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Standards for Student Discipline Versus Standards for Faculty Discipline

James Madison University Lawsuit: Sexual-Assault Treatment Targeted

Student-discipline cases have been quite prominent in recent years, due almost entirely to the spate of Title IX accusations. We seldom hear anything about faculty-discipline cases, except those involving Title IX.

The difference in how student misconduct and faculty misconduct is handled is the topic of Professor Lou Buttino’s Martin Center article today. His conclusion: Procedures for students are far more clear and fair than procedures for faculty members.

Buttino writes,

Federal and state guidelines exist in higher education concerning student behavior. For example, in 2011, the Department of Education required a “preponderance of the evidence” as a standard for all Title IX cases. The 1972 federal law prohibits gender discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity. (The act also requires colleges and universities to develop procedures to respond to claims of sexual harassment.) More relevant here, however, is a North Carolina law that permits an attorney or a non-attorney advocate to represent students charged with misconduct.

Although the federal guidelines have been widely denounced as unfair, at least they’re knowable. In contrast, when professors are accused of wrongdoing, it’s a chaotic mess.

Regarding his own experience at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW), he writes,

The standards and processes UNCW employs for the faculty fall far short of the student process. There is nothing online nor elsewhere that permits a faculty member to know what to expect upon entering the hearing process. Some information trickled out before the process began, but not enough to be meaningful. It seemed the Faculty Professional Relations Committee (FPRC) was making up the rules as we went along.

An especially noteworthy difference between student- and faculty-misconduct cases is that there are reports of the former, but not of the latter. If a professor is found to have committed some impropriety — plagiarism, for example — that information usually stays hidden.

Professor Buttino concludes,

While there are standards of education, training, knowledge, and skills for professors, there is no accountability. And this is the bottom line of any entity that wants to claim it is a “profession.” UNCW has lofty ethics policies but offers a mirage in terms of executing them. We are the keepers of public trust regarding our students, but not ourselves.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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