Outside review proposes changes to UMW’s student conduct process5 min read
by JESS KIRBY
An outside review of UMW’s student conduct process recommended shortening the process, clarifying the procedures and expanding the staff of the Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility, among other changes.
“Staff shared that case adjudication can take up to a month from receipt of the incident report to a finding,” the report said. “This is much longer than the average case timeline either reviewer has experienced at current or previous institutions. … Additionally, when a semester is only 14 weeks, a month is almost one-third of the semester for the student.” To combat this, the reviewers recommended eliminating the pre-hearing conference, which the office currently holds with each student involved in a case, in favor of a more efficient method.
Additionally, the reviewers said that the existing conduct procedures are confusingly written, and the processes should be communicated in a clearer way to students. Although the procedures should be clarified, the report said, the reviewers also noted that the procedures should be flexible enough to accommodate different types of cases.
“It took both reviewers multiple reads to be able to understand the system, and combined, we have 28 years of experience in student conduct,” the report said. “It is crucial to provide clarity in policy and procedures, but it’s also important to allow and permit flexibility. … There are recent trends within the field of Student Conduct to allow flexibility in the case resolution pathways and options.”
The same flexibility should be applied to complainants’ rights, the reviewers said. When revising the student conduct policies, the reviewers recommended that interim measures, such as no contact orders, schedule adjustments and temporary moves, be offered to the complainants while a complaint is pending.
“Every complainant has access to interim measures,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Juliette Landphair in an email comment to The Weekly Ringer. “Every situation is unique, and the interim measures enacted will be appropriate for that situation.”
The report also suggested increasing collaboration between the Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility and the Office of Title IX, especially for cases that don’t clearly fall under one office’s jurisdiction.
“As student behavior is often complex and federal regulations are updated periodically, a structured process for case coordination and the handoff of cases between Title IX and OSCAR is essential,” the report said.
The report also noted that, “when looking at similar-sized institutions, one full-time role in student conduct is scarce.” Raymond Tuttle is the director and oversees the office.
The recommendations were sent to the UMW community in an email on Feb. 22, following an outside review of student conduct commissioned in April 2022.
“This spring, we will be exploring additional opportunities to collect campus feedback via assessments and training sessions,” the email said. “As we respond to input and concerns, we want to provide more oversight to the system, while balancing compliance and protecting students’ rights with compassion and proactive support.”
The review was prompted shortly after The Weekly Ringer reported on a student conduct case involving Tirzah Rao, daughter of Anand Rao, professor and chair of the communication and digital studies department. In 2017, after reporting that she was physically and verbally assaulted by a coworker on campus, Tirzah went through the Judicial Review Board—now named the Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility—as a complainant. Problems with the process and a lack of support from administration, she said, led her to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University.
On April 22, 2022, University President Troy Paino sent an email calling for the outside review of student conduct. Throughout the summer and fall of 2022, the review was completed by Karen Belanger, director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Alyssa Reddy, director of the Center for Honor Integrity and Community Standards at Christopher Newport University.
The reviewers interviewed members of the campus community, including Tirzah and Anand Rao, administrators, the Student Conduct Review Board President and various students on the Honor Council.
“The document was only released this morning so I have not had a chance to inquire, but I am left with two questions or concerns,” Professor Rao said in an email comment to The Weekly Ringer. “The first is that it appears that the reviewers only met with one student who had gone through the process- that was my daughter and that meeting was scheduled after I offered it. I shared with administration throughout the review that it should be focused on the student experience. I don’t know if it is possible to have a complete understanding without hearing from more of the students who have gone through the process.”
Professor Rao was also concerned “that the review seems to suggest the need for additional resources.”
“I do not think that additional staffing or resources are necessarily warranted,” he said. “The review identified a number of inefficiencies in the process. My daughter and I were struck with how difficult it was to navigate, and like the reviewers we found the procedures to be highly confusing (they reference this on page 6 under Procedures). The process has a lot of problems that need to be addressed. Rather than simply devoting more resources I would think it would be better to first look at the management of that system and its administration.”
Before the review was finalized, UMW administrators made some preliminary changes to the Code of Conduct, including “reorganizing and clarifying complainants’ and respondents’ rights and establishing an appellate board consisting of faculty, staff, and students,” the Feb. 22 email said. While complainants now have eight rights with two additional rights for complainants when the respondent was criminally charged, complainants previously had three rights and respondents had 12.
Those changes will remain, administration said. There will also be a system for reviewing the code during the summer and annually thereafter, with the goals of transparency, clarity and flexibility.
As these changes are implemented, the reviewers said, they need to be overseen by more than just one person.
“It is our belief that to successfully commit to implementing some of these recommendations, there must be an organizational change,” the report said. “These recommendations above cannot sit with one individual.”