Conduct Process FAQ
The following are questions we commonly get about the conduct process of the Office of Community Standards.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q What training do board members receive?
Board members participate in a training program that covers a variety of different general topics about the process. Although the training is reviewed and updated each year, it generally includes discussion of the following elements:
- Philosophy of the judicial boards
- Goals of the judicial process
- Discussion of the kinds of cases the board hears
- Board structures
- Expectations of board members
- Students’ rights
- How a hearing works
- How to frame questions
- The decision-making process: fact finding and deliberation
- How to identify and correct for bias
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.
Q Why do students found responsible for identical violations sometimes receive different sanctions?
Discipline is cumulative at Middlebury. If the board finds a student responsible for a policy violation, they will then be informed of that student’s conduct history, if there is one. If a student has previously been involved in other policy violations, the severity of the sanction may be increased.
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.
Q How does Middlebury 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 generally 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.
Q How does voting work in determining an outcome or a sanction?
The standard for a finding of responsibility in a judicial board hearing is “preponderance of evidence”—that is, it is more likely than not, based on the evidence, that the student is responsible.
When determining responsibility in a judicial board hearing, if more than one board member does not believe a student is responsible, the student is found not responsible. 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 responsible for some charges, and responsible for others, in the same hearing.
If a student has been found responsible, 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 responsible, a letter will be placed in the student’s file for the remainder of their time at Middlebury to acknowledge that a hearing took place and that the student was found not responsible. That letter will be removed once the student graduates, and there will be no indication in the student’s record of charges or outcome.
Q How is a sanction developed?
When board members find a student responsible for a policy violation, the judicial affairs officer provides the members with information about the student’s history of prior conduct. 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 reprimand
- Disciplinary Academic Probation (official College discipline)
- Suspension (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)
- Probationary status (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. For more information, see the Middlebury Handbook section on Sanctions.
Q What kinds of cases do the boards typically hear?
The judicial board generally hears cases regarding Middlebury’s Academic Honesty Policy 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 concerns they may have to the community standards officer.
The judicial board also hears allegations of College policy violations of a nature that is serious enough that formal College discipline—i.e. a letter of Official College Discipline, suspension, or expulsion—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; vandalism; physical violence; 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.
Q What are the avenues for appealing a hearing outcome?
Students found responsible through a judicial board hearing may appeal for a new hearing on three grounds. The Handbook defines these as:
- Discovery of significant new factual material not available to the board with original jurisdiction; however, the deliberate omission by the student of information from testimony will not support an appeal;
- Violation of stated procedures when the violation prevented fundamental fairness. A 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 a factor in reducing a sanction when the appeal upholds a finding of guilt. Immaterial procedural errors will not be grounds for a rehearing;
- Presence of significant mitigating circumstances.
Appeal petitions, and any supporting materials, are submitted to the vice president for Academic Affairs. The VPAA in consultation with a faculty and student representative from Community Council determine if any of the grounds for appeal are present, and if so, the appropriate remedy. This may include returning the case to the original board, or authorizing a full or partial rehearing with a new board. If none of the appeal grounds are present, it will be denied.
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.
Q What determines if a hearing will take place?
Not all alleged policy violations result in judicial hearings. Different factors influence this outcome for the judicial board.
Cases in possible violation of the Academic Honesty Policy
When a professor reports concerns regarding a possible Honor Code violation 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 community standards officer to discuss their case. In cases of alleged non-academic policy violation, the student life deans and the judicial affairs officer generally consult with each other and with other colleagues as appropriate to determine whether further investigation is warranted.
In cases where if the alleged behavior is substantiated, some form of official College discipline is a possible outcome, the student life deans, the judicial affairs officer, and in some cases, the dean of students, 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 community standards officer.
Q How are board members chosen?
The Judicial Board is comprised of students, faculty and staff, specifically: (1) a member of the faculty or academic administration appointed by the president of Middlebury, (2) two faculty members, (3) four students, (4) a dean of student life, and (5) a staff member. There will be two student alternates, one faculty alternate, and one staff alternate. Alternates will only substitute for absent members of their own constituency. Either the presidential appointee or a dean of student life shall serve as the chair of the Judicial Board.
The Office of Community Standards will convene a selection committee each spring, including one Community Council student member, one Community Council staff or faculty member, one non-returning student member of the Judicial Board, and one staff or faculty member of the Judicial Board. This selection committee will be responsible for advertising the availability of student positions on the Judicial Board; interviewing applicants; and submitting a slate of student members for the board to the Community Council for ratification. Whenever possible, at least one student member of the Judicial Board will have at least one year of prior experience. A student found guilty of a serious infraction of Middlebury rules by any Middlebury authority will be eligible for membership only after review by the selection committee in consultation with the Dean of Students/Office of Community Standards.
Q 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 student life 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 student has been charged with violating college policy that is serious enough for formal discipline and a hearing has been scheduled d, the student life 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 to have violated Middlebury policy in judicial board hearings, if the outcome involves any sanction other than a letter of warning, a copy of the outcome letter is sent to parents. Student life deans are also notified of the outcome of judicial board cases, and the professor of the course is notified of the outcome of an academic honesty hearing.
When students are found not guilty in academic honesty hearings, the professor and student life deans are notified, and in all other hearings, the student life dean is notified.
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