Explaining the policy, proceedings and punishment

Brendan Ward and Matthew Enfinger

What is it?

In the Georgia Southern University code of conduct, there are two lines on the joint responsibility policy.

The code of student conduct defines joint responsibility as:

  1. Students who knowingly act or plan to act in concert to violate University regulations have individual and joint responsibility for their behavior

  2. Any student who knowingly allows another person to violate University regulations without reporting to a University Official.

This means that if a student willingly knows that someone is violating a university rule, they are obligated to report it to a university official or they are equally responsible for the violation.

For example, if a student’s roommate has marijuana in his personal room and the student knows about the marijuana then he is expected to report the drugs. If the student does not report the drugs and his roommate is caught then he may also face discipline for not originally reporting the drugs.

It is important to note that joint responsibility applies to all GS students, both on and off campus and does not only apply to drug and alcohol possession, but any violation of the code of conduct. Though the full extent of GS’s jurisdiction on violations that happen at off campus housing is currently unknown.

The Investigation Process

According to documents from 2015, any students who is accused of a code of conduct violation through joint responsibility is notified of their alleged violation via email. 

At this point, students have a week to schedule a meeting with the Office of Student Conduct to prove their innocence. 

Students are then sent a form detailing the charges brought against them. Followed by an adjudication form where students must plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. 

This is followed by the meeting with the Office of Student Conduct where students answer questions based on the police reports.

Finally, the student is given the ruling on their case and at this point students may request a hearing with either the university conduct board or a hearing officer. Students also have the right to forgo a hearing and accept the university’s decision.

While students can participate in the investigation process, if they chose not to weigh in on their case, the office will find a ruling without them.

If a student is found to be guilty, the minimum punishment is three months of disciplinary probation and an educational task based on GS’s VALUES.

GS’s VALUES can be found on page four of the code of conduct.

Student Experience

John St. Lewis, junior graphic design major, who is also a designer for student media, is one student who has dealt with GS’s joint responsibility policy.

During the second week of classes this semester, St. Lewis came home to find police at his dorm.

According to St. Lewis, police searched his dorm and found marijuana and around 18 thousand dollars, as well as alcohol in his roommate’s room.

Police arrested the roommate, but he was back at the dorm the next day and as of writing this, he is still living in the dorm.

Because of the joint responsibility policy, St. Lewis and his other roommates were all forced to go to hearings to prove their innocence.

This hearing caused St. Lewis to miss his scheduled advising appointment because he was told if he did not appear at the hearing a decision would be made about his innocence without his input. 

St. Lewis recently had another issue with joint responsibility this month. Someone tampered with the smoke alarm in their shared living area and all the roommates had to go to another hearing.

In both cases, he was ruled to not be responsible for the code of conduct violation.

Awareness

In a Twitter poll conducted by the George-Anne, of 75 students, 77 percent, or about 58 students, said they did not have a firm understanding of GS’s joint responsibility policy, with only 12 students claiming they had sufficient understanding of joint responsibility.

The Office of Student Conduct declined to directly comment on if they felt the university had sufficiently informed students of joint responsibility, but according to Torres, students are first informed of joint responsibility at SOAR and then representatives from the Office of Student Conduct are invited to first year experience classes to further educate students on the code of conduct.

Torres added that it is the student’s responsibility, not the universities’ to be informed on the code of conduct.

“As a Georgia Southern student, students are expected to be aware of the regulations and what is expected of them through the course of their time as a Georgia Southern student,” Torres said. “Not knowing what the policies are does not excuse any alleged behavior.”

Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

St. Lewis felt that joint responsibility was as a guilty until proven innocent situation.

“They say if you don’t go they’re making a choice about your innocence without you being there and I just feel like, ‘how can you make that decision if I’m not there?’ I feel like they’re kind of setting people up to go down for things they’re not doing,” St. Lewis said.

The Office of Student Conduct was contacted for comment on St. Lewis’ claim, but decline to comment. 

The Rulings

In joint responsibility cases there are three rulings: responsible, not responsible and other.

A student is responsible if they knew about a policy violation and did not report it.

While a student is not responsible if they did not know about the violation.

Both the Office of Legal Affairs and the Office of Student Conduct. The former had no knowledge of the meaning of other and the latter was unable to be reached for comment. 

Statistics

Between Aug. 15 2016 and Oct. 1 2017, there were 767 charges for joint responsibility.

Of those cases, 400 or just over 52 percent of students were found to be “responsible” and 255 or 33 percent of students were found to be not “responsible.” 

The remaining 112 cases were ruled as “other.”

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