Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Report of the Student Conduct Code Task Force

The road to simplicity can sometimes be strewn with the wreckage of good intentions and knowledge excessively applied to judgment that might have been better ripened. In September 2012 I charged a special committee of the Penn State Faculty Senate with the task, one that I thought simple and straightforward at the time, to combine the many student honor codes and related principles into one simple to read student oriented document designed to permit an entering student who sought to "do right" with all the basic necessary information of expectations.  At the time I wrote:
I have also charged a Student Conduct Code Task Force, chaired by Keefe Manning. Its task is at once simple and yet likely highly controversial. Academic integrity and related codes of behavior and behavioral expectations for students, including so-called “Honor Codes” and conduct principles, have become an important regulatory tool for universities. Over the last decade, these codes, in all of their forms, have also presented a number of issues for universities, including issues of complexity, overlap, policy and code incoherence across units and campuses and the like. I have asked this committee to try to simplify this potentially overgrown regulatory patch and bring simplicity and order. The object is to be student centered, though sensitive to the important distinctive needs of particular areas—athletics in particular. But even so, these behavior commands ought to be written for the benefit of students and to help them do the right thing, rather than as an indulgence for the convenience or greater glory of our faculty, unit administrators or anyone else who sees in these an instrument for their own ends first. And the primacy of student dignity, as a species of human dignity, ought to militate against the temptation to see in these codes a means of social engineering that may threaten the long traditions in this country of preserving individual liberties. (Statement of Senate Chair Made at the October 16, 2012 Penn State University Faculty Senate Meeting)
 After some initial resistance by the committee, I expected to receive no report.  To my surprise, and on the day before the end of my term as Chair, I received  the Report of that Special Committee.  I appreciate the Committee's honest engagement with the charge and its willingness to try to explore possibilities as they came to understand it.  I am hopeful that further engagement by others may at some point and in some form bring us closer to the day when we might be able to provide a student just starting her academic career and eager to do right, not philosophy or ethics or an engagement in the complexities of cultural production and replication, but instead a simple set of rules to follow to do right.   The Report follows.

Date: April 22, 2013
From: Keefe B. Manning (ENGR), Chair
Christian Brady (SHC), Linda Caldwell (Athletics FAR), Michael Cardamone (SL), Ben Clark (CCSG–Smeal), Beth Farmer (Law), Brian Avison (GSA), Yvonne Gaudelius (OUE), Pam Hufnagel (DB), Patrick Parsons (COMM), Danny Shaha (SA-Conduct Standards), Nels Shirer (EMS), Linda Trevino (BA), John Zang (UPUA–Liberal Arts)
To: Larry Backer, Chair, University Faculty Senate
Re: Student Conduct Code Task Force
In September of 2012 the “Student Conduct Code” committee (SCCC) was charged with three specific tasks (see attached “Charge” document): in sum, to gather all existing statements of “academic integrity, principles, codes of honor and related conduct expectations,” consult with relevant constituents, and draft a preliminary “Student Conduct Code” that would then be circulated. The initial due date was December 2012, however the committee quickly realized that such a deadline was optimistic, given both the scope of the work envisioned, and subsequent events to be described below that overtook the committee’s efforts. This report contains a description of the committee’s work and findings along with recommendations for future steps relating to the development of a university-wide statement of honor and integrity.
The SCCC met regularly over the course of the academic year and gathered the various existing statements of academic integrity, etc. and these data can be found as an attachment to this report. After reviewing the material the committee came to several conclusions.
1. The committee felt that the stated objective “to develop a set of conduct rules that are common to all students in every academic discipline and athletic endeavor” was already adequately accomplished with the current “Student Code of Conduct.” (To be provided by the Faculty Senate Office.)
2. The committee felt that the conclusion of the Honor Code Task Force of 2011-2012 that recommended that Penn State should adopt “a single, unified, and compact statement of honor and integrity” that applies to faculty, staff and students still has great merit and should be pursued.
3. Such a statement of “honor and integrity” should, however, be developed by the Penn State community as a whole. To that end the committee drafted a recommendation to Chair Backer and President Erickson that a “community committee” be formed to lead a university-wide discussion of the topic and ultimately produce a statement of honor and integrity that would apply to all members of the Penn State community. (See attached.)

