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Standard Operating Procedures for Allegations of General Misconduct and Substance Use Misconduct

Effective Date: August 15, 2022

Introduction

The following procedures implement the Student Code of Conduct (Code) as it relates to allegations of General Misconduct and/or Substance Use Misconduct when the Respondent is an individual Student. Allegations of conduct which could constitute both Discriminatory Misconduct and General Misconduct and/or Substance Use Misconduct will be administered consistent with the Standard Operating Procedures for Discriminatory Misconduct Allegations.

Throughout these procedures, the term “Senior Director” refers to the Senior Director of Student Accountability and Conflict Response. The Senior Director may designate others, including designees at each Penn State campus, to fulfil the responsibilities outlined in these procedures. For a glossary of additional important terms, see Appendix A. 

Preliminary Information

Complainants and Impacted Parties

Complainants: Generally, under these procedures, there is not a “Complainant.” However, when the alleged misconduct would constitute a crime of violence (as defined by 34 CFR Part 99 – Family Educational Rights and Privacy), a person that has been subject to the alleged misconduct may be considered a Complainant. Complainants will be identified and notified by the Senior Director and may participate in the resolution process as outlined in these procedures.

Impacted Parties: An Impacted Party is someone, other than a Complainant, who has been adversely impacted by the alleged misconduct. Penn State is committed to supporting impacted parties and providing appropriate resources. An Impacted Party may participate in the process as a Witness and may request to be notified when a conduct matter has been resolved. Due to privacy requirements, specific information will not be shared without the Respondent’s permission except for when specific administrative sanctions and/or outcomes may affect the Impacted Party.

Accessibility Accommodations

Penn State is committed to ensuring an inclusive, accessible, and equitable process for all participants. Students who have a disability and believe they require reasonable accommodation to participate in the student conduct process should contact their Campus Disability Coordinator. Accommodations deemed necessary and approved will be incorporated into the student conduct process. Requests should be made as soon as possible to ensure the University has sufficient time to review and process the accommodation request. Participants who wish to request language interpretation or translation services, for a need other than disability accommodation should contact their Case Manager to discuss available resources.

Concurrent Processes

Respondents with other affiliations, including but not limited to student-organization membership, University-affiliated programs (e.g., ROTC), academic programs, NCAA athlete status, University appointment or employment, or visa status, may be subject to other applicable processes or standards in addition to the Student Code of Conduct. Those processes are managed by the offices and/or units which oversee the programs, separately from the student conduct process.

In some incidents, conduct may also constitute a violation of the law. Incidents addressed through the University's conduct system are separate from the criminal justice system and/or protective order processes. The Senior Director, or any other University official who makes decisions as a part of the conduct process, is unable to give legal advice about any implications arising from participation in the conduct process.

Conduct Withdrawal: When there is concurrent or pending criminal investigation and/or judicial process, a Respondent may submit a request for a conduct withdrawal to the Senior Director. Respondent’s should request the conduct withdrawal form from their case manager. If approved, the conduct process is paused, and a notation is placed on the Respondent’s transcript indicating the Student withdrew while a conduct process was pending. The Respondent is prohibited from University Premises and University Sponsored Activities until further notice. The Senior Director’s decision is discretionary, and the conduct process may be reinitiated at any time.

Temporary Request for Delay: At the request of law enforcement, the Senior Director may temporarily delay the student conduct process until some, or all, of the legal process has been completed. The decision to suspend the student conduct process will be made taking into consideration the health and safety of the campus community and will be at the sole discretion of the Senior Director. Interim actions may be imposed during the delay.

Conduct Holds on Student Account

The Senior Director may place a hold (“conduct hold”) on a student’s account if the student is the Respondent in a pending student conduct proceeding, or as a part of an administrative sanction under the Code. A conduct hold may restrict the student from class registration, obtaining an official transcript, or receiving a degree from the University until the hold has been removed. If a conduct hold is put in place pending the outcome of the student conduct proceeding, the Respondent will be notified of the hold and be provided an opportunity to contest the hold or request that it be made less restrictive.  Placing a conduct hold does not assume any determination of, or create any expectation of, a violation of the Code.

