Dorm discipline: separate but equal

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The two disciplinary arms of CSUN, one run by Student Housing and the other overseen directly by Student Affairs, remain separate judicial systems, with no plans to merge, according to university officials.

“The most fundamental thing is that we are making judgments based upon two very different sets of policies,” said William Watkins, associate vice president for student life in Student Affairs. Watkins is the university’s judicial officer, and is the dean of students.

Residential Life has an internal judicial system it administers that relates to violations of rules for the people who live in the dorms, Watkins said. These could range from underage drinking to excessive noise violations in the residence halls.

He said the Residential Life system on its own cannot determine whether a student is removed from the university – something the university’s separate judicial process can do.

“We hear cases based on our housing license agreement and the rules contained in there,” said Melissa Giles, associate director for Residential Life. “The campus hears cases based on the CSU (Student) Code of Conduct.”

The CSU system governs the conduct code that the university follows, Watkins said. The code, which was recently revised at the September CSU Board of Trustees meeting, includes actions such as cheating, plagiarism and theft of university property.

While there has been no effort to make both judicial processes the same, Watkins said violations that take place in the residence halls could be sent over to him if the alleged actions violate the Student Conduct Code.

Giles said she would likely consult with Watkins if he wanted to handle the case, or if Residential Life wanted to handle the case, or if both systems wanted to handle the cases simultaneously.

Violations that could be sent over to Watkins could be issues such as narcotics sales, physical assault and sexual assault, Giles said.

An individual making loud noise during quiet hours in a residence hall would not be referred to Watkins, but he or she would only be under community standards review in Residential Life.

“If they were a repeat nuisance to the community, then it could move up to my level, where I would give the student an ultimatum that I would be recommending their housing contract to be cancelled,” Giles said.

Watkins said if a person does not follow community standards in Residential Life, the individual is sent for review. If a person’s behavior were addressed, Residential Life would not refer that person to Watkins.

The judicial process at the university-level would proceed from an oral admonishment, to a written warning, to disciplinary probation, to a disciplinary suspension, and finally to expulsion, which, according to Watkins, is a permanent separation of the student from every CSU campus.

“It stays on their transcript,” he said. “It follows them wherever they go.”

Even though there has been no effort to get the judicial processes in Residential Life and at the university level to merge, Giles said she believes it would be possible.

“I think it could work,” Giles said. “I’ve worked in an institution that that was the case. It’s done that way in many other campuses and works just fine. I like having my staff very involved with the conduct process because it gives them an opportunity to meet even more students than they wouldn’t have an opportunity to meet.”

Watkins reiterated his view of the two judicial processes as separate.

“I think they’re fundamentally two different systems and they have different objectives,” Watkins said. “There is certainly no momentum within the CSU to merge the two. So I don’t expect that to (be) the case (at CSUN).”

Watkins said he ensures a close working relationship between his office in University Hall and the Residential Life office in the University Park Apartments.

“Student housing reports to me administratively, so there is no guff between what is occurring there and what is occurring here,” he said.

“I have awareness of what is going on there and so if there are issues arising there that warrant being dealt with here in terms of formal campus discipline process, there is every opportunity for us to do that,” he said.

Giles said housing places sanctions ranging from a written warning to a recommendation to the director of housing that a student’s housing contract be cancelled.

“Some students probably view the process there as a process that indeed does have the corrective objectives that we seek in that kind of setting there,” Watkins said, regarding the residential life judicial process, adding the importance of students realizing that these dual systems are in place partly to provide due process and to give students an opportunity to tell their side of the story.

According to Giles, she said she also wants students under review to learn something from the entire process and to learn from possible mistakes.

Watkins said he has heard of some dissatisfaction from students who say that Residential Life needs to be more aggressive in their actions against alleged policy violators, but he said he believes that it is a result of students not having accurate or complete information about how specific situations were handled.

“Anyone who has a perception that the outcome of any judicial process did not achieve the sanction with the imposed penalty that they think should be imposed – they’re probably not satisfied with the system,” Watkins said.

Giles said the judicial process is fair and firm enough.

“I look through every single conduct file after an office has a conduct hearing and make sure that we are being consistent with all of our sanctions and things like that,” she said.

John Barundia can be reached at jcb44123@csun.edu.