.e. disciplinary probation or suspension--is a possible outcome. These cases have included but are not limited to a variety of alleged policy violations, including theft; disrespect of College officials; violence in word or deed; sexual assault; hazing; and violations of Middlebury's general regulations, which includes "flagrant respect for persons, flouting of common standards of decency, behavior unbecoming of Middlebury College student, or continued behavior that demonstrates contempt for the generally accepted values of the intellectual community."
Not all reports result in a hearing; please see "What determines if a hearing will take place?" for more information.
Who is informed when a hearing takes place?
When a student has been charged with violating the Honor Code and a hearing has been scheduled, the professor of the class is notified and participates in the hearing, and the Commons dean is notified. No one else, including academic advisers, and other professors, staff members or students, are notified unless they are participating in the hearing as witnesses.
When a CJB hearing is scheduled, the Commons dean is informed of the charges and of the hearing date. Other students or staff members who are participating in the hearing as witnesses are also informed.
When students are found guilty of charges in AJB or CJB hearings, if the outcome involves a reprimand or official College discipline, a copy of the outcome letter is sent to parents. Commons deans are also notified of the outcome of AJB and CJB cases, and the professor of the course is notified of the outcome of an AJB hearing.
When students are found not guilty in AJB hearings, the professor and Commons deans are notified, and in CJB hearings, the Commons dean is notified.
How is a sanction developed?
When board members find a student guilty of policy violations, the secretary to the board (who is also the judicial affairs officer) provides the members with information about the student's history of prior conduct. When the violation is a student's first offense, a small measure of lenience may be offered. Because discipline is cumulative at Middlebury, students with disciplinary histories may receive more severe penalties if they have a track record of policy violation.
In each case, however, the sanction is developed with careful consideration for what board members have learned about the context of the event. This may include:
- The impact of the violation on others;
- The availability of other choices instead of violating the policy;
- Cooperation with Public Safety staff or professors during their investigation of the violation;
- The extent to which the student has accepted responsibility for his/her actions and has taken positive and appropriate actions prior to the hearing;
- Board members' assessment of the truthfulness of the testimony they have heard from witnesses and respondents;
- Mitigating circumstances.
Sanctions may include multiple components, and because of the variables above, they may differ between two people found guilty of violating the same policy.
For academic violations, sanctions may include:
- An F on the assignment
- An F for the class
- A letter of warning
- A letter of reprimand (goes to parents)
- Academic probation (official College discipline)
- Suspension for shorter or longer periods of time (official College discipline)
- Expulsion (official College discipline)
Sanctions for non-academic violations may include:
- A letter of warning
- A letter of reprimand (goes to parents)
- Disciplinary probation (official College discipline)
- Suspension (official College discipline)
- Expulsion (official College discipline)
They may also include other elements as the circumstances dictate, such as letters of apology; monetary fines or charges; or alcohol assessments.
How does voting work in determining an outcome or a sanction?
The standard for a finding of guilt in an AJB or CJB hearing is "preponderance of evidence": that is, it is more likely than not, based on the evidence, that the student is guilty.
When determining guilt in an AJB or CJB hearing, if more than one board member does not believe a student is guilty, the student is found not guilty. In cases where a student is charged with multiple policy violations, a separate vote is taken on each alleged violation; it is therefore possible for a student to be found not guilty of some charges, and guilty of others, in the same hearing.
If a student has been found guilty, the board works together to develop an appropriate sanction (see "How are sanctions developed?"). A simple majority vote is used to determine sanctions.
If a student is found not guilty, a letter will be placed in the student's file for the remainder of his/her time at Middlebury to acknowledge that a hearing took place and that the student was found not guilty. That letter will be removed once the student graduates, and there will be no indication in the student's record of charges or outcome.
Why do students found guilty of identical violations sometimes receive different sanctions?
Discipline is cumulative at Middlebury. Once a student has been found guilty of a policy violation, the board will be informed of that student's disciplinary record. If a student has previously been involved in other policy violations, the severity of the sanction may be increased. Similarly, students with clean disciplinary records may experience a small measure of leniency in their sanction depending on the circumstances.