The Senior Director may also place a conduct hold that restricts class registration on the student account of a Witness or other involved party who has failed to attend a required meeting with their office.

Interim Action and No Contact Directives

Interim Action: The Senior Director may impose an interim action(s), as outlined in Section VIII of the Code (link), when, it is necessary to address a threat to the health or safety of any person, a threat to property, or a disruption or interference with the normal operations of the University, or when the Student is charged with a serious violation of state or federal law. Interim action may include, but is not limited to, an interim suspension from the University and/or removal from University-owned housing facilities pending the consideration of a case through the procedures in this document. The Respondent may contest the Interim Action to the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs.

The Senior Director may authorize other University Officials to take temporary, emergency action to address an urgent concern outside of business hours until a determination can be made regarding whether an interim action is appropriate. Emergency actions will be in place for no more than two business days before they are removed or replaced by an interim action.

No Contact Directive: The Senior Director may issue a No Contact Directive prohibiting contact between two or more Students when there is reasonable concern that such contact may:

  • Cause disruption of or interference with university services and/or administrative functions or an environment conducive to learning,
  • Create a hostile or unwelcoming environment, and/or
  • Cause reasonable fear of physical harm.

Violations of No Contact Directives are subject to student conduct action in accordance with the Code. The University will not issue a No Contact Directive when there is reasonable belief that the directive has been requested for the purpose of discrimination or harassment and may refer allegations of discrimination or harassment for further review. 

More information about no contact directives is available on the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response website.

Participation

Honest Participation: To the extent that a Respondent, Complainant, or Witness chooses to participate, it is expected that participation will be honest and forthright. Knowingly submitting a false report or information, or making false statements, during the student conduct process may result in formal student conduct action.

Selective Participation: Decisions regarding whether a violation occurred will not be based solely on a Complainant, Respondent, or Witness refusing to answer questions or participate in the conduct process. However, choosing to answer some material questions but not others, or choosing to participate in some portions of the process but not others, may be considered during determinations regarding credibility or the weight given to information provided.

Retaliation

Retaliation is prohibited by University policy (see AD67). The University will not tolerate retaliation in any form against any individual who makes an allegation, files or intends to file a report, serves as a Witness, assists a Complainant or Respondent, or participates in the student conduct process. Allegations of retaliation should be reported immediately.

Support Persons

Respondents may seek the assistance of one Support Person to provide support, advice, or guidance throughout the process. To designate a Support Person, a Respondent must notify their Case Manager in writing. Witnesses and other Respondents from the incident cannot serve as Support Persons in that case. The opportunity to have a Support Person present during a meeting does not allow for an unreasonable delay. The Senior Director will determine what constitutes an unreasonable delay. Complainants are welcome to be accompanied by a Support Person during all meetings and interviews.

Once designated, a Support Person may attend meetings and be copied on formal case communications. They are not permitted to act or speak on behalf of the Respondent, or a Complainant, serve as a Witness in the same matter, or disrupt any meetings. The Senior Director may require a Support Person to leave a meeting, including the Administrative Conference, if the Support Person engages in unreasonable, disruptive, harassing, or retaliatory behavior.

Initiating the Student Conduct Process

Review of Initial Report

When a report covered by these procedures is received, the Senior Director will consider whether:

  • The report contains information that, if proven by Preponderance of the Evidence, would violate the Code;
  • The University has jurisdiction over the underlying allegations; and
  • The matter requires further response based on the totality of the information obtained.

The Senior Director may determine preliminary fact-finding is necessary to facilitate these considerations. This may include interviews with the person who submitted the report, impacted parties, Witnesses, and/or the Complainant, if applicable.

When the Senior Director decides further response is necessary, they will assess whether an adaptable resolution, formal student conduct action, or other process is appropriate. This may include a mandatory meeting with the Respondent and a designated University Official to clarify University expectations. Any resolution will be subject to applicable record retention requirements.

