How does our Judicial System work? Is it an oligarchic committee of administrators that arbitrarily chooses which students to sanction? Or is it more of a “Wizard of Oz” type of deal, where a mysterious man behind a curtain dictates each of our destinies?
Well that was my poor attempt to open this piece on the Judicial System with some humor. For those of you who don’t know, my name is Evan Seltzer and I am the Chairman of the Judicial Board. I am writing to shed some light on the Board and discuss some interesting aspects of how we operate. Hopefully you’ll spare me a few minutes to learn a bit about the Judicial Board and the overall Judicial System of Vassar.
To begin, I’d like to say that the Judicial Board has just launched its first website. If you go to the Vassar Student Association (VSA) website, the link to our site is on the top-right corner of the page. It addresses the more technical information that no one wants to read in a college newspaper editorial. We have everything there from FAQs to the Governing Documents of the Judicial Board.
For now, let’s briefly outline what the Board actually looks like. We’re made up of four representatives for each class and a chairperson elected by the entire school. We serve on three different types of panels: Academic, Student Conduct, and College Regulations. The first regards issues of academic integrity, the second involves moderately severe infractions and the last deals with more serious violations. Every Friday we have weekly Student Conduct Panels, with the other two types of hearings occurring less often.
Student Conduct Panels, which are cases involving infractions such as underage drinking or smoking indoors, are now entirely heard by students. Vassar Administration determined that it would be best for the Judicial System to operate on a more peer-to-peer basis. As such, we are happy to announce that Student Misconduct cases will almost always be paneled exclusively by representatives of the Judicial Board. Both Vassar Administration and the Board feel this is a strong step forward in the direction of having a more inclusive judicial system, one where the student community determines the type of environment we live in.
Did you know that there is no correlation between the rate of sanctioning among professors and that among Judicial Board Reps? While many think professors and students tend to vote along “age lines,” the reality is that it seldom occurs. We pride ourselves on this incongruence; it demonstrates the unbiased nature of judicial hearings. In fact, it must be made known that the Board takes all possible measures to eliminate bias in the hearings. Student Representatives are informed of the alleged violations and the names of the respondents before getting picked to serve. Should there be a conflict of interest, or a conflict of past actions, then Representatives are asked to recuse themselves. I can proudly say that I have yet to hear of an situation where there has been a conflict of interest once a hearing has begun, a statistic I intend to maintain.
Finally, I’d like to announce that the Board has undergone a overhaul in how we determine which Representatives serve on panels. Historically, the Board has acted as a de facto pool of potential panelists, with the Chairperson requesting volunteers for a particular panel. Yet this model engenders great disparity in turnout among Representatives throughout the year. We now operate more methodically to ensure that there are equitable attendance rates. As previously mentioned, we completely systematized Student Conduct Panels. Additionally, we’ve begun to document every Representative’s personal attendance. While this may all sound administrative and mundane, its significance cannot be underestimated. Our Judicial Board will be operating more efficiently while minimizing the key concerns that students have expressed in the past.
Still, neither the Judicial Board nor the Judicial System is perfect. We are always looking for ways to improve. If you ever have any suggestions then please email any Representative on the Board. We are your Representatives, elected to serve. It is our job to listen!
—Evan Seltzer ‘14 is chair of the Judicial Board.