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November 21, 2009

 

College disciplines with eye on education

CollegeBob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland students walk from Old Main Friday morning.

By SCOTT CONROE
Staff Reporter
sconroe@cortlandstandard.net

Nanette Pasquarello and the hearing boards she manages at SUNY Cortland see it all during the academic year: damage to residence halls, fights, theft, pulled fire alarms, drunken rowdiness, underage drinking.
Pasquarello directs the college’s judicial system, the hearings for students accused of breaking college rules governing behavior or violated state law — a system more about educating a student than punishment.
How colleges hold students accountable for their behavior has changed over the years but students themselves have not, Pasquarello said.
Accountability for students falls into three categories: academic honesty, owning up to one’s actions in the community and being responsible to fellow students in an organization.
Pasquarello does not handle academic integrity, which has a different system of hearings and falls under the Provost’s Office. The question of how students hold each other accountable within clubs, fraternities or sororities lies with the campus student affairs staff.
Campus judicial systems now connect to police and courts beyond campus, so students can be punished in a court and then again on campus.
Students admit they were wrong as much as they ever have, Pasquarello said of her eight years on the job.
The judicial system works with 800 to 850 students per year, and about 15 to 20 are suspended each year. The number has remained steady year to year.
“Some hearings, students plead guilty and take responsibility — you do see that,” said junior Katelynn Faulkner, a communications major who is one of 25 student justices who preside over campus judicial hearings. “Students do feel bad about what they did. You do get some cases where students don’t think they were wrong. I’ve never seen any who knew they were wrong and wouldn’t accept responsibility.”
Resident advisors in the residence halls handle many problems in the early stages. After that, problems reach the higher stages, starting with a disciplinary conference.
The next level is a Judicial Review Board composed of one student and three faculty and staff. The most serious cases reach a College Hearing Board, composed of three students and two faculty or staff members.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy, because no matter your decision you’re going to change a student’s life,” Faulkner said.
Pasquarello thinks student justices can be tougher on fellow students than the faculty or staff who also serve on the hearing boards.
Student justice Tim Nelson agreed.
“Adults don’t live on campus and don’t know what goes on,” the senior political science major said. “We see something as serious where a professor might not.”
Senior Joe Casiuk of Chenango Bridge said he got in trouble three times but never reached the hearing level.
His resident advisor called University Police on him and his roommate twice when he was a freshman. The first time, his roommate possessed marijuana and Casiuk had drug paraphernalia on his side of the room. He was given six months of probation.
The second offense was underage drinking, in his room with four other freshmen. That time, he had a disciplinary conference with Pasquarello, where he was reminded that underage drinking is illegal and never allowed on campus.
Last year, he was arrested on campus for driving while intoxicated, after he parked his truck and attracted attention for revving the engine.
“I had to go to an alcohol education advisor on campus, do an online course about alcohol, pay city fines, and take another course the city judge wanted me to take,” he said.
Casiuk said his parents were upset with him each time, especially with the DWI charge, which they told him to deal with himself as an adult.
They also were upset because he was a math education major and legal problems can affect students’ acceptance to SUNY Cortland’s teacher education programs. He has dropped the education part of his major.
“I think the judicial system is fair except that I don’t think my room should’ve been searched,” he said. Residential life policy allows RAs to enter students’ rooms if campus policy might be violated.
The whole dynamic has changed since the decades before the 20th century, when faculty could suspend or expel students. Campuses created the dean system over time to handle discipline, in the era of the campus serving as parent, with less due process.
That era faded in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, Pasquarello said, and through the 1970s and early 1980s, there were fewer rules for holding people accountable. Now campuses have gone back toward a tougher system.
Jim Hull, dean of students at Tompkins Cortland Community College, said TC3 has developed a stronger judicial system for student issues because problems have grown as the college built an athletic center, opened the main building at night more than in the past, and added seven residence halls that house a total of 800 students.
He said he has been meeting with Pasquarello to discuss how a judicial system functions, and TC3’s police have been working with Ithaca and Cortland police.
Casiuk thinks some students are accountable, while others are not and may never have been held accountable by their parents or high school.
“Some kids feel that they’re away from home, so they can do what they want, especially as freshmen,” Casiuk said.

 

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