With redemption and due process: Making sense of the disciplinary procedures at Bryan College

| October 7, 2011 | 0 Comments

Dan Jackson
Assistant Online Editor

When students sign the document saying they have read and agree to abide by the Student Handbook, they submit to the college’s rules and direction and give up their legal rights to free speech, peaceful assembly, and the Second Amendment, among others.

That does not mean the college has the legal right to do anything it wills. Students are still protected by the Student Handbook and contract law. In the law’s eyes, the handbook is a contract between the college and the student and both parties must agree with the document. The discipline process at Bryan attempts to provide a fair hearing for students accused of rule breaking.

“We want to make sure we follow our procedures,” said Dean Bruce Morgan about administering discipline. In this way, the accused students can have the attempt to defend themselves and prevent an overzealous college from administrating inappropriate discipline.

Bryan Discipline in a nutshell

The procedure, along with all the rules, is explained in the Student Handbook. This year, the Office of Student Life did not distribute hard copies of the handbook to students. According to Morgan, students rarely read the book. Instead, the Office of Student Life put the handbook online for anyone interested in reading it.

A student accused of breaking a major rule on campus will face either a disciplinary committee, called Honor Council, or deal with a school official. The school official could be Morgan, a resident director or Vice President for Enrollment Management, Mike Sapienza.

The handbook does not specify exactly when the cases would be referred to Honor Council. Morgan said students can appeal a school official’s decision to Honor Council where it will be retried. However, the handbook states an Honor Council will most likely be called when a student seriously violates Bryan’s rules and they face suspension or expulsion.

The college handles about 20 serious disciplinary issues a year. In a given year, only one of those cases is serious enough that the college suspends the student. Morgan said that in his time working at Bryan, there have been no expulsions.

According to Morgan, the Honor Council decides by a simple majority vote, but for the most part, the Honor Council has decided past cases unanimously.

The Honor Council pulls from Enrollment Management staff, faculty and students. Student Government appoints two students to sit on the council. Karen Traylor, administrative assistant to academic vice president, said in the past, it was difficult to find students to sit on the council.

As the time this story has gone out for publication, SGA has not appointed students to sit on this academic year’s council. SGA Vice President Daniel Grayton says that they will make the appointment during this week.

A different angle on discipline

But how does Bryan’s discipline process compare with other colleges? Professor of Communications Dr. Randy Hollingsworth taught at Palm Beach Atlantic University from 1998 to 2005 until he received a teaching position at Bryan. He has not been involved with discipline in the last eight years.

Palm Beach rests only a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. Clubs in the downtown would stay open during the night. During the day, students would bike through rows of palm trees, past million dollar villas, to surf the beach.

The college grew when Hollingsworth taught there from 1,500 students to 5,000. With the growth came a change in discipline procedures.

According to Hollingsworth, many of the students came to Palm Beach because it was a private school, not a private Christian school. It got to the point where only one third of a classroom would consider themselves Christian. Hollingsworth said this was not discouraging, but exciting because it turned the classroom into a mission field.

In 1998, Palm Beach left the discipline in the hands of one person “like a Bruce Morgan,” said Hollingsworth. Because of the larger, more secularized environment, the offense rate at Palm Beach was higher. The college grew and it moved toward a committee style of discipline. Palm Beach started two committees which alternated duties each week. They approached Hollingsworth, asking him if he would be interested in serving on one of the committees.

Hollingsworth said by asking for faculty to sit on the council, Palm Beach put “older, wiser people” on the committee who were hopefully unbiased toward the student’s case.

In addition, members of SGA also sat on the board. Hollingsworth said the student leaders served as, “a jury of their peers to some degree.”

A philosophy behind the discipline

Besides differences in structure between the colleges, both discipline councils try to accomplish the same goal: to “administer discipline redemptively” as the Bryan Student Handbook puts it.

“These were to be teachable moments,” said Hollingsworth, about the Palm Beach discipline hearings.

Morgan agrees: “My main job is spending time with students,” he said.

And when those students mess up, the rulebook is not immediately thrown at them.

“I want to do discipline from a relational perspective,” said Morgan.

Hollingsworth remembers the same energy in disciplining students.

“We spent long hours with the student talking about what they did, why they did it and if they felt it was ok,” he said. “So to some degree, there was counseling going on.”

This is gonna hurt me too…

Administering discipline time after time, hearing story after story: “It’s emotionally draining,” said Hollingsworth. He saw the sinful side of a Christian college sitting on that committee.

Teaching 8 a.m. classes, he saw his students as “sleepy but still very nice kids.” But in the afternoon he would hear the stories come out through the discipline committee – of a worship leader sleeping with his girlfriend, for example. His perception of that student changed when he returned to his 8 a.m. class.

“Even my ‘good kids’ were getting in trouble,” said Hollingsworth. The committee served as a reminder for Hollingsworth that none are perfect; we all fall short.

Morgan feels the same way. Unlike Palm Beach, Bryan allows multiple avenues for hearing and handing down discipline. However, he said that handing down that discipline still tires him.

Both Hollingsworth and Morgan are relieved that they are not more involved in discipline at Bryan than they already are. When asked if he should be the only person handing out discipline, Morgan said, “I know I wouldn’t want it.”

Morgan does not see Bryan converting totally to an Honor Council based due discipline system. “I don’t see us doing that in the near future, unless we have a lot more disciplinary issues.”

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