USG, JW Tabacchi discuss University judicial system

Originally published in the Globe April 9, 2014

Director of Judicial Affairs JW Tabacchi spoke to the United Student Government (USG) to address concerns and clarify the judicial process at Point Park.

Tabacchi discussed in detail the complete judiciary process, including sending incident reports to requesting appeals. Tabacchisaid it was “standard to systems in higher education nationwide.”

There have been no real issues with the current system and no real complaints, according to Tabacchi

“Students aren’t aware of the system because they don’t read the Student Handbook,” said Tabacchi Monday in the Student and Convocation Center. “Students don’t read it until they get in trouble.”

The process begins with an incident report either from OrgSync or Public Safety. Tabacchi then determines whether the student violated the policies in the Student Handbook.

Tabacci said if he finds a student is in violation of the Handbook, the student is sent a charge letter three days in advance for a meeting detailing what the incident was, what the student is being charged with, where they can find the charge in the Student Handbook and contact information for Tabacchi and his office. The letter also mentions where students can request their record and the incident report.

Students also have a meeting with Tabacchi or another conduct officer to “get both sides of the story,” according toTabacchi.

“It’s a conversation,” Tabacchi said to USG. “We break the ice. I tell the students there’s two sides to the story – the incident report and [their side]. I want to have both sides of the story.”

Tabacchi also discussed the consequences of students’ actions.

“Our philosophy is educational,” Tabacchi said. “We’re trying to get them to understand how their choices may affect their future.”

According to Tabacchi, a sanction meeting or a disciplinary conference follows the first meeting. He said a disciplinary officer makes the sanction choices, which are listed in the Student Handbook and include completing the Alcohol eCheckup To Go (e-CHUG), paying fines, censuring and explosion.

“We treat every student as an individual,” Tabacchi said. “It takes two weeks to complete sanction, but we’re very flexible and rarely hold students to the deadline. This is another educational opportunity, saying it’s better to communicate and ask for help than to let the deadline pass.”

USG Vice President Evan Schall said he appreciated Tabacchi speaking to USG.

“It helped clarify what he does and what the judicial process does,” said Schall Monday in the Student and Convocation Center. “He explained ‘this is how this works and why we did this.’ If you don’t like the meeting, you can appeal. That sounds fair to me.”

The judicial system has been in place for three years. The previous system included a University Judicial Board comprised of three students and one faculty member who determined whether the student was in violation and made recommendations.

“There was pushback,” Tabacchi said. “We listened [to complaints regarding bias] and removed [the Judicial Board].”

Some of the issues were ones of bias from board members and sensitivity surrounding issues like sexual assault, according to Tabacchi.

“The board reflects society and gives the perception of fairness,” Tabacchi said. “With a single person, the process is more streamline and more private. There’s a hesitancy to speak around peers.”

USG President Dillon Kunkle, who served on the Judicial Board his sophomore year, preferred the previous system to the current one.

“I believed in the ethic of [the previous system], being judged by a jury of your peers,” said Kunkle Monday in the Student and Convocation Center. “When you’re sitting across from a bunch of students who know what it’s like to be in their late teens, they have empathy for your case.”

As for the criticism of bias, according to Kunkle, the board members were nominated by leadership groups at the beginning of the year, went through an interview process and hours of training.

“The point of a board is to offset bias,” Kunkle said. “But bias comes with the human element.”

Kunkle said he supports a board returning to the Point Park judicial process to remove bias.

Schall said he was more in favor of the current system. He said the previous system was “good in theory,” but could be intimidating to face your peers and difficult to get students to serve on the board with no incentive.

As for the current system, Kunkle said he believes it is “still in its infancy,” but doesn’t like that judgment is passed by a single person.

“I don’t think I can support a system where one set of eyes passes judgment on a case,” Kunkle said.

Kunkle, however, appreciated the University keeping the judicial system in-house.

“Universities like Pitt are letting students go straight to the police,” Kunkle said. “They’re ruining the student’s future. [Point Park] has chosen to make this a learning process and I can’t praise them enough for that.”

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