Sanction Guide | Part 1: Background Behind Sanctions

Rutgers University Sanction Formula

Nature of the Violation(s) + University Precedent for Similar Violations + Previous Disciplinary History of the Student + Mitigating or Aggravating Factors + Student’s Developmental Needs = SANCTION IMPOSED ON STUDENT

Nature of the Violation(s)

Determine specifically what happened in the incident. Once you know what happened, you can figure out the degree to which the student violated the Code of Student Conduct and the impact the student’s behavior had on individuals and the overall community. It is also important to consider what could have happened as a result of that student’s behavior. For example, shooting a firework inside a residence hall as a prank is one thing, but hitting someone with a firework or setting fire to the building is another possible consequence. We want the student to know what could have happened so they can understand why their behavior was so counterproductive to the community.

University Precedent for Similar Violations

There are typical sanctions for each violation. This precedent has been established by the University Hearing Board, Conduct Officers, and the Senior Student Affairs and Senior Academic Integrity Officers. This is always a starting point for you. While we treat every student differently, it is important to know what sanctions the “typical” student is facing. 

Previous Disciplinary History of the Student

Knowing a student’s disciplinary history assists us in understanding if this individual is someone who consistently makes good decisions and whose involvement in the disciplinary process is likely an isolated event, or if the person has an established pattern of making poor decisions. In addition, this will assist us in establishing if a student is having difficulty with a particular policy or set of expectations.

Mitigating or Aggravating Factors

  • Intent of the student: Was it the intent of the student to violate policy or was the student acting to prevent a violation or acting in self-defense?
  • Personal circumstances: Is there something going on in the student’s life that impacted the violation that occurred? For example, did they get into a fight to blow off anger from a recent friend’s death? Could there be a physical or psychological disorder? Could the student finally be admitting a substance addiction?
  • Attitude displayed during the process: Did the student place blame, act disrespectfully, or disrupt proceedings? All of those factors could influence what you believe the student needs educationally.
  • Demonstration of understanding: Does the student understand why their behavior was inappropriate? Does the student blame others? If a person understands why their actions were wrong, there may not be as much need for them to reflect on their behavior as someone who lacks that understanding.
  • Influence of alcohol and/or other drugs: Does the student seem to have a problem with decision making when alcohol or other drugs are involved? This helps us address the concern of whether or not the student has a “substance problem,” one that goes beyond the simple use of a substance. A second question is whether or not the student views the use of a substance as a complicating factor in the event, or if they view the substance as an excuse for other acts of misconduct.

Student's Developmental Needs 

Where is the student developmentally? Sometimes a student’s behavior is a result of insufficient development in a particular area. It is important to determine whether a student’s lack of knowledge was a result of their developmental level. For example, did a first-year student commit plagiarism because she is unfamiliar with citation methods? Did the student break a window because they lack emotional control?

In terms of our sanction model, Rutgers University utilizes Chickering’s Vectors (Chickering, 1969; Chickering and Reisser, 1993).

Other Factors to Consider

  • International student status (will suspension or expulsion affect the student’s visa?)
  • Mental health issues (the sanction may include a requirement for psychological evaluation, if warranted)
  • Residential situation (if student’s home is out of state, will removal from housing create undue hardship?)
  • Sequential academic programs (if the student is suspended during the only semester in which required courses are offered, and courses must be taken in sequence, will they have to wait yet another semester after the suspension to return to the University?)

Stages of Change Model

For many Rutgers University students, the idea of changing their behavior to conform to University standards is foreign. College students typically have so much going on in their lives that stopping to think about their actions and behaviors probably does not occur. Student conduct programs that focus all of their energy on the goal of changing behavior will often find disappointment. For conduct programs to truly make a difference in college student behavior, we need to rethink our objectives for sanctions.

The Stages of Change Model (Prochaska and DiClementi, 1992) provides information regarding how people go about the process of making change. People for the most part make change gradually, moving from being uninterested, unaware, or unwilling to make a change (Precontemplation) to thinking about making a change (Contemplation), to preparing to change (Preparation), to actually making a change (Action) to putting changes into place in life (Maintenance and Relapse Prevention). Stages are provided below for greater explanation.

Precontemplation: During the Precontemplation stage, people don’t even know they need to incorporate change into their lives. They are unaware of any problems or in denial that a problem exists. For some college students, this might mean drinking in a high risk manner and not being aware of any of the consequences (or being aware of consequences but not feeling as if those consequences affect them personally).

Contemplation: During Contemplation, people are beginning to think about their behavior but may still be ambivalent about change. They weigh the pros and cons of change without actually making change. For example, a college student might think about what it would take to complete class work without using cheat sheets or writing a paper without purchasing the paper from an online source.

Preparation: During the Preparation stage, people prepare to actually change their behavior. Students might experiment with small changes to see how they go or gather information needed in order to make the change. For example, a college student who wants to get involved but has hesitated in the past to join a group may go to an Involvement Fair and pick up literature from different student organizations, including information about when the group meets.

Action: In the action stage, people make changes to their behavior. For college students, it may mean committing to counseling to address an anger issue or taking the initiative to make amends for past behavior without being forced to make amends.

Maintenance and Relapse Prevention: Change does not occur overnight; new behavior needs to be reinforced in order to become habit. A person may revert to past behaviors many times before the change sticks. For example, a student may have addressed how to avoid fights while at school, but not addressed what happens once she is home with high school friends on breaks.

If the learning objectives of disciplinary sanctions only address behavioral change, we are not meeting our students where they are with their behavior. We therefore have to assess where the student is in terms of change and find a sanction that will help that student move from one stage to the next. Sanctions should be viewed as interventions, and we should tailor our interventions to address a student’s behavior where they are. If a student is in Precontemplation, moving them to a place where they are thinking about the appropriateness of their behavior is progress. We need to be content with that and sanction accordingly.