Managing misbehavior


Jenna Watson

(From left) Hearing officer Lucy Omar, hearing officer and convener Lisa Oddo and residence hall director John Hummell share introductions with a student before beginning a hearing panel in the office of student conduct, located in Beall/McDowell Hall, early Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

Elaina Sauber

Anthony Maul had been having parties with alcohol in his room while serving as a Resident Assistant in Verder Hall for more than a year before finally getting caught in October 2012. Around a dozen people were present, all of whom were underage, when security knocked.

The incident happened just a week shy of Maul’s 21st birthday — he was cited for underage drinking and resigned from his position.

In addition to his underage consumption charge, Maul, a senior accounting major, also received an email from the Office of Student Conduct, located in Beall/McDowell halls, directing him to contact the office to schedule a hearing to tell his “side of the situation.”   

The office, led by director Todd Kamenash, holds hearings for Kent State students accused of violating one of the university’s 28 rules that comprise the Student Code of Conduct. The office includes more than three dozen hearing officers, comprised of students, faculty and staff.

Of those 28 rules, the most common violations are for alcohol, Residence Hall policies and controlled substances. In the 2011-2012 school year, about 32 percent of the violations reported to the office were alcohol-related, compared with  about 25 percent during the 2012-2013 school year according to statistics from the Office of Student Conduct.

During the 2012-13 academic school year, 608 students were referred to the office. Of those students, 266 faced disciplinary probation, while 30 were either suspended or dismissed from Kent State.

Last fall, 264 students were seen by the office, of which 99 faced disciplinary probation and seven were suspended or dismissed.

The office is now the focus of a more serious incident: an alleged act of violence from freshman Quavaugntay Tyler, who was charged Friday with inciting panic, carrying a concealed weapon and tampering with evidence, according to Victor Vigluicci, prosecuting attorney at the Portage County prosecutor’s office. Tyler allegedly fired the gun that caused April 12’s lockdown.

Shay Little, associate vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, said she “can’t give specifics about individuals because it is a part of student education records” but that the Office of Student Conduct was “moving expeditiously.”  

‘We’re not judges’

The student conduct process must begin with an incident report of alleged misconduct, which can come from Residence Services, the Kent State Police Department, the Kent City Police Department, faculty or students. The office can’t get involved without receiving an incident report.

“We’ve got plenty of business; I don’t need to go looking for them,” Kamenash said. “We’re not hunting for cases. We don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”

Incident reports can result in two types of hearings. For a nonviolent, first-time allegation, the usual result is a one-on-one sanction hearing, the most basic type of proceeding. Maul, for instance, faced a sanction hearing after his underage drinking incident.  

According to the office’s website, if a student opts for a sanction hearing, “they already admit to responsibility for the violation and the hearing is designed to determine the sanction.”

“They said if you wanted to prove that you weren’t intoxicated, you could seek legal services,” Maul said, “but I just wanted to get the situation over with.”

Hearing panels, which consist of at least three hearing officers, are designed for repeat offenses, any act of violence, or if a student doesn’t take responsibility for an alleged incident. Although the student can bring any person “including a friend, relative, Judicial Advocate, or an attorney” to advise them, the person cannot represent the student.  

Either way, the office’s purpose isn’t to punish students, Kamenash said, adding that an incident report is only “one side” of the situation — the panel is equally interested in the student’s side of the story.

“We’re not judges,” Kamenash said. “We’re not accusing anybody of violating crimes — this is the Code of Student Conduct, and we’re focusing on a person’s behavior, and that’s the primary goal for us.”

He added that the “goal is to assist and make sure students understand” that the process is about a conversation.

“If we wanted to punish people, we could punish people,” Kamenash said.  “How is that going to serve our community?  How is that going to make the person coming in a better student?”

Maul said he was upfront about what had happened.

“My experience was actually pretty good with conduct court,” he said. “They said. ‘Hey, you have good grades, so we’re going to take it easy on you.’”

Maul said he believes the office looked up his grades and past history prior to his sanction hearing and that his clean record worked in his favor. His advice for students called for a hearing is “be transparent with them, and they’ll be transparent back.”

