I read with interest The Hatchet’s Feb. 11 (“Panel plans SJS review”) article covering Student Association Executive Vice President Josh Singer’s announcement that he was urging the Joint Committee of Faculty and Students to reform the Code of Student Conduct. While at GW, I gained unique insight into the judicial system serving as a presiding officer on the University Hearing Board for two years and working for a year in the Office of Student Judicial Services, coordinating the board and managing high-level cases.
The idea that GW’s judicial system is deficient is false. The GW system includes more student participation than almost any other, with the notable exception of the University of Virginia. For years at UVA, students heard cases with little faculty or staff input. But the UVA honor code only allowed one sanction – expulsion. It is worth noting that GW students do not have it nearly as bad as they think they do.
Students ignorant of their rights have only themselves to blame. Students are furnished with a copy of the Code of Student Conduct in their planners at the beginning of every academic year, and the Code is also listed online. The Code is very clear about judicial procedures. Whining that SJS fails to publicize student rights is disingenuous. Students have the responsibility to avail themselves of materials that contain information regarding their rights. Let’s not forget GW students are adults.
And GW students are lucky adults at that. A person of similar age not attending the University found in possession of, using or distributing illegal drugs will likely end up before a U.S. District Court judge who is much less sympathetic than a panel of five students and a faculty or staff member. Losing housing is a small price to pay when one considers the legal penalties that exist if a student is caught engaging in the same behavior by the civil authorities. And the confidentiality of judicial proceedings and GW’s willingness to expunge old files mean that potential employers, law schools and other interested parties may never know a student’s judicial history, unlike the permanent court records that haunt a student’s future applications.
Even with this carefully constructed system in place, some reform, within reason, would be appropriate. Perhaps appeals based upon egregious procedural errors could be allowed. Ultimately, though, students can completely avoid the judicial system if they behave responsibly. Everyone knows drugs are illegal and prohibited by the University. So is sexual assault, physical abuse, disorderly conduct and any number of other offenses listed in the Code. While I worked at SJS, the office handled about 2,000 cases each year. Taking into account repeat offenses, offenders represent about 1,700 to 1,800 students, or about 10 percent of the total GW student population. Roughly 90 percent of GW students are enjoying their time at the University without violating the rules – or at least being smart enough not to get caught.
Seeking changes in the judicial system is noble, even if the premises for doing so are a little shaky. But perhaps the nobler effort would be for students to strive not to run afoul of GW’s policies. Besides, after you leave your insulated academic life at GW for the job market and the real world, violating the established rules could lead to much more serious consequences than any found at SJS.
-The writer, a former Hatchet opinions editor, graduated GW in December.