Adaptable Resolution Pathway

Adaptable Resolution may be an option to resolve reported misconduct. Adaptable resolution processes include but are not limited to restorative practices, mediation, and other informal resolutions. This option may be appropriate where the Senior Director determines that it is consistent with the University’s obligations – under the law, institutional policies, and institutional values – to end the misconduct, prevent the misconduct from happening again, and address or remedy its effects. 

The Respondent, or any Complainant or Impacted Party, may submit a request for Adaptable Resolution. The Senior Director may also offer an Adaptable Resolution absent a request. If the Senior Director determines it is appropriate, and the Respondent agrees to participate in an adaptable resolution process, the formal conduct process will be placed on hold for a designated period of time. The Respondent, or the Senior Director, may decide to resume the formal conduct process at any time prior to an adaptable resolution agreement being finalized.

Any adaptable resolution agreement will be in writing and represent the final resolution of the case.  Failure to adhere to the terms of the alternative resolution agreement may constitute a separate violation of the Code and/or result in reopening of the existing conduct matter.

Notice of Allegations

If the Senior Director decides to initiate formal student conduct action, the Senior Director will send a written Notice of Allegations to the Respondent, and Complainant if applicable. This Notice will include the following:

  • A brief description of the alleged misconduct;
  • The alleged violation(s) of the Code;
  • The name and contact information for the assigned Case Manager;
  • Whether the Respondent may be subject to suspension or expulsion;
  • A direct link to the Code of Conduct and these procedures; and
  • For the Respondent: The date, time, and location (or virtual access information) for the informational meeting; or
  • For the Complainant, if applicable: An opportunity to schedule an informational meeting.

The University may issue a revised Notice of Allegations should new information support additional or different allegations, or impact whether the Respondent may be subject to suspension or expulsion. A revised Notice of Allegations does not restart the formal student conduct process. Parties will be provided with reasonable time to respond to any new allegations.

Nothing in these procedures prevents the Senior Director from dismissing one or more allegations if they determine the allegation(s) are baseless or otherwise unsupported by the available information, or that the underlying issue is better resolved in a different manner. The Senior Director may dismiss the allegation(s) at any stage before an Administrative Conference. In such instances, the Senior Director will provide the Respondent and Complainant, if applicable, written Notice of the dismissal.

Fact Gathering

The University will gather relevant information including documents, photographs, communications, other electronic records as appropriate, as well as other information from the Respondent, Complainant, and/or Witnesses. The University may also consider publicly available information from online sources that comes to the attention of the University. Fact gathering, including interviews, may occur at any time during the resolution process, prior to a final decision. Should additional fact-gathering occur following the Administrative Conference, the Respondent will be given an opportunity to respond to any new information prior to decision making.

Informational Meeting

The informational meeting will generally be scheduled no sooner than the third business day following the Notice. Respondents are welcome to schedule their meeting for earlier than three days. At this meeting, the Case Manager will share the report, explain the student conduct process, and review possible options for resolution. While not required, the Respondent may choose to share information about the alleged incident with the Case Manager to inform next steps. After the date scheduled for the information meeting, the Case Manager will determine whether the case requires an administrative conference.

A Complainant may also request an informational meeting with the Case Manager to better understand the process and how they are able to participate.

Violation Agreement

Following the Informational Meeting, the Case Manager will determine whether the case requires an administrative conference. If a Respondent is not subject to suspension or expulsion, the Case Manager may issue a Violation Agreement which includes the violation(s) and an appropriate Action Plan. Respondents receiving such communication will be offered an Administrative Conference upon request. If a Respondent does not request an Administrative Conference within three business days of the communication, the Respondent will be deemed to have accepted the violation(s) and agreed to the outlined Action Plan.

A Respondent who is subject to suspension or expulsion may also agree to resolve the allegations by accepting responsibility without an administrative conference and may waive their opportunity to appeal. Such a waiver will be knowing, voluntary, and explicit.

Administrative Conference Process

Scheduling the Administrative Conference

The Respondent will be provided with written Notice of their assigned Decision-maker, who may or may not be the same person as the Case Manager, and the date, time, and location (or virtual access information) for the administrative conference. This Notice will be provided after the informational meeting and no later than three business days before the scheduled administrative conference.

