How the Judicial Process Works
Middlebury strives to respond to alleged violations of Handbook policies with fairness and consistency. When serious policy violations may have occurred that do not include allegations of harassment of sexual misconduct, they are addressed through one of three possible avenues: the Academic Judicial Board; the Community Judicial Board; and Disposition Without Hearing.
Official judicial resolution policies may be found in the Middlebury College Handbook under General Disciplinary Processes. The information below is provided as a supplement in order to familiarize the general College community with the preparation and management of a hearing for either board, and the Disposition Without Hearing option.
The judicial process generally follows this sequence:
1. Initiation of Charges
2. Receipt of a Charge Letter
3. Meeting with the Judicial Affairs Officer
4. Respondent Pre-Hearing Preparation
5. Board Member Pre-Hearing Preparation
6. The Hearing
7. Board Deliberations
When non-academic policy violations are alleged to have taken place, they are generally documented in Incident Reports recorded by Public Safety staff. Sometimes this happens because Public Safety learns of an incident at the time it's taking place and documents what they find, and sometimes Incident Reports are generated when situations come to light after they've already occurred. When the alleged violations are sufficiently grave that suspension is a possible outcome, a CJB hearing is scheduled.
Charges of alleged Honor Code violations are generated when a professor becomes concerned through his or her own observations, or when a student reports to a professor or a dean that s/he suspects another student of violating the Honor Code. The professor then contacts the judicial affairs officer and relays the information in writing, and the professor notifies the student that s/he has done so.
Students who have been charged with violating Middlebury College Handbook policies are referred to as the "respondents." Each respondent receives a letter from the judicial affairs officer detailing the charges against him/her and providing the complete text of the policy the respondent is suspected of violating. The letter will indicate the date, time and location of the hearing, and will allow students to review relevant Incident Reports generated by the Office of Public Safety, a professor's statement in AJB cases, copies of any academic materials suspected to reflect academic dishonesty, or any other related materials to which the members of the Judicial Board will have access. A copy of this letter and its attachments are also sent to the respondent's Commons dean. This letter is usually provided to the respondent in person when s/he meets with the judicial affairs officer. Because Incident Reports may contain confidential information about other students involved, in some cases, respondents may review these materials at the office of the judicial affairs officer or at the Public Safety building, but will not receive hard copies. The Handbook states that students must be notified of their hearing at least two working days in advance.
Each student who has been charged in an incident generally meets individually with the College's judicial affairs officer before the hearing. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the possibility of Disposition Without Hearing when appropriate; to make sure the respondent has a clear understanding of how the hearing will proceed and of his or her rights; and to allow the respondent to ask questions of the judicial affairs officer. The judicial affairs officer is available to answer questions about the process at any time before or after the hearing.
Disposition Without Hearing/Dean's Sanction
In academic or non-academic cases where the facts are not in dispute, and the student is prepared to accept responsibility for his/her actions, the judicial affairs officer may offer the option of Disposition Without Hearing, also called a Dean's Sanction. The Disposition Without Hearing option is not akin to the plea bargain option in a United States court of law, whereby a lesser sanction is offered in exchange for an admission of guilt. Rather, the judicial affairs officer would offer a sanction meant to approximate the kind of sanction that would be levied by the AJB or CJB. If the student agrees, the student signs a letter indicating his/her acceptance of responsibility, and acceptance of the sanction. This process replaces the judicial hearing. No appeal option is available for students who accept a Dean's Sanction. If the student does not wish to accept this sanction, an AJB or CJB hearing will take place. The student may not choose to accept the Dean's Sanction after a hearing has taken place.
Proceeding with a Hearing
If the student chooses to pursue a hearing, the judicial affairs officer will work with the respondent to complete the Confirmation of Judicial Procedures Form. Completing this form together ensures that key aspects of the hearing process are reviewed, and that the respondent is clearly informed about the opportunity to prepare thoroughly for the upcoming hearing. This includes reviewing a hearing's choreography, and identifying potential board members and asking the respondent if s/he has any concerns about the ability of any of the board members to be fair and impartial in hearing this case. In the event that the respondent expresses concern about past interactions with a board member that would cause the respondent to question the board member's fairness in hearing this case, that board member would be excused and an alternate member would be substituted. This meeting is not required by the Middlebury College Handbook.
Respondents may select an adviser to join them at the hearing for support. This individual can be any member of the College community. The respondent and adviser sit next to each other throughout the hearing and may communicate privately through notes, but the adviser does not communicate with the board directly or play a formal role in the hearing procedures. Respondents may also arrange to have a character witness. This individual may appear in person, or may submit a written statement. Written character statements may be submitted by any individual the respondent wishes, but character statement offered in person may only come from members of the College community. Character statements may not make reference to any aspect of the case in question, but are meant to provide general commentary on the respondent's character. When a written statement is provided by the respondent, it is read to the board by the judicial affairs officer. The respondent will be permitted to read an opening statement and a closing statement, both of which are unrestricted in length or content; it is a good idea to prepare at least an opening statement in advance of the hearing. Finally, it is recommended that respondents meet with their Commons dean prior to a hearing. Commons deans understand the hearing process and may be able to offer helpful support.
In AJB hearings, the faculty member is present throughout the hearing. Faculty members are invited to give opening statements at the beginning of the hearing, and to share closing thoughts at the end of the hearing. It may be helpful for faculty members to consider in advance how to share their information in a way that the board will understand, especially in cases involving fields such as mathematics, languages, or other areas that lay people may not be able to easily decipher.
