The Discipline Tapes

Committee on Discipline open to considering publication of total number of cases heard

The Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline may for the first time provide transparent information about the total number of disciplinary cases adjudicated each year, Dean of Undergraduate Students and Committee on Discipline Chair Kathleen Deignan told The Daily Princetonian.

The Committee — together with the student-run Honor Committee, which adjudicates allegations of cheating on in-class examinations — has in the past issued annual discipline reports detailing the number of students found responsible for violations of University policy. However, the committee has not released the total number of cases heard, which would include both students found responsible for disciplinary violations and students acquitted.

Critics of Princeton’s disciplinary system have argued that the lack of complete statistics available hint at the committee’s overzealousness and unfair treatment of defendants. The committee does not publicize its records, they say, because doing so would reveal that it finds an embarrassingly low number of students who come before it responsible for the violations they are accused of.

Deignan said the committee currently hears between 25 and 40 cases per year.

William Potter ’68, a local attorney who has informally advised several students who have gone before the committee, has called for the University to publicize a list of all infraction claims, results of the case and punishments given out, while keeping the defendants’ identities private.

Potter is a former ‘Prince’ columnist.

Deignan said in a December interview with the ‘Prince’ that she would not be opposed to publicizing the total number of cases heard by the committee. She said the committee has not considered doing it before because the purpose of the annual disciplinary reports is to inform the Princeton community of the quantity and types of violations occurring on campus, not necessarily to report on the business of the Committee on Discipline.

“When there was not an infraction, there wasn’t a need to tell the community about it,” Deignan said. “There’s no reason to not be totally transparent about it. It’s just that it was not the purpose of our statistics, so it was not something we were thinking to do.”

Many of the University’s peer institutions, including Harvard, do publicize the number of students found not responsible for violations in addition to the number of students handed a penalty. Harvard’s Administrative Board suspended 14 students out of a total of 37 academic cases in the 2009-10 school year and suspended just eight students of the 108 cases of social behavior it heard. “Cases of social behavior” refers to any violation that is not related to academics and includes offenses such as theft, sexual assault and drug use.

Princeton issued 21 punishments for academic violations that year, including suspensions and withheld degrees. In addition, the Committee issued 13 suspensions and two expulsions for social conduct violations.

In the five years between 2005 and 2010, Harvard’s Ad Board suspended 128 students, placed 176 students on probation, scratched 47 cases, took no action on 28 and admonished 231, according to the Ad Board’s five-year statistics.

A “scratched” case indicates that the Board found no grounds for action, a “take no action” indicates that serious allegations were levied but the Board found no evidence substantiating them and an “admonition” is akin to a warning where the Board believes a violation may have occurred.

Therefore, in a five-year period, the Ad Board heard 774 cases and in some way punished 304 students, or about 43 percent.

Deignan said the University could certainly publish a transparent listing of how many cases are heard by the committee in total — how many result in punishments and how many do not.

“It’s not because we said, ‘Shall we do that? No we won’t,’ ” Deignan said. “It’s really because, I think, when we started doing these again dozens of years ago … the motivation for it wasn’t to report on the business of the Discipline Committee; it was to … inform the community about infractions of University standards and what those infractions resulted in in terms of consequences.”

This is the third article in a three-part series about the University’s Committee on Discipline.

comments powered by Disqus