Preparing for the Administrative Conference

In preparation for the conference, the Respondent can expect the following:

Sufficient Time: If the Respondent needs additional time to prepare, the Decision-maker may grant reasonable requests to reschedule the administrative conference.

Document Review: The Respondent may schedule a time to review all documentation which may be relied upon in decision-making, subject to limitations from policies, regulations, and state and federal law.

Propose Witnesses and Questions: The Respondent may provide names and contact information for proposed Witnesses, and a brief summary of the information they expect the Witnesses to provide. They may also propose questions they would like to be asked of Witnesses and/or the Complainant, if applicable. With respect to Witnesses:

  • Witnesses determined to be irrelevant or repetitive may not be contacted.
  • Proposed Witnesses who intend to provide opinion(s) solely about character will be considered irrelevant.
  • Witnesses may be interviewed before the administrative conference.
  • Witnesses are not permitted to observe the administrative conference.
  • The University cannot compel a Witness to answer any questions.

Submit a Written Statement: The Respondent may submit a written statement in response to the allegations. In this statement, the Respondent may choose to share their side of or perspective about the alleged behavior and/or highlight documentation that supports being found not in violation. If the Respondent chooses not to attend the Administrative Conference, the Decision-maker may give less weight to a written statement.

The Administrative Conference

The administrative conference is an administrative proceeding not comparable to a criminal or civil trial. Rather, it is a meeting with the Decision-maker to discuss the matter and provide a formal response to the allegations. The opportunity to attend a meeting, including the Administrative Conference, is satisfied by the opportunity to appear virtually.

Following the administrative conference, the Decision-maker may conduct additional investigation as they deem appropriate. If new information is gathered, the Respondent will be given an opportunity to respond to that new information before the administrative conference outcome.

Participation: The administrative conference is not open to the public. Generally, the only individuals who may attend are the Respondent, the Support Person of the Respondent, the Decision-maker, and other individuals the Decision-maker deems necessary, such as for logistical support. If the Respondent receives Notice of the administrative conference and does not appear for the conference, the conference will proceed without the Respondent. A Support Person may not appear on behalf of the Respondent.

Live Hearing: When the Respondent may be subject to suspension or expulsion, the Respondent may elect to have their Administrative Conference conducted as a live hearing. The following only applies to an Administrative Conference that is a live hearing:

  • When there is a Complainant, they are permitted to participate in the Administrative Conference.
  • When a Complainant chooses to participate in the Administrative Conference, both the Respondent and Complainant may submit questions, in writing, to be posed to the other. Questions which are deemed relevant will be asked by the Decision-maker.
  • The Respondent and Complainant, if applicable, may ask questions of any Witness who chooses to attend the Administrative Conference.
  • Specific protocols and rules of decorum for the live hearing are provided to participants in advance of the Administrative Conference.

Digital Recording: Generally, the Administrative Conference will not be audio and/or video recorded by the University. When a recording is created, it shall be the sole property of the Pennsylvania State University. No other person (including the Respondent, a Complainant, a Witness, and/or a Support Person) is permitted to record any part of the Conference.

Decision and Action Plan

After the administrative conference, the Decision-maker will determine, based on a Preponderance of the Evidence, whether the Respondent violated the Code. A Preponderance of the Evidence means the evidence shows that it is more likely than not that alleged conduct occurred.

Consideration Statement: The Respondent and any Complainant and/or Impacted Parties may submit a written statement describing any factors they believe should be considered during the creation of the Action Plan. This statement should be submitted to the Decision-maker within three business days, as directed, and may not exceed five pages.

Action Plan: If a violation has been found, the Decision-maker will determine an appropriate Action Plan. The Action Plan consists of educational, reflective, and/or restorative outcomes and administrative sanctions intended to promote personal reflection and growth, repair any harm caused, and help the Respondent recommit to institutional values. A list of outcomes and sanctions can be found in Section V(5) of the Code. A list of factors and guidelines generally considered in creating the Action Plan can be found in Appendix B.   

