For the fourth year in a row, the Office of Student Conduct has failed to publish an annual report on the number and types of student disciplinary cases it has seen in the previous academic year. The last report, which covered the 2008-2009 school year, was published in the Almanac in May 2010 .
The charter of Penn’s student disciplinary system mandates that OSC produce “periodic reports to inform the University community” about the number of rule violations, broken down by type of violation, and the outcomes of reported cases .
As the University searches for a new director of the office — which investigates complaints regarding breaches of the Code of Academic Integrity and Code of Student Conduct — it is unclear whether a new report can be expected any time soon, even once a new director is in place.
“Getting the reports out on an annual basis will be a priority for the new director,” said Rob Nelson , the executive director for education and academic planning in the Provost’s Office .
Last year, a new report almost made it to the Almanac — where the statistics are typically published — but OSC asked that the data be returned because they contained errors. Almanac Editor Marguerite Miller said that her office has periodically inquired for the reports from OSC over the past four years, but made little headway.
The last director of OSC, Michele Goldfarb , told The Daily Pennsylvanian several times between March and October 2013 that the report was being prepared. She cited technical difficulties in compiling the statistics — owing to a new record-keeping system — as the reason for the delay.
Julie Lyzinski Nettleton , the interim director of OSC since July, deferred comment to the Provost’s Office. Nelson, of the Provost’s Office, declined to comment on why there have been no reports.
“This is pretty symptomatic of some of the issues that OSC has,” said College senior Michele Fletcher , the co-chair of the University Honor Council . The Honor Council is the undergraduate judicial board that educates students about university codes of conduct and academic integrity, lobbies the University for policy changes and sends representatives to sit on student conduct hearings .
Fletcher said the daily functions of the office take up much of the staff’s time, although she hopes that the proposed creation of an office devoted to handling cases of sexual misconduct will allow cases to receive more thorough treatment.
“Because it is such a small office, they have a lot of trouble operating at the level that the University wants them to,” Fletcher said.
With the opening of the new office for sexual misconduct, Penn will follow the path of peer schools like Columbia University, which announced the opening of a Gender-Based Misconduct Office in September .
Still, Penn’s student disciplinary system is less transparent than those at other Ivies.
Penn has declined to release aggregate information on what punishments were meted out to students found responsible for sexual misconduct.
In response to requests from the DP last year, Goldfarb, the former director, sent a letter arguing that releasing such statistics would breach student privacy.
“To comply with your request, we would either have to overly generalize with respect to the nature of each offense, which would be both misleading and unhelpful, or we would have to disclose a good deal of additional detail,” which would breach student privacy, the letter read.
Penn’s most recent report indicates the number of reported cases of harassment, indecent/sexual assault, indecent exposure and sexual harassment — among other types of misconduct unrelated to sexual assault. While the report includes how many cases received each type of resolution and sanction, it does not break down these numbers by the type of violation .
For the first time this year, Columbia released statistics on reports of sexual misconduct, broken down by the complainants’ and respondents’ affiliations within the university, as well as the type of responses issued for each category of sexual misconduct.
Yale University’s 2014 Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct also broke down its reported numbers in a similar way and summarized each reported case, excluding the names of persons involved . In its 2014 reports, Brown University included the numbers and types of violations and sanctions administered, as well as whether the hearing was held by students or administrators.
“It’s fair to say as part of the process [of issuing a new report], I’m sure the OSC will look at what peer institutions are doing,” Nelson said, although he added it is too early to tell what will be included in the report.
Fletcher, the Honor Council co-chair, said that broad statistics, like those provided in the 2010 report, are not particularly useful, although they are a starting point. With so little detail, it is difficult for the group to understand trends of disciplinary action and code violations. Still, she stressed, reports don’t always show the full picture anyway.
“The culture aspect is something that the data doesn’t necessarily show,” Fletcher said. To supplement the numbers, the Honor Council has been trying to form relationships with department heads and undergraduate deans in order to collect anecdotal data about what types of disciplinary cases they handle internally and how each department enforces University honor codes.
Fletcher said she hopes the new OSC director will aid this process by communicating with different areas of the university to ensure consistency and fairness in policy.
Regardless of what information a new report would include, Fletcher said it would signal a necessary push for transparency by the University.
“[Issuing annual reports] shows the University cares about what students are doing,” Fletcher said. “That’s essentially what builds trust in any office at Penn — if you know what they’re doing.”
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