Forced to Miss Class

Update:
The Faculty Senate supported the SAO’s view and passed a resolution regarding this issue. Find the article by clicking here

Unjust Scheduling Pattern by the Office of Student Conduct
Editorial printed in the November 19 issue of The Cowl

Judicial advisors for the Student Advocacy Organization on campus have witnessed the coordination of an unjust pattern of meeting times for those students accused of violating the College’s policy. As of late, the Office of Student Conduct has been scheduling hearing sessions for students to report to the office during times that interfere with student class time. Two students in particular communicated this legitimate time conflict to the Office, with ample advance notice, only to have their request to reschedule be denied. It should be noted that although the senior office assistant has been very accommodating, the final scheduling ultimatum was through specific order “Per Dean Butler”, the Dean of Student Conduct.

Lacking concern for academic matters, the Office had the audacity to tell one student that although he would be late to class, the Office would provide him with a note.  Is the business of this office more important than the primary reason a student attends college? Certainly the hearing officers could find time within their busy schedules to accommodate a student’s academic needs. The Office of Student Conduct should not impede on the educational progress of students by making students take time out of class to attend a hearing. With most classes only meeting two to three times a week, forcing a student to miss class is completely unreasonable.

The mission statement of the Office of Student Conduct explicitly cites the goal of preventing damage to the “necessary atmosphere for academic pursuit.” By scheduling a student to come in for a hearing during a class time, this certainly damages academic pursuit and only further hinders “the individual’s growth and experience” for each student.

Students at Providence College have classes to attend and work to complete, perhaps, at the very least, the Office should find a way to reimburse the tuition money for the lost time in the classroom.

Letter From Dean Butler

PC Security Misconduct



PC Security Misconduct

The following incidents represent misconduct on behalf of members of the Providence College Office of Safety and Security. Over the course of the year, members of this department have exhibited a vapid lack of professionalism and concern for student rights. One would think that the officers vested with the responsibility of protecting students would advocate for them and help them to resolve potential conflicts in a positive manner.

Read the rest of this entry »

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

UPDATE:

  • On December 4, 2009, the SAO communicated these concerns that letters were being sent prior to the full conclusion of a student’s proceedings to Dean Fortunato of Student Affairs.
  • On March 5, 2010, the SAO was again informed that more letters were being sent home prematurely and addressed these concerns to Dean Butler of Student Conduct, and Dean Sears and Fr. Murphy of Student Affairs.
  • As of December 27, 2010, two more letters were mailed to parents before either student had the chance to submit an appeal. A year later, this problem still has not been corrected.

Two Strikes for the Office of Student Conduct
Editorial printed in the December 3 issue of The Cowl

Once again, the Office of Student Conduct has demonstrated a disregard for fair process in failing to adhere to the College’s disciplinary policies. While consulting students throughout their judicial proceedings, I recently was made aware that this office has been unjustly sending letters home to the parents of students who allegedly had violated school policy.

Parental notification is one of the possible sanctions that the office may render to a student who is found guilty of a particular charge. The notification involves a letter that is sent to the student’s home, explaining, for example, that the student was caught with alcohol. The main injustice behind the recent notifications is that many of these letters have been sent prior to the full conclusion of a student’s proceedings. The Student Handbook explicitly states, “Sanctions resulting from the case will not be implemented until after the appeal is resolved.” Some of these letters have been sent home before students have even had the chance to submit their appeal.

If the Office of Student Conduct cannot follow a procedure as simple as not applying a particular sanction until after an appeal is resolved, what is next? These instances only further enforce the idea that students must be aware of their rights in order to advocate for themselves. The Handbook also reads, “Providence College views student discipline as an integral part of its educational process.”  Procedures that are explicitly stated need to be followed more consistently.


