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Education underlies University regulations

Maddie Hanna | Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Notre Dame education is more than just a diploma, students and administrators agree – it’s an all-encompassing experience that permeates every aspect of campus life, settling over the Grotto in its quietest moments and filling the Stadium in its loudest.

And much to the chagrin of some students, it’s discipline.

“We’re not a judicial process, we’re not a legal process – we are an educational institution,” Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Bill Kirk said. “All of our sanctions, all of our [disciplinary] processes are intended to be part of the educational process.”

This broad idea of education is the underlying principle of the rules and regulations listed in duLac, the University’s official guide to student life that was first issued in 1974 and today is often a target of student animosity.

“We can’t educate this person anymore”

duLac outlines a host of potential sanctions the University has the power to administer: Verbal or Written Warning, Alcohol/Drug Assessment and/or Education, Psychological Assessment, Monetary Fine, Ban from Specific Area of Campus, Loss of a Specific Student Privilege, Community Service, Transfer or Loss of On-Campus Housing Privilege, Hall Probation, Disciplinary Probation, Disciplinary Suspension and the most severe – Permanent Dismissal.

“When the University says you should be permanently dismissed and not be permitted to return … we consider it the worst that could happen because it’s kind of a failure in the sense that we can’t educate this person anymore,” Kirk said.

While not irreversible, suspension still indicates a serious problem, Kirk said.

“[Suspension] says you need to take some time away and reflect upon your behavior,” he said. “You need to understand the expectations of the community, and the community, for the time being, can’t tolerate your presence.”

So what warrants disciplinary suspension or dismissal?

Students who engage in sexual misconduct, possess or use any controlled substance, provide illicit drugs to others, engage in sexual union outside of marriage, or accrue overnight parietals violations “shall be subject to disciplinary suspension or permanent dismissal,” duLac reads.

Other violations outlined in duLac “may result in” disciplinary suspension or permanent dismissal – a phrase that Kirk said serves as “a way to give students kind of a heads-up [that] these are some of the more serious violations of the University expectation of behavior.”

This second tier of violations, duLac states, includes acts of physical violence or serious personal injury, theft, demonstrations of disrespect to University officials, damage to property, dishonesty, forgery, taking advantage of another for personal gain, hazing, willful damage to the reputation or psychological well-being of others and serious disturbances of the University community.

It’s a long list of clauses and complexities, but one point pops up repeatedly – community.

While the wording might seem vague – “any actions which seemingly affect only the individuals involved but which have direct bearing on the University community and concern personal and academic growth” – Kirk said it is present not to be charged on its own, but to indicate the importance of community and show students how their actions play out in the big picture of campus life.

This big picture approach can mean that students who cause serious problems are forced to move off-campus, he said.

“Sometimes it’s appropriate that the student can’t live in the community or isn’t living in the community well, and you don’t want them to damage the community,” Kirk said. “Sometimes the student wants to live in that community, desperately wants to live in that community, but they don’t understand how important that community is until they’re asked to leave it.”

The idea of community extends beyond campus as well. Students living on- or off-campus who get in trouble with the law – whether through South Bend, St. Joseph County or Indiana State Excise police officers – also face sanctions from the Office of Residence Life and Housing.

“It’s an expectation of behavior for you that you abide by the federal, state and local laws, and so if we become aware of a violation, we have to respond to it and address it because you represent the University,” Kirk said. “For one, it affects your personal growth and development, and we take an interest in that.”

Assistant Director of Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) Phil Johnson said when he learns of criminal cases from other police departments that involve Notre Dame students, NDSP will notify the Office of Residence Life and Housing.

Kirk said this system of referrals is meant to keep the Notre Dame community in mind.

“We don’t simply advocate responsibility for you when you leave campus – you’re part of this community, and you’re in violation of community laws, whether they be out in the community or here on campus,” he said. “And so we do take that seriously. Some universities don’t, but we do.”


Many students who violate the rules mentioned in duLac get sent to the Office of Residence Life and Housing – commonly referred to as “ResLife” – for either a disciplinary conference or an administrative hearing.

Director of Residence Life and Housing Jeff Shoup explained the process in terms of a reported intoxication.

“Typically if a student is intoxicated to the point where a rector is concerned and calls security or calls an ambulance, a report is generated, usually both from the hall staff and security,” Shoup said. “They would send it to us, and we would then send a notice out to the student asking them to come meet with us in a disciplinary conference.”