Sanctions are also developed with an awareness of mitigating circumstances. Boards may use their discretion in developing sanctions that are as appropriate as possible to each individual in each case based on the nuances of that particular case.
What are the avenues for appealing a hearing outcome?
Students found guilty through an AJB or a CJB hearing may appeal for a new hearing on three grounds. The Handbook defines these as:
1. discovery of significant new factual material not available to the body with original jurisdiction; however, deliberate omissions from testimony are not grounds for an appeal;
2. violation of stated procedures when the violation prevented fundamental fairness. Determination that a material procedural error has occurred may result in a rehearing of the case using correct procedures, but a procedural error is not itself a factor in reducing the penalty when the appeal upholds a conviction. Immaterial procedural errors will not be grounds for a rehearing;
3. discovery of significant mitigating circumstances, not fully considered by the body with original jurisdiction, which would justify reduction in a penalty.
The judicial affairs officer is invited to review the appeal and provide a response, to which the student may submit a final response. These materials, as well as the recording of the hearing, are considered by the dean of the faculty in consultation with a faculty and student representative from Community Council. The job of the this committee is not to rehear the case, but to decide if a full or limited rehearing of the case is warranted. They may either refer the matter to the Judicial Appeals board for a new hearing or for a limited rehearing, or they may deny the appeal.
Appeals may not be made on the grounds that the sanction was too harsh, that the student chose not to share information s/he now feels is relevant, or that the student did not feel s/he did a good job in the original hearing.
If a full or partial rehearing of the case is recommended, a Judicial Appeals board will be convened. According to the Handbook:
The Judicial Appeals Board consists of five members, each having one vote. There will be a member of the academic administration, appointed by the president, who serves as co-chair; two voting faculty members and one alternate faculty member selected by the Faculty Council; and two students selected according to the procedure specified below.
ii. Selection of Student Members
When the Judicial Appeals Board has been directed to hear an appeal, two students will serve on the board for that case. At the judicial training session at the beginning of the year, three students from the Community Judicial Board will be selected to serve as regular and alternate members of the Judicial Appeals Board for cases involving the Academic Judicial Board. Three students from the Academic Judicial Board will be elected to serve as regular and alternate members of the Judicial Appeals Board for cases involving the Community Judicial Board. One of the student members will co-chair the appeal along with the co-chair from the academic administration.
How are board members chosen?
As per the Middlebury Handbook, The Academic Judicial Board consists of seven members: a member of the faculty or academic administration appointed by the president, two faculty members, and four students. There is also one faculty alternate, and there are two student alternates.
The Community Judicial Board consists of eight members: the dean of the College, one staff member, two faculty members, and four student members. There is one staff alternate, one faculty alternate, and two student alternates.
The application process for student board members takes place in the early spring. All students are notified by the judicial affairs officer via email of the opportunity to apply to one or both of the judicial boards, and must submit a written application. A small selection committee including Community Council members and, occasionally, graduating student board members, is convened by the judicial affairs officer. This committee selects which applicants to interview, and submits the names of the students it selects as board members and alternates to Community Council for final approval. This committee also assigns students to the AJB or CJB, based on applicant preference and on the compositional needs of each board. It is desirable to have on each board a balance of gender, and a diverse composition of students from different years and backgrounds.
Faculty board members are appointed by the Committee on Committees, led by the dean of the faculty. Staff members are nominated by Staff Council for appointment by the president.
What training do board members receive?
Board members participate in a training program that covers a variety of different general topics about the process. Then members break into the AJB and CJB to discuss issues specific to each board.
Although the training is reviewed and updated each year, it generally includes discussion of the folllowing elements:
· Philosophy of the judicial boards
· Goals of the judicial process
· Board structures, including the Appeals Board
· Expectations of board members
· Students' rights
· How a hearing works
· How to frame questions
· The decision-making process: fact finding and deliberation
Training for the AJB includes more detailed discussion of the Honor Code and its history and interpretation, as well as the role of faculty in academic violations. Training for the CJB includes a detailed training on hearing sexual assault cases.
Although some training sessions involve formal presentations from staff, faculty, or consultants from outside of the College, there is also a good deal of mentoring that takes place when returning members of the board share their experiences and the knowledge they've gained from dealing with challenging hearings.