Book Review: Investigating College Student Misconduct
Inevitably, deans and department chairs will have to deal with student misconduct. However, what once may have been an issue handled within the university gates is now likely to involve lawyers or, at minimum, require an understanding of the legal issues in play.
First, however, the academic leader must focus on the student and what may have caused the misconduct. “The student development literature has long provided valuable insight regarding the college experience and the likely circumstances that can ignite counterproductive and, in some situations, unpredictable student behavior,” writes Oren Griffin, author of Investigating College Student Misconduct and professor of law and associate dean for strategic initiatives at Mercer University. “The investigation of student misconduct incidents, however, should not be viewed as a mere administrative exercise but rather as an opportunity to discover what student choices or decisions may have led to behavior or conduct that requires and intervention.”
Griffin continues by explaining more of the purpose of student misconduct investigations:
A misconduct investigation is typically focused on determining whether the student’s alleged behavior or problematic conduct has resulted in a violation of established campus policies (e.g. those detailed in the student handbook, code of conduct, etc.) or has placed the student or members of the campus community at risk for harm, injury, or liability. While the nature of the student misconduct (e.g. sexual assault, offensive speech, or plagiarism/cheating) frequently receives much of the attention, an underlying goal of the student misconduct investigation is often in the background: prevention. (p. 9)
Many of the high-profile student misconduct cases of the last several years have occurred at the nexus of campus safety and first amendment rights. Griffin includes a robust section of his book on legal issues, including Constitutional and statutory law. He identifies the difficult problem inherent in some of the cases that have made headlines:
Certainly, colleges and universities must remain robust testing grounds to examine innovative ideas and competing schools of thought on various topics. But college campuses cannot become fields of nightmares and intimidation. Not the classroom, student union, residence halls, library, or any other campus spaces can be allowed to serve as platforms for student misconduct. But protecting the campus environment from mayhem does not mean that conditions for intellectual dialogue should be sacrificed or thought-provoking discourse discouraged. (p. 40)
Throughout the remainder of the book, Griffin follows an investigation step-by-step from event to final conclusion. He includes numerous considerations that may not immediately occur to the academic leader when dealing with an incident, including inquiries from the media and the application of due process. Although it does contain sections aimed at student affairs personnel, Investigating College Student Misconduct includes a wealth of information useful for the dean, the department chair, or the student of higher education administration.
Griffin, Oren R. Investigating College Student Misconduct. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018.
Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti, MS, is the editor of Academic Leader and the chair of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference. She is the author of Lecture is Not Dead: Ten Tips for Delivering Dynamic Lectures in the College Classroom and The Care and Motivation of the Adjunct Professor.