Getting caught up with the Office of Student Conduct can feel daunting. The procedures surrounding disciplinary actions are laden with nuances that you likely don’t know. And nor should you. However, this means that you could wind up in a compromising position that threatens your academic future.
In Part I of this series, we gave an overview of the Texas Tech student conduct process; what constitutes university misconduct, the investigation, and the pre-hearing. But it is also important to understand the rules that govern conduct hearings and the rights you have throughout the process.
During the course of the investigation and hearing process, you are allowed to have an advisor present. This can be a member of the Texas Tech community (faculty, staff, or student), a parent or legal guardian, or an attorney. An advisor’s role is that of support—they may not speak on your behalf and they do not have an active, participatory role in the conduct process. This does not mean that your advisor cannot help you understand the allegations against you, assist you in sifting through the evidence, or advocate on your behalf.
If you choose to designate an advisor, you must fill out a FERPA (family educational rights and privacy) waiver to be submitted to the Office of Student Conduct.
Type of Hearings
Once an investigation has commenced, your case will likely wind up at a hearing. The type of hearing is up to you. Any allegations against you must be proved by a preponderance of evidence, or more likely than not. This is different than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases, requiring much less proof to arrive at a “responsible” finding. Thus, understanding the various hearing types and knowing how to proceed plays an integral role in the outcome of your case.
An administrative hearing is the process of adjudicating violations of the Code of Student Conduct by an administrative hearing officer. This officer may be the investigator that completed the report, or someone assigned by the managing director for the Office of Student Conduct. The administrative hearing officer solely makes the decision of responsibility and assigns sanctions. The outcome of the administrative hearing will be provided within five (5) days after the hearing has concluded, and decisions may be appealed.
These hearings are often reserved for first time, less severe violations. For example, a student that receives notice for violating the code of conduct for possession of a small amount of marijuana, may opt for an administrative hearing. In these cases, the evidence against you will be solid. And, since this offense does not warrant suspension or expulsion, choosing an administrative hearing may be the most efficient route.
Like an administrative hearing, a panel hearing serves to adjudicate violations of the Code of Student Conduct. Instead of one hearing officer deciding responsibility and imposing sanctions, a panel hearing consists of three (3) members from an available pool. The Panel will most likely be comprised of one student, one faculty member, and one staff member. Administrative hearing officers who served as the investigator for the case may not serve as a member of the panel or participate in deliberations.
In each panel hearing, a resource person will be designated to facilitate the hearing. The resource person is a non-voting participant selected from the pool of the administrative hearing officers. The resource person acts as a judge, or neutral party, to assure that university procedures are followed throughout the hearing.
Though a panel might be intimidating, it is usually a good option if your alleged conduct is more serious or you dispute the allegations altogether. Having the opportunity to present your case to multiple people, rather than just one, improves your chances of a favorable finding.
Sanction Only Hearing
If you accept responsibility for the allegations contained within the investigation report, you may request a sanction only hearing with either a hearing officer or hearing panel. During this type of hearing, the investigation report and findings are presented by the investigator. The complainant and the respondent may be present during this hearing, but are prohibited from disputing the facts of the case.
At the conclusion of rendering of evidence, the complainant and respondent may deliver impact statements. The hearing panel/officer will determine appropriate sanctions, notice of which is delivered within five (5) days. You may only appeal the sanctions if the sanctions vary from the range of sanctions normally imposed for similar infractions.
Panel Hearing Process
If you opt for a panel hearing, it is treated like a mini-trial. The investigator will present the investigation report, evidence, witnesses, allegations, and questions for deliberation. The complainant and respondent may make an opening statement about the key points of the case. The opening statement is limited to discussing the facts of the case and what the evidence will show. It should not be an impact statement. Even if you have an advisor, it will be your responsibility to deliver the opening statement. Although, your advisor may assist you in writing the statement.
During the hearing, the panel members may ask questions to the investigator, complainant, respondent and any witness. The complainant and respondent may not question each other directly, but may pose questions through the investigator. Note that this is different from Title IX hearings, where an attorney may question and cross-examine witnesses. In a student conduct hearing, it is your responsibility to ask the questions.
Following the hearing, the panel will deliberate and determine whether you are “responsible” or “not responsible” for the alleged misconduct. Upon a “responsible” finding, you will have the ability to deliver an impact statement to the panel members. The panel will then deliberate and assess appropriate sanctions. Decisions made though the panel hearing may be appealed.
An investigator, hearing officer, or hearing panel may impose sanctions when a student is found “responsible.” Sanctions that may be imposed include, but are not limited to the following:
- Disciplinary Reprimand. This is an official written notification to the student that their action(s) constituted misconduct.
- Disciplinary Probation. A period of time during which a student’s conduct will be observed and reviewed.
- Time Limited Disciplinary Suspension. Time in which a student is not allowed to participate in class or University related activities. This will be shown on the student’s transcript.
- Disciplinary Expulsion. The student is permanently withdrawn from the University, and will show on the student’s academic record.
- Conditions. An education or personal element assigned by an investigator, hearing officer, or hearing panel. This can include counseling, classes, residence hall relocation, or restitution.
- Restrictions. This is an additional component of a disciplinary sanction and can include revocation of parking privileges, denial of participation in activities, or denial of holding office in student organizations.
- Academic Penalties. In cases involving academic misconduct, an academic penalty may be imposed. This can include make-up assignments, no credit for the original assignment, or failing grade for the course.
- Parental Notification. Some violations may result in notification to the parents/guardians to students under the age of 21.
Throughout the hearing and investigation process, you have the right to a prompt, fair, and equitable process. This is akin to Due Process under the law, meaning, that you cannot be stripped of specific rights and privileges without notice and hearing. The university has a duty to provide you with any and all information concerning the allegations against you. They also have a duty to ensure that the process is fair and unbiased. For example, if a panel member has a relationship with the complainant, they should be replaced.
What happens if the office of administrative hearings does not abide by these principles? It is your job to object. Make written objections that are specific and state why they violate your due process rights. Doing this will preserve error that could potentially help you if you were to appeal your case.