The University of Tennessee's flagship campus in Knoxville is hoping to implement a new student code of conduct this fall, something that hasn't been done in four decades. UT officials say the changes make the code less punitive and will help students learn from mistakes.
State lawmakers will decide whether to give final approval to the new policy at a hearing Wednesday. If so, it will go into effect when UT's fall semester begins next week.
Under the current code, if an underage student gets caught with alcohol in their dorm room, it will always be on their disciplinary record. This new code lays out a process to get minor offenses expunged, says UT general counsel Matthew Scoggins.
It also allows students to resolve certain issues through "alternative resolution processes" like mediation or restorative justice, rather than in front of a student conduct board. And, if the issue goes in front of the board, they can decide to discipline students with learning experiences instead of suspending them, for example.
"It's attending a class or writing a paper or doing community service, maybe directly related to the misconduct," Scoggins says. "Let's just say a student stole something from someone. Well, they might do community service directly related to who they stole from, to help them learn from that situation."
Adding nuances like these to the code of conduct will encourage students to take responsibility for their actions rather than feel like they're battling the university. UT president Joe DiPietro calls it a "vast improvement."
"If I had a college-aged son or daughter, I would like them working under this code as a student, as opposed to the old one," he says.
The new code also includes a specific change prescribed by a Title IX settlement last year. That was the lawsuit that accused UT Knoxville of mishandling sexual assault cases, which the university denied. Under the new code, when there's an allegation of sexual misconduct, there won't be any students on the board that hears the case, unless both people involved want them to be.
UT Knoxville began reviewing its current code in 2013. Its last substantial revision was in the 1970s, according to the university.