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Panelists need training

by Archives January 15, 2003

Hearing panels, by which students are tried when they violate either the Code of Rights and Responsibilities or the Academic Code, are poised to give students an unfair hearing. The panels that are made up of students and faculty used to be trained in judging and rendering decisions, but this is no longer the case as of two years ago. It is imperative that adjudicators (panelists) be trained.

In the 2002-2003 academic calendar located on the Concordia Website, article 14 states that: “All members of the STP and FTP shall receive training, prepared and jointly by the secretaries of the tribunal panels dealt with under this policy, the Director of Advocacy and Support Services, and the University General Counsel. Separate training shall be held for the chairs.” Not training these adjudicators goes against this fundamental rule of the academic calendar and is a mistake on the part of the university. Furthermore, the calendar supercedes the Code of Rights and Responsibilities and the Academic Code of Conduct. An article of this nature used to be in the Code of Rights and Responsibilities, but it was removed in the November 2001 revision of the code.

Simply handing a panelist a book on the rules is hardly a way to ensure that these hearings are fair and free of bias. In a court of law, the judge, defence and prosecutor are all trained to ensure that the accused are given a fair chance. Even juries are instructed on how to make deliberations. Any student facing expulsion would feel nervous and deciding that a student is guilty because of nervousness is a travesty of justice (In the training the adjudicators were told to ignore this). Even if panelists have good intentions, they still need special training not to be biased in cases.

Having only a lawyer present to guide the proceedings does not ensure that a hearing will go fairly, as the panelists are not aware of what should or should not be considered. Moreover, no student wants to be judged by someone who is learning on the job. Learning on the job implies that mistakes can happen and will happen because of a lack of knowledge. Allowing for the opportunity of having a student make a mistake when a fellow student is facing expulsion is irresponsible and unethical.

Furthermore, not having trained adjudicators also opens the door to potential lawsuits, as a student could argue that the hearing lacked due process – meaning that it was unfair and/or did not follow proper procedures – and therefore drawing a conclusion that with these circumstances, due process was denied. This kind of a lawsuit can once again bring the university into the headlines, when that is something that every student, faculty and administrator wants to avoid.

Despite a lack of resources, the university must come up with a way to ensure that panelists are trained so that students can have a hearing that allows for due process. Without this training innocent students could be unfairly expelled or punished for something that they were not aware was an offence in Western educational institutions because of cultural differences.

It is the university’s responsibility to make sure that these hearings take place with the utmost fairness, as was done two years ago. The administration was doing the right thing when it was training these adjudicators, why change something that was working well?

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