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Continuing the COVID Conversation(s)


There are no written best practices for a sudden pandemic that sweeps the globe at record speed and halts all normal societal activities, and there are certainly more questions than answers, what we do have is each other and a chance to enter into the conversations to see what unfolds. This blog series will recap daily conversations about the current transitions affecting our campuses, our staffs, our students, and our profession.


Before we begin, let me just say it—I don't blog. Until today that is. But I suppose we now live in a time where a sense of normalcy has all but expired anyway so here goes.
 
First, there are a few points of privilege I must acknowledge as they surely influence my perspectives. While I spent the vast majority of my career in conduct and housing in an on-campus setting, I've already been working remote with ASCA for 14 months and have personally experienced very little shift in my day-to-day with the exception of having two kids who now stay home and a partner who works in public health. Even so, when I have thoughts such as “wow, I am so grateful that I happened to leave the world of CHO/SCO work prior to this pandemic,” my heart aches for the thousands of campus employees forced to make difficult decisions (understatement, I know) that will have lasting impacts and the students whose educational journeys have been steered in a new direction. While I have not had to remove students from housing, tell employees not to come to work, or try to balance a university budget while issuing refunds, I (and ASCA) emphasize and strive to offer support where able.
 
As you may know, ASCA recognizes the value in providing a forum where conduct professionals and colleagues can continue to engage in conversations for idea sharing, problem solving, and maintaining a sense of community, which led to the creation of a new series “ASCA Chats.” Currently set to run daily for five weeks, dozens of topics have been selected for small group discussions. 
 
Ok, so why am I suddenly a wannabe blogger? Recognizing it's aspirational, I have intention of sharing a daily recap from our ASCA Chats so that those who were unable to join can review a general idea of what is being discussed within the world of student conduct during this time. There are no written best practices for a sudden pandemic that sweeps the globe at record speed and halts all normal societal activities, and there are certainly more questions than answers, what we do have is each other and a chance to enter into the conversations to see what unfolds. 
 
Today's topic—Adjusting to Life as a Remote Employee.
 
Joining the chat today were conduct professionals from three countries, four time zones, non-profits and for-profits, public and private, and a host of other diverse institutional and personal identities. Discussion primarily focused on changes that are happening to day-to-day work and operations and less on personal adjustments to remote work with focuses that emerged on the following themes. Please note that some questions listed were posed to the group without answers and some statements included below represent the actions of one campus and not the collective whole, but nonetheless serve to share insight about a broad range of topics and considerations. 
 
Communication with Students: 
  • Should there be a general communication to the student body about continued accountability?
    • Poll indicated majority, yes. Some in specific statements issues to all students, to residents, and/or to faculty and staff.
    • Used as explanation of continuity of services
  • Current events are adding new shape to perspectives about what is going on in student lives and how their actions affect others differently now.
Remote Hearings:
  • What adjustments have been made to hold timely hearings for cases that were already open prior to shifting to remote operations?
    • Statements added to letters explaining shift in process to Zoom with explanations of how to access meetings.
    • Not assuming all students have access to video conferencing and offering phone hearings too.
  • For processes using hearing boards, interim measures in place while determining next steps. Limited clarity on this so far.
  • Has language in charge letters changed?
    • Majority indicated yes, a softer introductory sentence or paragraph is used to acknowledge current circumstances and changes to operations before going into more formal, typical letter.
Procedural:
  • Assessments:
    • Want to make sure processes still fair during change in procedures
    • One campus using same survey because they want to know same markers, but plan to analyze data of normal process vs. period of online hearings
  • Confidentiality issues two-sided: hearing officers using headphones so family do not overhear, but also difficult to tell who may be in room with student
    • Tip: Zoom allows closing a meeting once all participants present to prevent others from joining the line
  • Opportunity for students to review file if part of normal process
    • Some sending advance redacted file, others showing via video if student states ability to view screen sharing
  • Hearing boards:
    • Still determining next steps for how to address these processes
  • Background checks:
    • One institution has contacted the agents who they most often work with to proactively let them know of changes (digital, no faxes, etc)
    • One institution still allowing access to check mailroom once per week
    • Transfer forms most common, but usually via e-mail
Future of Higher Education:
  • Do not know how long this will last, which raises anxiety about job security and budgets
    • Some institutions keeping a log of daily work to justify not taking leave
    • Raises new challenges about justifying amount of work and FTE needed
    • Spreadsheet of projects shared between co-workers for future budget conversations
Residence Halls:
  • Some students remaining in residence halls told that minor policy violations can/will result in removal from campus housing.
  • Deciding what to do when COVID cases reside in the hall as it emerges.
    • One institution that recently experienced this is expecting more students to likely leave the halls, but message remains same: strongly encourage residents to leave, but if you stay, we are doing our best to clean and assist to best of ability
Academic Integrity:
  • Some offering additional support and resources for faculty to report and/or hear academic integrity cases
  • Some plan to offer training for faculty on classroom management and behavioral expectations for the online setting
Institutional Priorities:
  • How are campuses prioritizing student conduct operations?
  • Each day makes it appear this is new norm will be in longer rather than shorter term- most now planning to not return to offices until at least summer 
  • Are departments getting messages from administration about how to function in this time? 
    • Majority stated no but appreciate the freedom in this.
    • With Dean of Students' offices addressing more urgent issues, haven't necessarily gotten to this yet.
Conduct and Behavioral Trends:
  • Currently experiencing fewer new incident reports than typical.
  • Commuter students moving back to the area to be near campus may affect students' conduct and require accountability in new ways.
  • Closure of bars and restaurants helping to limit cases.
  • Students sharing information and files about cases on social media.
  • New stressors mean new student behavioral responses.
  • New violations not yet seen before include:
    • Convening in spaces in violation of social distancing guidelines
    • Having additional persons in hearing
    • Known COVID spread
Sanctioning:
  • Use of interim measures to buy time, if necessary
  • Resource referral:
    • Of schools that shared, most on-campus resources (counseling, advocacy, health education, AOD, etc) meeting with students remotely to continue offering these services
  • For students needing to complete sanctions:
    • Some opting to substitute sanctions for other alternatives;
    • Some working with students individually case-by-case;
    • Deadlines sometimes extended if sanction cannot be completely currently (MADD seminar as example)
    • Some looking into new sanctions that can be completed electronically either via use of new software or recording webinars, etc. for this purpose
Personal Adjustments/Reflections:
  • Teenagers eat more when at home.
  • Loss of normal human interaction with co-workers difficult
  • Occasional check-ins with co-workers throughout day have helped with isolation
  • College students who are staying back at home helpful to get their perspective
  • Thankful for supportive partners and family
  • Technology can be a learning curve
  • Seeing it as more opportunities to connect with family
 
Again, the above notes are not intended to offer advice or to provide any sort of hard data on the current state of student conduct. Instead, the cliff's notes hopefully serve as brief snippets of the larger conversations happening within the profession to provide food for thought as you work to transition your departments, processes, staff, and students to a new era of education. 
 
Want to join a future chat? Check out our schedule and register online
 
Have additional thoughts or recommendations on any of the questions/topics discussed during today's chats? Feel free to share in the comments.
 
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Any opinions, stated or implied, are those of the author and do not reflect the official views or positions of the Association for Student Conduct Administration.

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