Publicize conduct cases

December 5, 2005

The controversy surrounding photos taken of a couple apparently having sex in a high rise window has put a spotlight on the Office of Student Conduct. The attention has shown just how much of a problem the way the University’s disciplinary arm conducts its business has become.

The main problem with the OSC is the lack of transparency in the office’s operations. This became obvious when the office charged an Engineering junior with violating the University’s Code of Student Conduct for publishing photos online of the couple then dropped the charges.

Maybe they had a change of heart. Or, more likely, the national media attention was enough of an incentive.

How many more cases are there like this?

In the 2001-02 school year, the OSC pursued 91 conduct-related disciplinary cases. There could be dozens of cases, similar to the photography incident, where students were being unfairly charged.

Do not think that most of the incidents were related to alcohol either; only 21 of them did.

The only information provided about these cases is that 23 incidents involved "disorderly conduct" and 31 cited "computer misuse or piracy." Making matters worse, the OSC has not made new statistics publicly available since 2002.

These cases are translating vague policies — such as the prohibition of "harrassing communications" — into action. Unless the public can actually see this happen, no one will have an idea of how the policies apply to real life.

The OSC’s role is to decide if students are guilty of misconduct, and they should make the University community aware of the results of the proceedings. In the interest of student privacy, they can withhold names. But they shouldn’t allow another incident like this to go under the radar.

Informing the public would make the OSC’s actions more fair and accountable, and hopefully avoid another black eye for the University.

Schools: University of Pennsylvania