As the committee was considering these matters we were made aware of a committee established by the Board of Trustees that was considering similar matters. The “Advisory Council for Implementation of Freeh Recommendations” (ACIFR) was formed to respond to recommendation 1.0 of the Freeh Report related to the issue of “culture” at Penn State.
Keefe Manning and Christian Brady each met on separate occasions with this committee. The goals and objectives of the ACIFR overlap significantly with that of the SCCC. It was also made clear that the efforts of the ACIFR would take precedence over the work of the Senate committee owing to the imperative that the university respond to the Freeh recommendations. The ACIFR intends to have “words on paper [a statement of honor and integrity or core values] in the fall for survey and feedback from the Penn State community.”
In light of these realities the SCCC offers the proceeding information concerning our activities of the past year and the following recommendation.
The SCCC recommends that a standing Senate committee on honor and integrity (or core values) be formed with the charge that this committee serve as the faculty conduit (including student senators) for the ACIFR and then, once a statement is in place, the Senate committee would work with relevant university constituents to implement and incorporate the statement into university life.

An additional recommendation follows:
The members of the Student Conduct Code Task Force have met several times, and based on our review of the committee's charge, the work of the Academic Integrity/Honor Code Task force previously empaneled, and the content of several robust discussions regarding the University's current climate, needs, and opportunities, we would like to suggest a somewhat different direction that we believe will not only achieve the goals originally articulated, but that may also have the potential to effect a positive and long-lasting change.
We suggest taking a more holistic approach. The task force members agree that the most effective way to introduce a common set of community expectations is not to create it in isolation (as was the approach with the current Penn State Principles), but rather to intentionally engage the community in a robust series of ongoing focus groups and feedback sessions that are designed to gather input, engage interested parties, and ultimately form a set of aspirational statements for which the University community feels ownership. Therefore, we recommend that a Penn State Community Committee be created that includes the newly appointed Ethics and Compliance Officer, newly appointed Athletics Integrity Officer, a member of the Rock Ethics Institute, administrators, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. It should be noted that this recommendation is also consistent with the University Strategic Plan (see pages 14-15 in Section 1.6). The statements produced would define what it means to be a member of the Penn State community, what expectations university community members can have of one another, and what a Penn State degree should symbolize. Our goal would be to distill the input into a simple and clear set of statements that would replace the Penn State Principles. They would apply to all members of the University community: students, faculty and staff, and would be an overarching set of expectations ingrained in every aspect of University activity-- from recruiting materials, to new student, faculty, and staff orientations, to commencement ceremonies. The statements would be endorsed by each constituency based on the recommendations of this University-wide committee.
Once these principles are in place, sub groups (faculty, staff, and students) would be created to focus on policies and procedures aimed at the implementation of these statements in practice. For example, the Senate’s Student Conduct Code Task Force may be reconvened to take the overarching statement, and in conjunction with students, faculty and the Colleges, mold it into a statement of honor and integrity that could be adopted by the University as a whole. Student governments have already appointed task forces to look at what should be in this honor and integrity statement. We are pleased to see this as we believe this is a significant first step towards the development of such a statement that students can own. This will provide a single statement of honor and integrity from which revisions to 49-20 and G9 can be contemplated and implemented. We would envision relevant reviews of policies and procedures for faculty and staff as well.
By adopting this cascading and intentional approach and implementing it thoughtfully and effectively with full university community support, we believe the product will serve to achieve the goals originally outlined in the charge, but, moreover, will have a profound and culture-shifting impact on the Penn State community.

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