Getting Back On Track
At a recent conference on Legal Issues in Higher Education, information was presented that indicated the number-one issue facing colleges and universities in the United States today (as expressed by college administrators and members of the surrounding communities) is student behavior. The top issue was not money or government policy, though those are also high on the list, but the behavior of students on and off campus. This concern includes Greek Life issues, alcohol use, vandalism, etc.
Today's campuses deal with the same problems that can be found in any city or town cross the country. Keene State College is no different. Many of our students drink too much. A few do drugs. Too many students place their wants and desires above the rights of their peers.
As an institution of higher education, when we deal with student misconduct, our primary goal is to stop the behavior. We initially handle our cases in an educational manner, discussing the situation with the student, trying to find out what caused the student to behave in this manner, reviewing the expectations the College has of him/her as a member of the community, and identifying the repercussions if the student chooses to violate rules and regulations in the future. It is our belief that except for the most severe violations, students deserve the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and should be given a second chance to become positive contributors to the campus community.
To help students understand what's expected of them, the College developed a set of standards known as the "Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities." (Information regarding this document can be found in the Student Handbook). These standards were designed to quickly and clearly inform students about what it means to be a member of the Keene State College community. For the most part, students seem willing to comply with it. Fewer than 40 percent of the on-campus population chooses to violate policy, and the majority of their violations are for minor noise or room inspection concerns. Fewer than 20 percent of our residents become involved in a second violation, and of this 20 percent, the vast majority never become involved in a third violation. Unfortunately there is a core group of students, that last five percent of our residential population, who cannot seem to keep from violating the rules.
Generally, whenever a member of the staff meets with a student for the first time regarding a judicial case, the discussion focuses on educating the student about expectations, and reminding him or her that engaging in this type of behavior is certainly not going to help with either academic or social pursuits. Those students who need to have a second meeting with a staff member will find the discussion focuses more on the consequences of their behavior, along with questions regarding what information the student may have missed during his/her first meeting. If a student had to be spoken to a third time, the staff will focus on punitive measures, which may include loss of housing or separation from the College. We want our students to learn from their mistakes, but it their behavior consistently has a negative impact on the community, steps will be taken to ensure that the rights of others are maintained.
As you can see by our recidivism or relapse rate, our interventions are successful most of the time. In fact, the Keene Police Department and local district attorney are very satisfied with the manner and speed with which we handle violations, particularly those involving issues of law. It is true that every semester a number of students do lose their privilege to live on campus or remain a member of the College community. Should you hear about such cases, or should your son or daughter become subject to this course of action, rest assured it is taken only after careful consideration and other attempts to redirect the behavior have failed.
Walking the line between an educational and a punitive response is very difficult, and sometimes hard to understand from the outside. When this topic comes up, usually because of personal interaction with the judicial system, students and their families often feel that we are either too hard or too soft on students. The best response we can give is this: We, like every other college administration in the country, deal with students and their problems on both an individual and group basis. We try never to lose sight of our educational mission, which includes working with individuals on the basis of their special needs and unique histories they bring to us. But, we also remember that the main reason students are here is to pursue an education, and when an individual's personal agenda negatively impact his/her fellow community members, punitive measures may need to be taken.
We have over 2,800 residents and 78 staff members living on campus. Obviously the staff cannot be everywhere at once, which is why we need to have residents join us in partnership to both cooperate with and confront each other in regard to policy violations. Simply put, the College expects out students to be good citizens.