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Student misconduct rarely brings consequences

By web

Section: Front Page, News

February 17, 2012

Official crime reporting at Brandeis highlights only a trace amount of severe misconduct in recent years, which the university routinely deals with internally, rarely referring incidents to outside law enforcement.

“We’re like our own little city here,” Associate Dean of Student Life Maggie Balch said of Brandeis’ student conduct management.

Crime itself is very rare at Brandeis, according to testimony from administration officials, but it is even rarer for such an action to result in a meaningful disciplinary penalty.

Community Advisors refer about 10 students per week to the student conduct office and board system, and only half that number ever get as far as a meeting with Dean Gendron, the director of Community Standards. Gendron recalls only meeting with “three or four” students as the result of a serious violent offense in his three years as Brandeis’ conduct administrator. “There are two or fewer violent incidents a year,” Gendron said, whose recollection matched campus security records exactly.

Only “egregious” incidents are referred to the Waltham Police Department, and yet several recent violent incidents resulted neither in punitive punishment nor real criminal charges. Both Gendron and Balch denied that the university tried to exert any influence on police decisions whether or not to charge students, despite the lack of simultaneous action by the school and the real criminal system.

Balch and Gendron both said that some violent assaults were never reported outside of the university, and that Brandeis’ safety office handles most cases itself.

In December 2010, a student driving on Loop Road struck and injured two others, one of them seriously. The student is no longer a member of the Brandeis community, but Gendron would neither confirm nor deny if the student had been suspended or whether he or she withdrew voluntarily. But that is the most that happened to the student in any case.

The only student to be suspended in the three most recent years of records, 2008 to 2010, was in November 2010—they committed not a violent crime but “academic dishonesty.”

Gendron also says he has seen only four alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct. The broad category includes everything from forcible rape to verbal sexual abuse, and Gendron said the students he has seen have been accused almost exclusively of only this verbal abuse.

He acknowledges that a much larger number of students claiming to be victims of sexual misconduct have come to talk to him, but the student conduct records indicate that the vast majority of such complaints are never adjudicated.

One recent instance of sexual misconduct did actually make it to the disciplinary phase. A student was found responsible for “sexual harassment/assault and battery”: The student was put on probation and referred to the school’s counselor; he or she was asked to write a letter of apology.

Neither Gendron nor Balch would discuss whether the student caught in the recent shower-spying incident in Gosman is still being adjudicated—similarly, there is no criminal case found involving the case’s description.

“Disciplinary probation” is a common sanction, the most numerous in records by far. The penalty’s application ranges from such serious crimes of violence to stealing from the C-Store or Einsteins.

“Disciplinary probation has a lot of levels,” Gendron said, but there are other sanctions Brandeis can impose. But he said “we’re not very prohibitionist here.”

But few other sanctions are ever applied. Gendron could recall no instance of, for example, restricting a student’s privileges to clubs or on-campus activities. Instead the largest occurrence in the reports of any other sanctions beside the disciplinary probation are “letters of apology.”

Balch admitted that the process, even when effective punishments are imposed, are open to interpretation and individual officials’ wide discretion. “Six people could all be written up for the same offence, say a six-pack in their room,” but receive different levels of sanction. But students have not raised an issue of the varied, changeable discipline measures, which after all results predominantly only in the warnings.

Balch said that in some cases, “it’s about supporting the victim but also about the alleged perpetrator, they’re a Brandeis student too.”

“College is about learning,” she said, “not ruining your life,” echoing Gendron’s calls for leniency. “It’s not about ruining your life, and we take threats very seriously.”

 

Due to a reporting error, a Feb. 17 news article titled “Student misconduct rarely brings consequences” incorrectly attributed information about a 2010 campus police officer assault to Dean Gendron. We regret the error.

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