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University restructures on-campus discipline

Tori Roeck | Friday, August 30, 2013

After a thorough review of its disciplinary processes and procedures, the former Office of Residence Life has reinvented itself as the Office of Community Standards to better address disciplinary incidents with the goals of student development and formation. 

Ryan Willerton, director of the Office of Community Standards, said the review process began in 2011 and included focus groups of students, hall staff and members of the Office of Student Affairs who analyzed the way the University implemented its disciplinary policies. 

“The Office of Residence Life has looked at policies and procedures before, but doing a comprehensive review hadn’t happened in quite a while,” Willerton said. “We looked at it from the approach of a peer benchmark. … [We asked] what are they doing in conduct processes? [We looked at] everything from meeting settings to the process they use, who meets with students, what are the types of questions they ask [and] what are their policies related to meetings.”

The review revealed some inconsistencies around campus in addressing disciplinary offenses, especially alcohol-related ones, Willerton said.

“Under the Office of Residence Life model, if a student was leaving Reckers and they happened to get stopped by NDSP because they were stumbling and they were intoxicated out on the green right behind Reckers, an NDSP report would’ve been submitted and that report would’ve gone to our office,” he said. “If a student would’ve made it into their residence hall, and the hall staff would’ve noticed the student was intoxicated or had been drinking, the rector would’ve had the opportunity to determine whether or not that student would meet with the rector or whether or not that student would be sent to our office.”

Under the Office of Community Standards’ system, a student’s first drinking offense, regardless of where it occurs, will be handled by his or her rector, Willerton said. 

“The biggest change students will see is regardless of where the incident happens, whether it’s on campus, off campus, whether police were involved, hall staff were involved, building managers were involved, we’re referring those students to the same place,” he said. 

Willerton said having a student’s rector handle such offenses complies with Catholic Social Teaching.

“The reason it would go to their rector is it’s based on the concept of subsidiarity,” he said. “Catholic social teaching believes in handling things at the lowest level possible. In other words, who best knows our students? And we hope that [for] our students who live on campus, their rectors can have the most productive conversations with them.”

The Office of Community Standards will continue to handle more serious offenses, such as drug abuse and sexual misconduct, Willerton said. 

“Sexual misconduct, drugs – those are all going to be referred to our office,” he said.  “But for incidents that can be addressed by rectors, so parietals, alcohol-related incidents, community incidents within the residence halls that wouldn’t rise to the level that students may lose their on-campus housing opportunity or their status at the University, then we’d want our rectors to have that first conversation with students.”

Interactions with the Office of Community Standards will involve three types of meeting settings: a meeting, a conference or a hearing, Willerton said. 

To reflect the policy implementation changes, the Office of Community Standards updated its conduct reporting policy to exclude minor offenses from a student’s future record, Willerton said. 

“The change is the University will only report three types of outcomes, and they’re known as disciplinary status outcomes because they’re the most serious outcomes: disciplinary probation, temporary dismissal and permanent dismissal,” he said.

The Office of Community Standards will only release records of minor offenses if the student gives his or her consent, Willerton said. 

Walsh Hall rector Annie Selak, who served on the committee of rectors in the review process, said the new system fits better with Notre Dame’s focus on community.

“I think the changes really emphasize the community of Notre Dame,” Selak said. “They move away from a punitive approach and really focus on the development of a student. As this system rolls out, I think we will all see that this approach fits the Notre Dame community and is an improvement over the previous system.”

Selak said the review process was quite thorough and students should be pleased with the results.

“The Office of Community Standards went through a review process that has been commended throughout the country,” she said. “I am truly impressed at the time, energy and effort that the staff put into this process. They were thoughtful, insightful and in a word, impressive. Not only have they addressed the findings, but they have gone beyond to create a system that fits the unique community life of Notre Dame.”

Willerton said the changes are in place for the benefit of the students and he hopes the new implementation policies will educate them.

“It’s about developing [students] as individuals to be productive citizens when they graduate, understanding how their values are tied into their decisions and their behavior, and realizing that their values should hopefully align with our University’s values,” he said. “And that’s one of the reasons why hopefully they came to Notre Dame. So it’s part of the educational process outside the classroom.”

Contact Tori Roeck at
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