We Interviewed 100 Student Conduct Pros About Sanctions…Here’s What We Learned

We Interviewed 100 Student Conduct Pros  About Sanctions…Here’s What We Learned

“We’re supposed to be the accountability people, but instead we’re the blame people. I’m starting to question if we need to issue sanctions at all.”

These are just some quotes taken directly from the 100 student conduct professionals we interviewed regarding the sanctions they assign.  Over the course of several months, we heard from 100 practitioners representing 100 institutions, including public and private, large and small, rural and urban, the SEC to the Big 10 and everywhere in between.  We sat across from the pros (with a screen and occasional time zone change between us) and held genuine conversations about their processes and what their biggest pain points are.  We placed special focus on sanctions, and we asked practitioners to be candid: Do you think your sanctions are working? Practitioners across the country shared honest and remarkable summaries and testimonials as to what they face each and every day..

“Fines and parental notifications become the main focus and then all else goes out the window.”

Practitioners in the field are experiencing friction on campus, they don’t always believe that students are learning from sanctions, and they are on the hunt for something better.

Generally, practitioners lack access to engaging and effective sanctions, not because the want or need isn’t there, but because we know that our conduct offices are understaffed and under-resourced.Investing time into managing sanctions can quickly make its way to the bottom of the to-do list when things like federal mandates, Title IX regulations, and student crises remain at the top.  We grasp for seemingly-relevant Ted Talks and assign check-the-box reflection papers in an attempt to engage students and personalize their process.  These efforts are good, but Gen Z needs a new experience from the conduct process that we haven’t necessarily provided to other generations of students.

Practitioners believe students learn the most during the hearing

When we asked where they felt their students learned the most within the conduct process, practitioners overwhelmingly (about 75%) stated they believe students learn the most in the hearing itself.  It makes sense when you take into account what we also learned: conduct practitioners are mostly assessing students’ experiences in the hearings themselves, and not getting an accurate read on the sanctions. The hearing provides a one-on-one, highly customizable experience with students that can be difficult to replicate beyond that point. We issue outcomes we think are mostly tailored to that student, but there is oftentimes little to no follow up that shows whether or not this was effective in changing behavior.

Is now the time for a ‘sanction review?’

In the same way that institutions review their Student Handbooks and Codes of Conduct, it might be time to review your sanctions (or set aside some time to do so if this hasn’t historically been a practice). We know that conduct pros are constantly battling with competing priorities in our world filled with state and federal mandates, phone calls with students’ family members and meeting the needs of campus partners and administration. But little adjustments such as evaluating reflection paper prompts and guidelines and offering alternative and accessible ways for students to provide this reflection could strengthen your sanctions. Include student leaders if possible to gain feedback in what they would want to talk about if they were going through the conduct process.

A new generation of students and sanctions

Based on the interviews we conducted, one of the most common outcomes issued were reflection papers.  And while reflection papers offer a way for pros to customize these sanctions, they also candidly shared that oftentimes, they weren’t sure that students were honest in their writing nor were they confident this was an effective exercise.

“It’s hard to find sanctions that make sense as students and technology progress.”

As one of our participants said, we need to adapt our menu of sanctions “as students and technology progress.” There are ways to create customizable and highly-interactive sanctions with embedded qualitative and quantitative assessment. Using story-based sanctions, students can find themselves in the narratives and provide quick and candid insight into their personal values, reflections, and decision-making strategies.