Decision Letter: Generally, the Case Manager will issue a written decision letter to the Respondent and Complainant, if applicable, no later than 5 business days following the administrative conference, although delays may occur if additional investigation is deemed appropriate. This letter will include:

  • Whether the Respondent has been found in violation;
  • The Action Plan as determined by the Decision-maker, if applicable; and
  • Information about the appeals process.

Parent and/or Guardian Notification: Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), colleges and universities are afforded certain liberties relative to notifying parents or guardians of information concerning their student. In order to involve families in the total educational experience of the student, and to facilitate communication between students and their parents/legal guardians, the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response has established a consistent policy regarding parent/guardian notification and disclosure. That policy is available on the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response website.

Appeal Process

If the Respondent was subject to suspension or expulsion at the time of the Administrative Conference, the Respondent or Complainant, if applicable, may choose to appeal an administrative conference decision. Appeals must be in writing, state the basis for the appeal, and be delivered, as directed by the Decision-maker, within five business days of the Decision Letter. Appeals for cases resolved under these procedures will be reviewed in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures for General Student Conduct Appeals.

Bases for Appeal: Except for new information, an appeal is limited to the case file. An appeal will only be accepted for one or more of the following bases:

  • To determine whether there was any procedural irregularity, including bias, that significantly affected the outcome of the matter;
  • To determine whether the Action Plan imposed was appropriate for the violation(s); and/or
  • To consider new information that could alter a decision, only if such information could not have been known to the appealing party at the time of the administrative conference. 

Failing to retrieve email communications does not constitute a deviation from procedure and cannot be the basis for appeal.

Modifying or Changing a Decision: After considering an appeal, the Appeal Administrator may either modify the Action Plan or send the matter back to the Senior Director with a recommendation for additional fact finding, other resolution, or dismissal of the case. If the Appeal Administrator grants an appeal for “new information,” the only action the Appeal Administrator may take is to send it back to the Senior Director with a recommendation for additional fact finding, other resolution, or dismissal of the case.

Requesting a Stay Pending Appeal: The Action Plan imposed by the University will remain in effect through the University's appeal process. Exceptions to this rule may be granted by request, in accordance with the process outlined in the Standard Operating Procedures for General Student Conduct Appeals .

Petition for Bias or Conflict of Interest

If a Respondent or Complainant believes that a Case Manager, Decision-maker, Appeal Administrator, or other individual who makes decisions as part of the process is biased or has a conflict of interest, they may make a request for a new individual to be assigned or designated to make the decision in question. The following will not, on their own, be considered sufficient to establish bias:

  • The fact that the person has previously worked on, or is currently working on, other cases involving the same Respondent or Complainant;
  • The fact that a Decision-maker has previously decided a case involving the same Respondent or Complainant; or
  • Previous roles or positions held by the Case Manager, Decision-maker, Appeal Administrator or other individual who makes decisions as part of the process.

A finding of bias will require specific allegations about why the individual cannot be fair or impartial under the circumstances of a particular case.  Should the Senior Director find bias or conflict of interest exists, the will assign a new individual to serve in that role or delegate a new person to make the decision.

Appendix A: Glossary of Important Terms

In addition to the terms below, these procedures incorporate by reference the definitions of the Student Code of Conduct and other University policy. For the purpose of these procedures, the following terms shall have the following meanings:

Action Plan – A combination of administrative sanction(s) and educational, reflective, and/or restorative outcomes assigned when there is a violation of the Code. An “Action Plan” is intended to promote reflection and growth, repair any harm caused, and help the Respondent recommit to institutional values.

Appeal Administrator - A trained and impartial person designated by the University to review appeals of Administrative Conference decisions subject to these procedures. The Appeal Administrator may not have otherwise served as a decision-maker regarding the underlying allegations.

Case Manager – The trained and impartial person designated by the Senior Director to meet with the Respondent to discuss the allegations and the conduct process, investigate reported behaviors, and/or manage alleged violations through resolution.

