Pick a random Middlebury student and play a game of Twenty Questions about the College’s judicial system. How would our student do? Probably not that well. Anecdotal information suggests that most students have a cursory understanding of the Academic Judicial Board and Community Judicial Board (yes, there are two boards) and refine their knowledge of the judicial system only when they have to, that is, when the process touches them. This makes sense, for why would your average student want to know the ins and outs of a procedure that brings potentially bad news to a fraction of the student body?
While it’s generally alright with me that the majority of Middlebury students remain blissfully ignorant of the College’s disciplinary processes, I can think of a couple of ways in which this lack of knowledge is problematic for the entire community.
First of all, I would argue that students who know nothing about the judicial process probably don’t know much about other College policies either. In other words, the “problem” is not that students don’t understand the judicial process, it’s that the College’s Handbook is a long, cumbersome document that is not easily accessible to students. Yes, the Handbook is available online, but in that format and with all those regulations, it is more consulted than read. We would do well to streamline the Handbook, and make it available in hard copy.
Another more concerning aspect of this lack of knowledge has to do with how volatile, high-profile infractions play out on campus. Because our judicial/disciplinary processes are confidential (indeed, the boards take an oath not to discuss the cases they hear) administrators struggle to meet the community’s understandable desire to know how particular incidents have been resolved. In the absence of concrete information, rumors circulate, students wonder whether they can trust the judicial system, and the climate on campus deteriorates. Here the problem has less to do with student ignorance of the judicial system than with a judicial process that precludes the sharing of information.
There are good reasons why the College treats disciplinary outcomes with discretion. For the most part, confidentiality enables the students involved in a case—victims, witnesses, and even perpetrators—to resume their lives in the college community without prejudice. On the other hand, we can and should apprise the community of judicial outcomes—without attribution, of course—so that students understand how particular infractions have been resolved. We can also do more to explain the workings of our judicial process, how and why boards hear the cases that come before them, and what role the Department of Public Safety plays in investigating cases.
By the beginning of Winter Term, the Office of the Dean of the College plans to mount a web site that includes all such information and anything else we think will help students understand how our judicial system works. We look forward to your response to this site, and your suggestions for improving it.