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2017 Issue 3: Science on a small scale

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From the principal: Reviewing student non-academic misconduct

From the principal: Reviewing student non-academic misconduct

Last fall, auditors recommended that the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board of Trustees initiate an independent review of the current policies and procedures in place with regard to student non-academic misconduct and related issues.

[From the Principal - graphic]
From the Principal

Alumni may or may not be aware that Queen’s has several systems in place to address student “non-academic misconduct,” a term that is used to refer to a wide spectrum of student activities that fail to meet the accepted standards of behaviour and thus negatively affect the safety and well-being of the University community.

The ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the means are in place to address student non-academic misconduct rests squarely with the Board of Trustees, which has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all members of the Queen’s community. Until recently, the Board had delegated to Senate, the "on-location" governing body charged with the academic oversight of the institution, much of the responsibility for ensuring that non-academic student misconduct was addressed appropriately.

Over the years, the handling of student non-academic misconduct has evolved to the point where we have four separate systems. The NAD (non-academic discipline) system is run by the Alma Mater Society). Residences runs its own system, as does Athletic and Recreation, and the system for non-academic misconduct by graduate students is administered by the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS). Each of these systems involves a substantial peer judicial component.

Many of the cases that have come before the various systems have been handled well, but the current distribution of jurisdiction has many flaws and gaps. 

  • First, there is a disconnect between each of the systems and a lack of information flowing between them, one disadvantage of which is that it limits our ability to identify students who may be in trouble and need early intervention.
  • Secondly, the jurisdictional lines are not always clear, especially given that a student offense could conceivably involve more than one of the systems (a student athlete committing an offense while in residence, for instance).
  • Thirdly, societal expectations of both acceptable behaviour and institutional responsibility have evolved, and we need a rationalized and comprehensive overarching system to keep pace with this.

Last fall, external auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers recommended that the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board of Trustees initiate an independent review of the current policies and procedures in place with regard to student non-academic misconduct and related issues to identify any potential risks or exposures to the university.

The fact that our current arrangements are less than adequate was firmly reinforced in the subsequent report by Harriet Lewis, former University Legal Counsel at York University. The Lewis report points to the considerable risks posed by leaving our current systems unreformed, identifies several areas for improvement, and makes recommendations for reforms so that Queen’s has the best system possible to ensure student safety.

Based on the Lewis report, the Board of Trustees has taken a number of actions. First, it has asked me to revise the system for addressing non-academic misconduct. Part of this process will include a review, and I have accordingly struck an advisory committee, which I will chair. We will produce a draft set of policies and procedures to be considered by both Senate and Board over the next several months with the goal of having the final documents approved by the Board at its May 2016 meeting. 

Secondly, the Board has imposed, immediately, an interim protocol for addressing cases of student non-academic misconduct, the principal feature of which is the establishment of a central intake office to undertake an initial assessment of all cases, and then refer them to one of five systems (the aforementioned four systems already in place, and a new system run by the Provost’s Office for handling "university-level offences").

So far as the review is concerned, I have committed that there will be wide consultation with stakeholders, but the process will nonetheless proceed expeditiously. The end product should be a system that is highly integrated, that leaves student participation in many cases intact, and that ensures the University has the capacity to address more serious cases in a thorough and timely fashion, with a focus on the health and safety of our students as well as the wider Queen’s and Kingston communities.

In the coming weeks a website will be established with more information about the review process; I look forward to hearing your thoughts as the process unfolds.

Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor 

[cover - Queen's Alumni Review Digital Special Edition Fall 2015]