Conduct office sees name change

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State's Office of Judicial Affairs has changed its name to the Office of Student Conduct, effective July 1. "The name change better reflects the office's longstanding mission of partnering accountability with education, and communicates the role we play in leadership and character development," explained Danny Shaha, senior director of the unit.

According to the proposal for the change, "The Office of Judicial Affairs is designed to support the University's educational mission by promoting a safe, orderly and positive University climate through enforcing behavioral standards, managing disciplinary proceedings, mentoring students, developing leadership, and fostering peer education. This mission is much more than a 'judicial' mission; it is one that partners accountability with education and communicates the role we play in leadership and character development."

The name "Judicial Affairs" often creates confusion about the mission of the office. "Just by its nature, the term 'judicial' also can provoke an image of a courtroom and of a adversarial process. In most cases, this runs contrary to the manner in which we interact with students," Shaha said. " Our role is different than the legal court system. It's still a system, you still can be found responsible, we're still going to hold you accountable. However, we're not looking at whether or not you broke a law; we're looking at your conduct as it relates to our Penn State Principles and code of conduct."

Shaha explained that because he and his staff are interested in student conduct and ethical behavior, their mission goes beyond punishment.

"To be sure, we work to hold students accountable for behavior that violates the University's Code of Conduct, but we go further than that. Staff members engage in intentional and meaningful educational and developmental conversations with students. If done well, these conversations challenge decision-making and behavior while encouraging positive choices that reflect integrity and ethics."

Shaha continued, "We also have a role to educate the campus community in a manner that is different than the term 'judicial' implies. We work to proactively educate the campus community on behavioral standards, decision-making, ethics, integrity, civility, leadership, and how to live and prosper in a community setting."

The change is consistent with a national trend in Student Affairs. In 2008, the Association for Student Judicial Affairs, the national association for college and university conduct administrators, officially changed its name to the Association for Student Conduct Administrators to "more accurately reflect the broader responsibilities that our members encounter," according the Tamara King, 2008 ASCA board president and director of Judicial Programs at Washington University in St. Louis. Since that time, conduct offices at many higher education institutions nationwide also have changed their names to better reflect their overarching mission.

"The impetus for the name change came from our membership," explained Daniel Swinton, ASCA president and assistant dean for student conduct and academic integrity at Vanderbilt University. "Our association began 25 years ago when these offices were more judicially based, but things have changed over the years. We do more than hold hearings and sanction people. We also do conflict resolution, and academic and personal advising. We help students understand this is an educational process, not a punitive one. Our hope is that the outcome of the interaction is that students will learn and grow, and avoid making the bad decisions that brought them to our office in the first place."

Swinton said the trend of changing the offices' names from Judicial Affairs to Student Conduct reflects the more holistic perspective that those offices have in terms of educating students about living within community standards while holding them responsible for their actions. "It will help people understand what it is we really do," he said.

Contacts: 
Last Updated July 19, 2011