Dec 092007
 
Authors: Erik Myers

Many students who received write-ups for partying in the residence halls at the beginning of the semester were kept in the dark about their punishment for months, a Collegian investigation found. CSU officials say setbacks from physically moving the office that processes student conduct paperwork is to blame for the delay.

In what was confirmed as a significant backlog within the Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct office, at least 10 to 15 individual cases in the residence halls went unresolved for almost the entire semester.

These freshman students, receiving notification of their punishments well after the incident occurred, were surprised to receive the paperwork just a week before final exams.

For most students, a drinking infraction means nothing more than community service or writing a paper. But in some extreme cases, the university could put the student on academic probation, revoke scholarships or expel the student.

And for some students with legitimate drug and alcohol addictions, a delay in the student conduct process could mean jail time, or worse.

Jessica Wernimont had just arrived at her friend’s Westfall room, complete with a beer pong table and the necessary party favors, when an ominous knocking and yelling came from the other side of the door.

Everyone in the room received a write-up for violating the residence hall’s alcohol policy. In the following weeks, Wernimont met with her resident assistant, who told her she’d be receiving her disciplinary outcome within the following weeks.

But Wernimont was just notified of her punishment a week ago; she had been written up in the first week of school. It was the only write-up Wernimont received during the semester.

“It really pissed me off,” the freshman business major said. “Why does it matter anymore when I haven’t gotten written up again? I know what I did was wrong and I broke a rule, but it made me really upset that it took so long.”

Wernimont added that her disciplinary outcome, constructing an alcohol awareness billboard for her hall, is due Jan. 30, even though it had taken three months for her to receive her outcome.

Craig Chesson, director of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct, said the delay is far from typical. Chesson says that while a number of factors could’ve played a part, the backlog was likely due to the burdened moving process his department experienced this semester when changing offices.

“The whole area wasn’t ready, and it wasn’t available until after the semester started,” Chesson said of the new office. “The whole staff had to get into there to clean it, arrange it, set up electrical lines and furniture, just to get it up and going.”

The new office, located at Newsom Hall, was arranged to be closer to the residence halls, so students could be more efficiently served than they were by the old office in the Lory Student Center, Chesson said.

While Chesson admits the delay is far from ordinary, he said it isn’t unfair to implement the backlogged write-ups.

“Its not a matter of fairness; there was behavior that took place and needs to be addressed,” Chesson said.

But some transitioning students, disposed to the allure of booze-filled parties and illicit drug use, receive more punishment than putting up a billboard.

Cassidy Schultz is a staff member with the Drugs, Alcohol and You (DAY) Programs office. The DAY programs, among other services, are designed to meet the needs of students who may suffer from drug or alcohol-related problems. The conduct system will often assign a student to one of several DAY programs as an outcome of a write-up.

Schultz says these types of lags aren’t necessarily a single office’s fault.

“It just seems like there’s so many people working in conduct,” Schultz said. “A lot of times there’s going to be miscommunications, and that can prolong the process and affect whatever that student needs to do.”

Joah Mershon, a student enrolled in the DAY IV program, an intensive course for students who are at risk of being expelled because of their drug abuse, was enrolled in the program in October after being convicted on DUI charges. He says if he hadn’t received a timely processing, he could be in even more trouble.

“I probably would’ve kept doing what I’ve been doing,” Mershon said. “(DAY IV) has allowed me to address my issues a lot faster.”

Major incidents, such as Mershon’s, are put on priority above other university code violations, Chesson said.

Anne Hudgens, executive director of Campus Life, said she believed the conduct system to be dedicated and efficient, but was bound to have glitches, which were investigated and contained by the conduct systems’ staff.

In the cases of students who were caught up in the backlog, Hudgens alluded to the conduct system’s appeal process. In the traditional appeals process, students who feel that they have been unfairly disciplined have the option of bringing their case before the University Discipline Panel, but only by requesting an appeal via letter, and only within a seven-day timeline after they receive their outcome.

Should the panel accept the appeal, the case will either receive another review from the hearing officer or Chesson, or go before the Appeals Committee, which has the ability to reverse the original outcome.

Hudgens encouraged students who had been caught up in the backlog to begin conversations with those operating the conduct system.

“If somebody made a mistake in August, and there’s been no further issues with their behavior, I think those cases are definitely worth the conversation,” Hudgens said. “The conduct people are really reasonable people; the whole point of the conduct system is to help students realize their mistakes and make better decisions.”

Mary Ellen Sinnwell, Residence Life director, did not return phone calls or emails made by Collegian reporters.

Assistant news editor Erik Myers can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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