Mutliple FERPA Violations

Toward the end of the Fall 2010 Semester, the Office of Student Conduct held group hearings in which students who were accused of similar offenses would meet with the Dean all at once. These hearings were conducted to save time and deviated from normal procedure where each student would report to his/her hearing individually. In doing so, all of the students present in these group hearings became aware of any pending charges and therefore gained knowledge of each others’ disciplinary records.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act stipulates that all educational records, including those pertaining to disciplinary matters, are protected from disclosure without a student’s consent. Below you can find the SAO’s correspondences regarding the issue of group hearings. Through these communications, the SAO hopes to shed light on the importance of safeguarding a student’s right to privacy as pursuant to federal law.

UPDATE: Jon Dooley, President of the SAO, met with the Assistant Legal Council of Providence College to discuss this issue. While there was recognition that group hearings “inadvertently” were in violation of FERPA, Jon was informed that students would now be given notice before their hearing and asked to consent to a group hearing. Clearly, this new “corrective” measure was more about getting the College in line legally rather than protecting individual student rights.

Email to Dean of Student Conduct Kevin Butler:

Dear Dean Butler,

It has come to my attention that students are being called into your office for judicial hearings in groups, particularly those who have been involved in citations or write-ups that stem from bar raids or Junior Ring Weekend.
Although I am aware that in certain circumstances, such as when occupants of one dorm room are written up for an alcohol violation, it would then warrant all residents to come in for a hearing, these citations or write-ups are separate and unique to each individual student.
As you well know, student disciplinary records are confidential and protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). With some exceptions, but those not satisfied in these conditions, student records are not to be divulged to anyone without the consent of the student. Therefore, by having students attend a group meeting, where they can learn about the disciplinary records of their peers (to which they have no relation to) without giving consent, you are infringing upon rights pursuant to FERPA as well as each student’s procedural rights set forth in the student handbook. The “Hearing Procedure” established in the student handbook states that, “Student judicial records are confidential and are available only to persons who have permission from the student. Limited judicial information may be shared with other College administrators and faculty members who have a legitimate need-to-know.”
Having discussed this issue with those who have already had their hearings, those in attendance were not aware that the person sitting next to them was cited or received a write-up. Though these citations may have been given out on the same night, or at the same venue, police or administrators distribute them individually and students would have no way of finding about a peer’s disciplinary proceedings with the College. However, due to these meetings, their records now become public and any modicum of privacy is thrown out the window.
If the intent behind these group meetings is to save time, you should recognize that student rights are being significantly defrauded in this process. Not only are student disciplinary records being divulged to other students without their consent, which I am sure could lead to a degree of embarrassment depending on the student, but students are also not given an adequate opportunity to respond to their charges. How can a student be free to explain himself/herself about a private, possibly sensitive situation, while in a room filled with his/her peers?
While I will not disclose the names of students that I know are involved in respect for their privacy so they do not incur more severe sanctions, the meetings in which this has occurred were on November 29 and December 6. Furthermore, I am aware that you have another group meeting scheduled for this morning, December 7, in which more than one student, in separate citations, have their simplified hearing.
In the interest of fairness to the remaining students that must go before Student Conduct, as well as the requirement of abiding by the expectations set forth by FERPA, these meetings need to be stopped immediately. Please be advised that I will consider filing formal FERPA complaints for each student that I speak to whom this has happened, in addition to encouraging them to appeal their sanctions on the grounds consistent with a violation of fair process. Best, Jon Dooley

Office of Student Conduct’s Response:

After meeting with the General Counsel of Providence College, Jon was informed of the proposed solution to group hearings. Now, students involved with similar charges are sent an email explaining the prospect of having a group hearing. Each student is then given the opportunity to ask for an individual hearing, or sign a consent form agreeing to participate in the group hearing.

The solution that Dean Butler has suggested to prevent FERPA conflicts involving group hearings is unacceptable. Explaining to a student that he/she is being asked to come in for a group hearing and then obtaining consent by his/her signature is unfair and will be at the detriment of each student involved. Essentially, this type of solution asks a student to interrupt his/her FERPA rights and is not consistent with a standard of fundamental fairness. This solution would create adherence to FERPA, but as I stated above, seems more about getting the OSC into compliance rather than dealing with the increased number of hearings. Aside from having students sign away their right to privacy, we must recognize the possibility that a student may be apprehensive to request an individual hearing. Even if this only accounted for one student who felt uncomfortable to ask for a private hearing, then that would be one student too many. This alone provides a valid reason as to why this solution is not consistent with a high standard of fairness. Certainly there is a better solution in which students and not the Deans are accommodated.

