May 3, 2012

Considering fate of Conduct Council

Not having heard a case since 2005, Knox’s Conduct Council may soon see changes in its function, despite the benefits of the current system.

The conversation has arisen out of the fact that the Council has effectively been dormant for the last seven years, according to Dean of Students Deb Southern. Consequently, many students are not aware of its function.

“I’ve heard of it, but I’m not familiar with how it works,” junior Stephen Spence said. “I don’t really know what it is.”

Comprised of seven student senators, two faculty members and Associate Dean of Students Heather Poppy, the Conduct Council is responsible for reviewing incidents of alleged violations of college policy. It does not hear cases of academic dishonesty, which go to the Honor Board, or incidences of sexual assault, which are the purview of the Grievance Panel.

Although student senate appoints senators to sit on the Council each year, Poppy has not convened the Council in her two years as Associate Dean. She hopes to do so sometime next year so that members can be trained and prepared if a case should arise.

“If we’re looking at revamping the conduct process, then that may be changing,” Poppy said. “But that’s something that I would like to … take the time to do next year.”

Despite a plethora of conduct violations, most violations are resolved before reaching the Council.

“Which is why, I’m guessing, no one knows what it is,” senior Michael Kaminski said. “What is it? … What does it currently do?”

In its present form, the Council would hear a case were a student to deny allegations against himself or herself. In Poppy’s experience, however, this has not happened.

“We’ve been fortunate that students are … willing to take responsibility for their actions,” she said. “They’re mature enough to realize, ‘Okay, you’re right, I was smoking [in my dorm]. Let me face the consequences.’”

Conduct violations range from bagged smoke detectors to fights, with alcohol violations being the most common. Students accused of breaking college rules are required to meet with either Poppy or one of the college’s other three conduct officers: Assistant Directors of Campus Life Kathleen Drake and Jil Gates and Assistant Director of Residential Operations Jillian Staley.

Before Poppy assumed the post of Associate Dean of Students in 2010, Southern handled all conduct incidents. Spreading the responsibilities among more staff members has allowed Poppy more time to focus on her other duties. Still, she notes that this system has disadvantages.

“It’s not uniform,” she said. “So where I might give leeway to someone, one of the area coordinators might be in total opposition, and vice versa.”

For Poppy, the biggest strength of the current setup is that it enables conduct officers to have conversations with alleged offenders, strengthening the educational aspect of the conduct system.

“When I meet with students, it’s not to lecture them,” Poppy said. “It’s more to get them to see why their choice was bad and … how to make a better decision next time.”

As conduct cases have ended after the initial meeting with a conduct officer for the past several years, suggestions for increasing the Council’s relevance have included shifting its focus toward reshaping conduct rules and fines, as well as getting rid of it entirely.

“In a hearing, we wouldn’t have that conversation, that educational piece,” Poppy said. “I like having those conversations. Conduct Council, I feel, wouldn’t reach out in that way.”

Overall, Poppy believes the system as it currently stands effectively handles conduct violations and educates students while providing a safeguard in case a student does deny allegations.

Right now, the system has worked for me,” Poppy said. “I like knowing that if I needed to, I could call on the Conduct Council to hear a case.”

Anna Meier

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