In an effort to preserve the integrity of the process, the student, faculty and staff members of the judicial board are not provided with any information in advance of their arrival about a hearing's topic or participants. As members arrive in the hearing room, each receives a packet of materials including the charge letter, the completed Judicial Procedures Confirmation Form, and any of the additional attachments referenced above, including incident reports, copies of original sources and student works evidencing alleged plagiarism, or other materials providing relevant information. The respondent will have access to all materials provided to board members prior to the hearing, and will have these materials during the hearing. Board members take approximately 10 to 20 minutes to read through the hearing materials. If a board member learns that he or she has prior knowledge of the incident in question, or has had previous interactions with the respondent that may compromise impartiality, the board member may recuse him- or herself at that time.
When respondents and their advisers arrive at the hearing location, they will be directed to a waiting space. When there are multiple respondents, it is likely that they will all wait in the same location. In cases where there is tension between respondents, an effort is made to provide them with individual waiting spaces, but this is not always possible. Witnesses are also asked to arrive at a designated time and to wait outside the hearing room. In AJB cases, professors arrive at the same time as respondents, and are given a separate waiting space.
Once the board members have reviewed the hearing materials, the judicial affairs officer, who serves as the secretary to the board and oversees the hearing logistics, will escort the respondent(s) and adviser(s), and in AJB cases, the faculty member, into the hearing room. The hearing generally takes place around a large table: board members sit on one side of the table, and the respondent(s), adviser(s), and secretary sit on the other side. In most CJB cases, charges against students are brought by the College, but in some cases charges involve a student who has been the victim of another student's alleged policy violation. In these cases this student will also be present in the hearing room with an adviser, and will sit on the other side of the secretary. In cases of alleged sexual assault, this student has the option of participating via video feed from another room.
Each judicial board has two co-chairs: a student co-chair, and a dean or faculty member chair. They will generally alternate and serve as chair for every other hearing. When all respondents, advisers and the secretary are settled, the chair will begin the hearing by activating the recording device, and reviewing a script of preliminary instructions, including the following:
- Acknowledgment that the hearing is being recorded
- Affirmation that the hearing is confidential
- Introductions of all participants, including board members, respondents, advisers, secretary, and if present, students or faculty members bringing charges
- Clarification that a judicial hearing is not a court of law, and that its goal is fundamental fairness
- Request that all board members state their name once again, and that each one affirm "I can be fair and impartial." Second invitation to the respondent to challenge the presence of any board members based on their ability to be fair and impartial (this option is first raised during the completion of the Judicial Procedures Confirmation Form).
- Affirmation that honesty is expected of all who testify, and that dishonesty on the part of the respondent could result in additional charges.
- Review of procedures, and opportunity for respondent to ask procedural questions.
The respondents are invited to read opening statements in which they may share whatever they wish the board to know about their actions as they relate to the charges against them. As noted above, opening statements are unrestricted in length or content. In AJB cases, the faculty member is also invited to give an opening statement.
Questioning the Respondents:
Once the opening statement is finished, members of the board will ask questions of the respondent(s), and in AJB hearings, the faculty member, based on the opening statement(s) and on the hearing materials. The questioning process is facilitated by the board chair, and the questions are asked in no particular order. The tone of all communications in a hearing is very respectful.
After the board has questioned the respondent(s), witnesses will be brought in one at a time; some witnesses may testify by speaker phone. Before each witness testifies, the chair will review the expectation of honesty; request that the witness honor the confidentiality of the hearing by not discussing its content; and acknowledge that the hearing is being recorded. The witnesses will be asked to contribute whatever relevant information they possess, and board members will question them as needed. Once the board has finished questioning a witness, the respondent may question the witness as well. They will be directed to do so through the board chair rather than speaking directly to witnesses.
Final Questions for Respondents:
Once all witness testimony has been heard, the board will ask any remaining questions of the respondent.
At this point, the respondent character witness will be heard, either through an in-person statement, or through the reading of a written statement.
Finally, in AJB cases, the faculty member will be invited to share any closing thoughts, and each respondent will have an opportunity to make a closing statement. This is a final invitation to share any mitigating circumstances, to comment on the preceding testimony, or to articulate any additional information the respondent would like the board to consider in its deliberations. Again, closing statements are unrestricted in content or length.
After the closing statement, faculty members, respondents and advisers are excused, and the recording device is turned off. Depending on the anticipated length of deliberations, the respondent may be advised to wait in the building for an outcome, or if deliberations are anticipated to be lengthy, the respondent may be encouraged to leave the building until an outcome has been reached, at which point they will be summoned to return to the hearing room.
The board must deliberate as a group in order to determine whether to find the respondents responsible for violating the Handbook policies listed in the charge letter. Although courts of law use the standard of "beyond reasonable doubt," the judicial board standard is "preponderance of evidence," that is, that it is more likely than not that the student has violated policy. Reaching an outcome may happen swiftly, or may involve lengthy group discussion. When the board members feel ready, they will vote on each charge. Handbook regulations require that at least all but one voting member must find a respondent responsible for policy violation for the vote to be upheld; if more than one member dissents, the respondent is found not responsible. If the respondent is not held responsible for any of the charges, all record of the hearing will be removed from the student's file. If the respondent is found responsible for violating Handbook policy, the board must then develop an appropriate sanction.
Once a respondent is held responsible for violating policy, the board members are apprised by the secretary of any previous conduct issues and outcomes. Because discipline is cumulative at Middlebury, this means that the same violation might result in very different outcomes for two students with differing disciplinary records. The board will take into account the particular circumstances of each respondent and each case in developing a sanction, and sanctions may include multiple components. The Middlebury Handbook includes detailed information on possible sanctions for academic and non-academic offenses under Judicial Boards and Procedures.