Formal Complaint to the Compliance Office of the U.S. Department of Education:

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-5920
(800) 872-5327

BY REGULAR AND CERTIFIED MAIL #7007 3020 0001 5310 1293

To Whom It May Concern:

Re: FERPA Violations

Please accept this letter as a formal compliant regarding multiple violations of students’ Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) rights at Providence College (“PC”), located at 1 Cunningham Square, Providence, Rhode Island, 02918. Each violation was a result from actions involving student disciplinary proceedings at PC and will be explained in detail through this letter.

The PC Office of Student Conduct, (“OSC”) is the administrative office vested with the responsibility of implementing the College’s disciplinary process. The Office is comprised of a Dean of Student Conduct, Mr. Kevin Butler, an Associate Dean of Student Conduct, Ms. Maureen F. Quinlan, and a Senior Office Assistant, Ms. Karla Misto. These three individuals oversee the adjudication of student hearings in a system that is internal to the College.

When a student is charged with an offense that is inconsistent with College policy, either on campus by school officials or off-campus by local law enforcement agencies, the student is then called into the OSC for a disciplinary hearing. During this hearing, charges are read, the student is able to make a statement and present evidence, and questions may be asked. At the end of the hearing, the Dean of Student Conduct, or his designee, concludes the meeting by finding the student responsible or not responsible for an alleged violation.

As President of a student advocacy organization on campus, several violations of FERPA came to my attention as of December 5, 2010. My organization, the SAO, a student-run group that is not officially recognized by the College but has a faculty moderator, helps promote student rights at PC and guides students who must undergo disciplinary proceedings with the College. It was during the course of advising my peers that multiple students informed me that other students were present during their disciplinary hearing.

Upon further communication with these students, I was able to determine that the OSC was holding group hearings, where several students, each with identical charges, were called in to speak with the Dean. Specifically, these group hearings involved students who were written-up by a College official for possession of alcohol during school functions, namely Junior Ring Weekend (“JRW”), or students who received underage alcohol citations from the Providence Police. At PC, if a student is cited off campus by the police for underage possession of alcohol, he/she is also called in for a hearing in the OSC. The amount of offenses that led to charges during JRW or underage bar raids created an influx of students who would be subject to a hearing. Therefore, to save time, and to have five hearings instead of twenty-five, students were called into the OSC in groups.

Although these students were being charged with the same violation, possession of alcohol, each charge resulted from individual instances where they received their charge. Again, these students all received write-ups or citations, but they did not necessarily occur simultaneously, and are therefore treated as individual cases. Accordingly, as these hearings with multiple students were held, many students were not aware that the person sitting next to him or her was cited or received a write-up. As a result, each student was able to ascertain each other’s citation or write-up in addition to the facts surrounding them, without having given any consent.

The FERPA violations I report to you in this letter occurred as a result of these disciplinary group hearings that specifically occurred on December 6 and December 7, 2010. These hearings were held at different times and included multiple students whose names can be found in Attachment 1. Mr. Butler, who was serving in his capacity as Dean of Student Conduct, adjudicated each of these hearings.

In closing, it is also important to note that on the morning of December 7, 2010, I communicated my concerns about group hearings to Mr. Butler as well as other several PC administrators via email (Attachment 2). Although I highlighted the issue that these hearings were in violation of FERPA, the OSC continued to hold group hearings, which demonstrated behavior that is not consistent with a good faith effort to adhere to the Act. Additionally, none of these students were informed of their right to have individual hearings, either before or during their proceedings. Each student was called into the OSC and throughout his or her adjudication process there was no safeguard to ensure privacy. Further, there is no language in the PC Student Handbook that suggests that students are entitled to individual hearings nor would a student have a right to request an individual hearing should the need arise to prevent FERPA rights from being compromised. Therefore, it is unreasonable to assert that students can assume that this opportunity can be accommodated upon request.