A letter is also sent to the student’s rector, Shoup said. The conference usually takes place a week after the incident with a member of the Office of Residence Life and Housing, the student, the rector and occasionally the student’s RA.

“We talk with [the student] about what the report said, let them read the report if they wanted to read it and then talk with the rector about their citizenship in the hall,” Shoup said.

The student must then submit a personal statement explaining the incident to Residence Life staff, Shoup said. A second meeting occurs where the staff member gives the student a decision about the sanction.

But if the violation is repeated – for example, a third incidence of intoxication – the student goes to an administrative hearing, where he is permitted to bring witnesses and a peer support person from the student-run Judicial Council. Again, the student submits a written statement and returns for a follow up meeting with Residence Life staff.

Violations mentioned earlier tagged by the “may result in” phrase mean the student will automatically face a hearing in the Office of Residence Life rather than a disciplinary conference, Shoup said.

Sanctions vary from case to case and can include a combination of fines, community service and a referral to the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education.

If a student goes through either a disciplinary conference or an administrative hearing and wants to appeal the decision, duLac permits a case review on the grounds of a “procedural defect in the disciplinary process” or “the discovery of substantive new information” that would have impacted the outcome of the case.

A University “speeding ticket”

Parietals, Notre Dame’s visiting-hours rule that prohibits visitors of the opposite sex from being in dorms after midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, serves as an apt example of the University’s disciplinary spectrum with regards to a particular policy violation.

Shoup explained the specifics of the policy and how violations are perceived and handled in the Office of Residence Life and Housing.

“The comparison I make is to getting a speeding ticket,” Shoup said. “The more you’re over, the worse it is. And that’s just because the farther you are over the limit, the more intention [there] seems.”

Shoup said if a student stays five minutes past parietals, the dorm’s resident assistant would likely issue a verbal warning. One hour over the limit would likely mean a report sent to the Office of Residence Life and Housing, resulting in a disciplinary conference. Overnight violations mean an administrative hearing.

“When we look at an overnight parietals violation, we say, ‘Well, that’s a real violation of the trust in the community,'” Kirk said. “People live together with the idea that this is our home, and to invite someone into our home and to violate the privacy and the security, that’s a serious violation.”

Some students question specific aspects of the parietals policy.

“I think as a Catholic university, they do probably have to have parietals, but not necessarily in their present form,” senior Caitlin Evans said. “I think family members [of the opposite sex] certainly should be allowed.”

Shoup disagreed with this line of reasoning, referring again to the Notre Dame community.

“To me, if it was a boyfriend or a little brother, it would be the same kind of violation,” Shoup said. “It’s a violation that has to do with the community and people’s privacy.”

In sophomore David Gruener’s eyes, the parietals policy is unnecessarily restrictive and doesn’t prevent the behavior targeted by the University.

“I understand they want to be seen as a school that upholds its values,” said Gruener, who does not believe in sex before marriage. “But the rule has no weight on my decision. People who are having sex before marriage are going to do it whether parietals are there or not, before or after two a.m.”

As a Catholic institution, the University says sexual union outside of marriage means either disciplinary suspension or dismissal. But in a case regarding “flagrant” violation of the University Academic Code of Honor, the Honesty Committee “may recommend” suspension or dismissal, duLac reads. And a “major offense” carries the penalty of an “F” in the course – but not necessarily suspension.

It’s difficult to contrast student life violations and Honor Code violations, Kirk said, since different departments oversee the two categories.

“Is [sex outside of marriage] as serious as lying and cheating on an exam? They’re different violations,” Kirk said. “They’re both violations of a community standard. They’re both serious.”

When questioned as to how the University regarded oral sex on the spectrum of violations, Kirk said he felt duLac outlined the sexual policy clearly.

“But that kind of sexual behavior is clearly something that could result in a sanction,” he said.

“The wisdom in it all”

Father Paul Doyle, who has served as Dillon’s rector for nine years, echoed Kirk’s statements about the importance of education in the disciplinary system.

“The objective is not simply behavior modification, but insight,” Doyle said. “The objective is not to enforce rules, but to help people see the wisdom in it all.”

New to the University this year, Walsh rector Sister Janet Stankowski said she was not surprised by the scope of Notre Dame’s regulations.

“I assumed that smooth systems run smoothly because there are some guidelines,” she said.

But while rectors may deem Notre Dame’s disciplinary processes smooth, many students see cracks in the system. The fourth part of this series will examine perceived inconsistencies in regulation of University policies.