Complainant – Defined in these procedures as a person, identified by the Senior Director, that has been subject to the alleged misconduct when that misconduct would constitute a crime of violence (as defined by 34 CFR Part 99 – Family Educational Rights and Privacy).

Consideration Statement - A written statement submitted by the Respondent and/or Complainant describing any aggravating or mitigating factors which should be considered during the creation of an Action Plan.

Day – Unless otherwise specified, the word “day” means “business day."

Decision-maker – The trained and impartial person designated by the University to administer the formal resolution process, make a decision regarding the alleged violations based upon a Preponderance of the Evidence, and impose an Action Plan, if applicable. When the Respondent may be subject to suspension or expulsion, the Decision-maker may not be the same person as the Case Manager.

Impacted Party – Defined in these procedures as someone who has been adversely impacted by the alleged misconduct but does not meet the definition of a Complainant.

Notice – An official correspondence between the University and the Respondent, or Complainant if applicable. For example, the Notice of Allegations, Notice of Dismissal, and Decision Letter. Unless otherwise noted in these procedures, the official method of communication with all Students is by Penn State email. Students are responsible for understanding the content of those emails. All communications, including official Notices, are considered received when sent.

**If a participant does not have a university email, then the individual will receive Notice through an identified preferred method, such as personal email. If there is no identified preferred method, Notice may be sent via first-class mail and will be considered received three (3) days after it was sent.

Preponderance of the Evidence – The standard of proof that applies to student conduct violation decisions. It means that the evidence supports a conclusion that it is more likely than not that the violation occurred.

Respondent – The Student who allegedly violated the Code.

Senior Director – The Senior Director of Student Accountability and Conflict Response or another individual serving as their designee.

Student – Any person with Student status as defined by the Code.

Support Person – A person who accompanies a Respondent or Complainant for the purpose of providing support, advice, or guidance. Under these procedures, Witnesses and other Respondents from the incident cannot serve as Support Persons in that case.

Witness - An individual who may have information relevant to the incident, including individuals who may have observed the alleged behavior, may be able to provide contextual information, or may have other information related to the incident. The University may identify Witnesses independent of the proposal of Witnesses by the Respondent or any Complainant.

Appendix B: Action Plan Guidelines

The Decision-maker will create an Action Plan utilizing the guidelines and criteria outlined below. The Action Plan will consist of administrative sanction(s) and educational, reflective, and/or restorative outcomes, as listed in the Code. The Decision-maker may consult with the Senior Director and/or other University Officials, as appropriate, while creating the action plan.

Each Action Plan will be individualized to the circumstances of the violation and the development needs of the Respondent, and is intended to promote reflection and growth, repair any harm caused, and help the Respondent recommit to institutional values.

Key Considerations

The following factors may be considered to guide the range and variation of administrative sanctions and which educational, reflection, and/or restorative outcomes may be appropriate:

  • The violation specific guidance outlined in this document;
  • The nature of the misconduct, including the severity, persistency, and/or pervasiveness of the behavior; 
  • The level of risk and/or harm of the respondent to self, others, and/or property;
  • Whether the respondent has previously been found in violation of the Code;
  • The developmental needs of the respondent;
  • Whether a particular sanction is necessary in order to eliminate the misconduct, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects on others; and/or
  • Any other mitigating, aggravating, or compelling circumstances which should be considered to reach a proportional and appropriate resolution in each case.  

Aggravating and mitigating circumstances are compelling facts that may enhance or reduce the Action Plan. Examples include:

  • Committing a violation of the Code while voluntarily under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs is not considered a mitigating factor but may be considered an aggravating factor, when appropriate.
  • An Act of Bias, as defined by the Code, is especially intolerable in view of the University’s commitment to creating an educational environment which is respectful and welcoming for all members of the community and should be considered as a significant aggravating factor.
  • The decision-maker may consider level of intent, demonstrated remorse, and the respondent’s understanding of their impact on others as either a mitigating or aggravating factor. In some cases, a respondent’s level cooperation during the incident may be considered a mitigating factor. 
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General and Substance Use Misconduct Procedures
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