Another common violation, possession of controlled substances, made up around 12 percent of the reported violations in the 2011-2012 school year and about 10 percent in the 2012-2013 school year. One student, a senior English major who wished to remain anonymous to protect her future employment, said she wasn’t aware of the office until she fell into hot water for being caught with marijuana and paraphernalia twice in November 2010.

Due to the repeat offense, the office held a hearing panel for her.

Representatives from Student Legal Services helped her out during her legal proceedings with the city, she said, but she didn’t know they could also advise her during her hearing panel at the university.

“They were threatening to kick me out,” she said. “They told me right off the bat that just for your first time you have the chance to be kicked out of here. I was thinking, ‘Come on, we’re college kids.’ I also told them my family is a Kent State family.”

Prior to her hearing, she was advised by her residence hall director to acquire letters of recommendation from her former high school teachers who would attest to her character. She also brought a drug test to the hearing to prove she hadn’t been using marijuana.

During her hearing, she also informed officials that she had preexisting anxiety and depression issues.

“That was really intimidating,” she said. “I just went with what I felt was the truth and tried to explain it to the best of my ability.”

The resulting punishments from the city and from the office varied in severity. For the city, she had to complete a five-month “diversion program” and pass a drug test at the end.

Her sanctions through the office included a referral to Psychological Services for mandatory counseling, completion of a two-hour, $100 substance workshop held in the Deweese Health Center, a year of disciplinary probation, eight hours of community service and a reflection assignment.

Although cheaper, the university’s sanctions didn’t resonate with her as much, and she felt the diversion program mandated by the City of Kent was more helpful than the two-hour workshop at the Health Center because she found the instructor to be “more honest and realistic” with them.  

She doesn’t feel the university-mandated workshop was helpful because “it’s what you’ve been hearing since high school.”  

“There was too big of a disconnect between what she [the instructor] was saying and what the reality of the situation was,” she said.  

“The university went much more hardcore with it,” she said.

“I got off a lot easier with the city than I did with the university,” she said of her punishment by the City of Kent, “There was a lot less to do, and it was just a little bit more to pay, for diversion and court fees.”

Acts of violence

In some instances, students can be suspended before they’re convicted in a court of law. Certain acts of violence that pose threats to campus fall under The Ohio Campus Disruption Act, or House Bill 1219, a far-reaching law passed just months after the May 4 shootings at Kent State.

“So far as we’re aware, Ohio is the only state that has this,” Kamenash said. “If we have an issue that’s a high risk issue, then we’re not going to wait, because the safety of the campus is of paramount importance.”

If a student’s criminal charges fall under the list provided in ORC, a HB 1219 hearing must be held.

One of Tyler’s charges, “inciting panic,” is one of the violations that falls under HB 1219. Other violations that lead to a HB 1219 hearing include assault, menacing by stalking, arson, rape, aggravated riot and domestic violence.  

Little said that Kent State Police Chief John Peach is responsible for determining if the

Charges fall under HB 1219.  Peach wasn’t available for comment at the time of publication.  

Following a student’s arrest, the office is informed by chief of police that an incident occurred under House Bill 1219. The office then facilitates a “quasi-legal” civil hearing, during which an attorney not affiliated with the university acts as a “referee” and decides if it is more likely than not that “that issue happened,” Kamenash said.

A hearing must be scheduled for that student within five days of his or her arrest, regardless of criminal proceedings, to determine whether the student poses a risk to campus safety. If the student is found guilty, he or she is automatically suspended from the university for one calendar year prior to his or her criminal convictions.

If a student’s attorney has charges reduced to a misdemeanor or dropped, the suspension under H.B. 1219 is immediately rescinded.

While the legal process can determine consequences for a student’s criminal charges, the Kent State Student Conduct process and the HB 1219 process can also affect a student’s academic career.

“I don’t expect people to walk out of our office joyful that they went through the office of student conduct, but we’re really doing our best to help further an educational pattern.” Kamenash said. 

Contact Elaina Sauber at [email protected].