Due to the failure of the OSC to carefully adhere with the expectations set forth by FERPA, many students at PC have had their rights compromised. As such, it is through sections 99.63 and 99.64 of FERPA, which establishes the right to file a complaint if an educational institution fails to comply with the requirements of the Act, that I hereby present this letter of notification for your review.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and attention involving this matter.

Respectfully submitted,
Jon M. Dooley

Faculty Senate Speaks Out

The Student Advocacy Organization has successfully advocated for change in a policy that has caused students to miss class time due to the scheduling of judicial hearings.

In the beginning of the Spring 2010 semester,  judicial advisors for the SAO were informed that the Office of Student Conduct was scheduling students to attend obligatory judicial hearings during class time. During the course of advising students, four clients of the SAO were forced to miss class. As a result, Jon Dooley, President of the SAO, spoke about this issue on campus, generated support against the policy, and then intimated the concern to the PC Faculty Senate. Jon submitted a resolution for review that was referred to the Committee on Academic Course Review.

On Wednesday, March 10, Jon attended the Faculty Senate meeting where he addressed a crowd of over one hundred faculty members, students, and administrators. The following is an excerpt from his presentation. “While we can presume that students missing class for this issue is a rare occurrence, this practice has everything to do with being an impediment to education. When students have to miss class it contradicts the academic mission of Providence College. I believe that it impacts faculty who have just as much of a stake in it as well. The issue demonstrates the shoring up on the wall that protects the dignity of faculty first…These four cases send the message that when it comes to a hearing and a class, the hearing prevails which undoubtedly creates a de-emphasis on academics. Time in the classroom is the most important time that we will spend at Providence College.”

Upon the conclusion of his speech, several professors spoke in support of the resolution and expressed their opinions that students are entitled to be in class. While the Office of Student Conduct had communicated to the Committee that this occurrence is a rarity and only happened five times, another professor stood up and stated that he had three students just that week that missed class due to a hearing. These students were separate from the four who were in contact with the SAO, which provided evidence that this problem is more widespread.

After fifteen minutes of debate, a resolution was submitted by a senator that reads “Be it resolved that the Faculty Senate recommends to the Dean of Discipline that no judicial hearing be held in conflict with classes of any student involved in the hearing.” The resolution was called to vote where it passed unanimously with one abstention.  The resolution is now in the process of being considered for approval by Fr. Brian Shanley, President of Providence College.

It should also be noted that two weeks later, legislation was proposed and then passed in Student Congress asking the Office of Student Conduct to end this unfair practice of scheduling.

Minutes from the Faculty Senate Meeting can be accessed here:

Faculty Senate Notes

Student Affairs Position

Let’s Be Careful Choosing A Replacement

Editorial printed in the February 18 issue of The Cowl

With the announcement of the new interim organizational structure of the Student Affairs Administration, it is imperative that Providence College search for a qualified permanent replacement for the position of Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students. The departure of Chris Fortunato presents a significant loss to the Student Affairs Office and searching for someone of the same caliber will require careful consideration.
Experience, training, and even additional educational degrees are not sufficient qualifications to fulfill the dynamic roles presented by this position. These backgrounds cannot substitute for the formal legal education obtained by individuals like Fortunato and other Deans of Students at peer Catholic Institutions such as Fairfield University, Loyola University and Notre Dame. Selecting a replacement with no legal background will create vulnerability among the department and students alike.
Lack of legal knowledge presents a gap that training and experience cannot fulfill. An administrator with this important position should have not have to pick up the phone to ask the College’s attorneys how to make a decision. The person selected for this position should have an autonomous background and appropriate legal decision-making skills, partly because we live in a society where it is all too common for disputes to be settled by the legal system. Selecting a replacement without the legal know-how will foster the insecurity present among other departments. As with the Office of Student Conduct (whose previous Dean was an attorney), the recent lack of properly qualified personnel has come primarily to the detriment of the students who must pass through its doors. If administrators who assume quasi-judicial roles without any modicum of legal knowledge deal with legal situations, it is the student who will undoubtedly suffer.
Though Providence College is a private entity with much more sovereignty than a public institution, it is still bound by the contractual obligations of the College’s message and the ideals marketed to prospective students and their parents. I hope that administrators can make the right decision in selecting a candidate that will be in the best interests of all students.

