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Faculty and staff interactions with students can be frequent and as such, the opportunity to encounter potential conduct concerns or questions is increased. The following sections outline a few of the most common questions received by Student Conduct from faculty and staff.

Classroom disruptions:

As faculty members, there may come a time when you have to address misconduct that occurs in the classroom. The Code of Conduct, in describing the Disruption of Operations, includes the following:

Obstruction or disruption of classes, research projects, or other activities or programs of the University; or obstructing access to University facilities, property, or programs. Disruption is defined as an action or combination of actions by one or more individuals that unreasonably interferes with, hinders, obstructs, or prevents the operation of the University or infringes on the rights of others to freely participate in its programs and services.

To assist you in addressing these types of incidents, the Faculty Senate recommended the following guidelines:

Set clear standards of behavior

Setting clear standards of behavior at the beginning of a course is a powerful deterrent to inappropriate behavior. Faculty members might consider stating their expectations for classroom behavior in their syllabus and define inappropriate behaviors. However, if such a statement is included, the syllabus should also contain a means by which students can address any questions or concerns they have with the standards of behavior policy, and provide contact information for a course administrator or department head for any follow-up concerns that may arise. Any changes to such behavior policy should be presented to students in writing per Faculty Senate Policy 43-00.

Confront the behavior

When students behave inappropriately in class, it is important to confront the behavior as soon as possible. If it becomes necessary to reprimand a student in public, try to do so in a firm and friendly manner. Identify the inappropriate behavior. Explain how it is disruptive to the rest of the class, and request that it not be repeated. Rather than address one individual, it usually causes less embarrassment to use a general statement such as, "There are too many people talking at one time, let's all get focused on the same topic." The student must always be treated with respect and courtesy, not only to role-model civil behavior but also to keep the situation from escalating.

If the behavior continues, request the student leave the class

Faculty have the authority to request that a disruptive student leave a class for the remainder of the period. However, faculty do not have the authority to expel students from class, either on an interim or permanent basis, or require them to drop the course. University processes and procedures must be followed to determine if a student will be expelled from a class or be required to drop the course.

Meet with the student privately as soon as possible to explain the inappropriateness of his or her behavior. Point out that if the behavior continues, you will have to file a complaint with the Office of Student Conduct. Follow up the discussion in writing, repeating the nature of the problem and what you and the student have agreed is necessary to resolve it. If you are concerned about your personal safety in a private meeting, consider asking your department chair (or equivalent at campus locations) or another faculty member to be present.

If a disruptive student appears to be highly agitated and on the verge of violent behavior, avoid confrontation. Consider dismissing the class and summoning University Police or other appropriate police agency serving the campus. In these serious situations at campus locations having security officers who lack authority to arrest, file criminal charges, or remove a person from the classroom, police should be summoned. Do not attempt to use force or threats of force except for immediate self-defense. Write down facts, identify possible witnesses, and notify your unit leader.

If continuing disruption occurs, file a report with the Office of Student Conduct

The department head (or equivalent at campus locations) as well as the Office of Student Conduct enior Director or designeeS should be notified when continuing disruptions occur. These should be handled through the conduct process coordinated by the Office of Student Conduct or the designee at your campus location. Students involved in a serious disruption of the learning environment may not be permitted to return to class until University procedures have been completed.

Academic integrity

Academic Integrity is defined as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." It is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at The Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle.

Consistent with this expectation, the University's Code of Conduct states that all students should act with personal integrity, respect other students' dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts.

Examples of academic dishonesty
  • Plagiarism - the act of stating or implying that another person’s work is your own; by far this is the most common academic integrity violation
  • Cheating on a test
  • Buying/selling a paper
  • Having someone take a test for you
  • Taking a test for someone else
  • Unauthorized possession of a test
  • Submitting work previously used without permission
  • Unauthorized collaboration
  • Fabrication of citations
  • Posting or directing others to online tutoring sites that do not use previously approved study information (i.e. Course Hero)
When academic dishonesty is suspected
  • The University Faculty Senate website defines Academic Integrity and the G-9 Academic Integrity Procedure is also available for review
  • The faculty member should inform the student of the allegation and provide the student an opportunity to respond.
  • When evidence suggests that academic misconduct has occurred, the faculty member will enter a charge and academic sanction on an Academic Integrity Form
  • The student will have the choice to accept or contest the charge; If the student fails to sign the AI form by a specified deadline, the charge and sanction will go into effect
  • In some cases, if the academic violation is considered extreme, the faculty member may also opt to pursue a disciplinary action in conjunction with both the AI Committee and Office of Student Conduct     
  • In situations where the allegation is referred to the Office of Student Conduct, the academic sanctions will be carried out by the Office of Student Conduct in consultation with the campus or college Academic Integrity Committee
  • Once a student has been informed that academic dishonesty is suspected, the student may not drop the course during the adjudication process; A student who has received an academic sanction as a result of a violation of academic integrity may not drop or withdraw from the course at any time - any such drop action of the course will be reversed
Academic sanctions
  • Redo Assignment
  • Warning
  • Reduced Grade for Assignment
  • “0” for Assignment
  • Reduced Grade for Course
  • Failing Grade for Course
  • Dismissal from Academic Program
Conduct Sanctions
  • “XF” - This is a notation that is placed on a student’s transcript for a period of time, or until specified conditions have been met; at that time, the “X” will be removed and the “F” will remain on the transcript; The notation is reserved for the most serious breaches of academic integrity which may include repeat misconduct
  • Educational Programs
  • Conduct Warning
  • Conduct Probation
  • Conduct Probation with Transcript Notation
  • Conduct Suspension

Academic dishonesty cases which result in academic sanctions only will not be reported out to others with the exception of when a subsequent academic dishonesty violation occurs. When an academic dishonesty case results in disciplinary action assigned by the Office of Student Conduct Designee, the charge and sanction become part of the student’s record which will be reported out following the guidelines outlined in our records policy.

