New group aids peers facing U. discipline

SCIS aims to help undergraduates navigate Academic Code or Code of Conduct hearings

By
Friday, March 1, 2013

When circumstances called on Skylar Albertson ’13 to help his fraternity navigate the University disciplinary process, he found the overwhelming amount of information difficult to process.

“It’s complicated at times when you don’t want things to be complicated,” he said.

Albertson, vice president of the Brown chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, has teamed up with other members of the ACLU — as well as members of the Undergraduate Council of Students — to form the Student Conduct Information Service, a group that will assist students facing Academic Code or Code of Conduct hearings.

SCIS is currently evaluating undergraduate applicants for its first class of “associates,” and Albertson said he expects the group to be operational by the beginning of next year.

The idea came from similar programs at the University of California at Berkeley and University of North Carolina, Albertson said. Those programs provide “public defender” services to other students, but concerns about liability forced SCIS to become an “informational resource” rather than a source for concrete advice, he added.

When students are accused of disciplinary violations, they receive formal “charge letters” indicating what they are accused of and what the next step will be. From there, students can be assigned faculty advisers to help them prepare for an academic hearing and discuss their choices going forward. Albertson said SCIS will be another service students can consult to have the information explained to them.

Senior Associate Dean for Student Life J. Allen Ward said the administration has tried to support SCIS, giving advice and input throughout the planning process.

“The students indicated that they felt that there was a lack of awareness in the student body … around the code,” Ward said. “I think that this is an experiment on their part to see if they can contribute greater awareness and see that students who feel that their rights have been compromised have options.”

Ward said he believes the University does an adequate job of informing students of their rights and responsibilities — all undergraduates  are required to take an online tutorial about the Academic Code and the Code of Conduct, and both codes are published on the University’s website.

Still, some students say the disciplinary process at Brown can be intimidating when it seems like one student is against the whole institution.

“I’ve had friends who have gone through the disciplinary process, and it was way more of an undertaking than I think they expected,” said Ali Kirsch ’15. “When you’re in that process and you’re already feeling maybe like the administration is against you, then I think it’s probably good to have peer support.”

Albertson said SCIS will remove some of that fear from the process.

“It’s not an important part of Brown to every student at every time,” he said. “But it’s a very important part of Brown to particular students at particular points in time.”

SCIS is meant to provide students with a less intimidating means of determining their options without feeling like they have formally started the disciplinary process, Albertson said.

“A lot of times when you’re sitting there in the room and you’re face-to-face with administrators finding out about potentially serious consequences … some stuff could go in one ear and out the other,” he said. “We think it’s important that students be able to come to their peers and say, ‘Let me make sure I’ve got all this straight.’”

Albertson said he hopes the University will include SCIS on the list of available resources as part of the initial charge letters sent to students.

“What that does is it protects students’ privacy,” he said. “We’re not being notified every time something happens, but students are being notified whenever they’re in a tough situation that they could reach out to us if they want.”

Ward said the administration is looking for ways to help “publicize the existence of the group,” including possibly listing SCIS on brochures or other publicly available materials.

Albertson said SCIS associates will be able to take a “big-picture” view of the disciplinary system at Brown and make suggestions to UCS and the administration when they believe the code could be working more effectively.

“Right now if there’s a student who has a disciplinary or behavioral issue, changing the process is going to be at the back of their mind,” he said.

Administrators hope SCIS will be able to “raise awareness around the code and awareness around respect and civility in general,” Ward said. “The code belongs to all members of the community at Brown.”

  • Scholars

    Terrific idea

  • aggus

    Ward dos NOT do a good job. Anything out of him is bureaucratic, in the worst sense of the word.

    What kind of person takes a job called “Senior Associate Dean”? That phrase does not even jive with the level of intellect required to thrive around Brown.

  • This is actually very forward` thinking of the Brown administration. We currently offer these types of services for students, fraternities and sororities across the country and most administrations push back hard on the idea of students receiving “outside” help. Best of luck! http://www.collegejudicialconsultants.com