A Clarification of Rights

A Clarification on Student Rights in the Classroom

Editorial printed in the November 5 issue of The Cowl

This letter is written in regards to comments made by Professor Barry in the “Operation Red Cup” article of the October 8th issue of the Cowl. Professor Barry made a very unsettling statement regarding the publication of arrest information when he proclaimed “I want to know which of the students in my room were arrested last night.” In case Professor Barry was unaware, ALL individuals involved in the justice system in our country are innocent until proven guilty and perhaps one out of those seventy-five students arrested that weekend were wrongfully charged.
A student should not be burdened with the stigma of having their name published unless they have been found guilty in a court of law.  Unless Professor Barry wished to provide a compassionate voice to a student in need, I cannot see any logical reason for his desire to know who the accused students, if any, in his classroom are. I can only hope that a professor would never discriminate against a student based on the possibility that he/she had made a mistake or was falsely charged.  While attending a school so enriched by Christian tradition, surely we all recognize the importance not only of fairness but also that of forgiveness. If any faculty member, including Professor Barry has the best interests of their students at heart and would like to be sent information on how they could become a student advocate, please feel free to contact me.

Jon Dooley
President
Student Advocacy Organization

Student Denied Advisor

PC Student Denied a Judicial Advisor

Editorial printed in the October 26 issue of The Cowl

A few weekends ago, following a write-up, a student contacted the Student Advocacy Organization (SAO) seeking counsel after learning of his right to a judicial advisor.  Upon receiving an email regarding the date of his judicial hearing, the student’s advisor from the SAO informed him that due to a time conflict he would not be able to attend. The student contacted the Office of Student Conduct in a timely fashion and informed them of this legitimate conflict that would prevent his advisor from being present during proceedings. In his email, he asked if the hearing could simply be pushed forward a mere fifteen minutes so that the timing would no longer be an issue. The Office of Student Conduct then denied this perfectly reasonable request stating that they had back to back hearings all day and were therefore too busy to change his time.  After personally contacting the Office of Student Conduct, I was informed that the student’s advisor could join the proceedings when he was finally available but that the times would not be changed. Surely fifteen minutes could not have presented that significant a time burden, especially if it was in the best interest of a student. By denying his advisor this ability, it surely impeded with this student’s right to an advocate.

A student should certainly be entitled to have an advisor present during ALL proceedings, to ensure that he/she is being supported from start to finish. I fail to see a significant reason why the Office of Student Conduct cannot be more accommodating, especially when it concerns a fundamental right afforded to a student as set forth in the College’s handbook. The denial was not only a disservice to him, but also illegitimizes the judicial process and compromises its overall message of fairness. Perhaps this Office needs to be reminded that their primary role is to justly administer the judicial process and that they should reevaluate methods if they cannot carry out their responsibilities effectively. Certainly, this injustice does not coincide with the mission statement, supposedly familial atmosphere, and Christian values promoted by Providence College. Being “too busy” for a student should never be the answer.

Off Campus Handbook

Additional Resources

If you are in need of a private attorney for a criminal matter, please contact the SAO for a referral.

If you cannot afford a private attorney, contact the RI Office of the Public Defender at:

J. Joseph Garrahy Complex
One Dorrance Plaza
Providence, Rhode Island 02903
(District Courts for Providence/Bristol and Providence Family Court)
Main Phone Number 458-3050

If you are discriminated against by any individual employed by Providence College contact:
Office of Civil Rights,
U.S. Department of Education
617-223-9662
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/qa-complaints.html

Students who need assistance or who wish to file a complaint under FERPA  should do so in writing to the Family Policy Compliance Office at:

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-5920

If you feel as through your rights have been compromised on campus, submit your case to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(www.thefire.org) or contact:
Peter Bonilla
Program Officer, Individual Rights Defense Program
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
Phone: 215-717-3473