Managing Emotional/Mental Health Situations

General Procedures

Many students experience periods of psychological or emotional distress at some point during their college career. The vast majority of these students are able to continue their studies and benefit from the structure and support of the University environment.

For certain students, the severity of their emotional or psychological state may pose risks to them and may disrupt the academic environment of the University. These individuals may act out in ways that jeopardize academic pursuits, safety and/or well-being of others at the University. When this occurs, individuals responsible for such behavior are typically brought to the attention of University administrators, counseling services, health services or conduct officers.

Students exhibiting moderate to serious behavior problems are referred to counseling as the preferred method for resolving the crisis. In rare situations, where a student incident cannot be resolved through informal interventions, disciplinary action may follow when student misconduct is evident and the behaviors remain disruptive, or dangerous to the student or the academic community. Conduct action may also be applied when misconduct continues and a student fails to seek help or does not follow through on voluntary agreements. A student may also be removed on an interim basis when staff believes the student's condition meets the test of a direct threat, where the student is at personal risk. In all instances, efforts will be made to establish an ongoing liaison between campus-based mental health professionals and those who oversee the management of these student cases on each campus.

Thus, in view of the above, after the occurrence of an incident and following any initial student intervention, the student may simply be referred to Counseling and Psychological Services. In other more serious situations, the case will be referred to the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at University Park or the Director of Student Affairs at the campus. Typically, these referrals would involve a student who exhibits at-risk behaviors that are; on-going, where the student refuses to seek help, or at have has reached the "direct threat" level. In these situations, the designated assistant vice president for Student Affairs or the director of Student Affairs/director of Student Enrollment Services at the campus would act as the manager of the student case and steward protocols to be followed while considering the specific circumstances of each situation.

Intervention and Referral

The staff responsible for coordinating referrals, interventions, and follow-up for distressed students will vary at each campus. At University Park, this person will be the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs. At campuses other than University Park, this person would be the Director of Student Affairs or the Director of Student Enrollment Services.

It is recognized that limitations of on-campus counseling services at many of the Penn State campuses may make it difficult to respond to students in distress. Student Affairs staff at campus locations may need to consult with Counseling and Psychological Services staff at University Park campus or with local licensed mental health professionals in their communities.

Although it is expected that the largest number of referrals will be made by Residence Life staff (at residential campuses), reports involving distressed students who live off-campus will also be sent to and managed by Student Affairs staff.

Initial Intervention

In response to student health and safety reports, at-risk students will be required to meet with the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at University Park or Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services at the campus. The goal of this meeting is as follows:

  • To offer support, resources and appropriate assistance needed within the context of an intentional intervention
  • To assess, identify, and intervene when worrisome, threatening, or dangerous student behaviors are observed by members of the campus community.
  • To establish and enforce student behavioral expectations, action plans, and remedies aimed at deterring future student involvement in at-risk behavior.
Residence Life Referrals

Residence Life staff is often in direct contact with students experiencing psychological or emotional distress. The staff is provided with training to recognize the signs of depression and suicide, and to intervene in response to self-hurt and suicide threats/gestures.

Residence Life staff consider all comments and communications about self-hurt, suicide or other worrisome behavior very seriously. In all cases, Residence Life staff will take immediate action and speak with a student in distress. Since many of these incidents occur outside of normal business hours, the typical staff response involves efforts to ensure that the student is safe to remain in the residence halls and on campus. If that is not the case, Residence Life staff will assist the student in getting to an appropriate off-campus medical facility. University or local police and the local county mental health office (e.g., CAN HELP) may be involved in these efforts. Live-in Residence Life staff is instructed to inform their supervisors when working through such situations and to stay with the student in distress until the next steps have been identified.

Staff in Residence Life, Office of Student Conduct, and other Student Affairs administrators, are often involved in deciding on an appropriate follow-up plan with students in distress. Each campus should follow the established protocol while executing a staff response within the structure of their campus administration.

At residential campuses, the following protocol is in place for Residence Life staff to assist the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services in meeting with students.

  • Residence Life, University Police (and others) will send the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services reports concerning students who are perceived threats to themselves and others.
  • After reviewing the report, the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services will discuss with staff who should meet with the student. Initial discussions may include staff from the counseling center, health services, etc.     
  • In some instances, it may be determined that a meeting with the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services is not necessary; in that case, Residence Life will refer the student to counseling and continue to monitor the situation.
  • If a formal meeting is required, the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services will work with the appropriate Residence Life staff to have them schedule the appointment between the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services and the student. Residence Life staff from the student's residential area may accompany the student to the meeting if the student wishes.
  • If the health and safety referral comes to the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services from the police, other community agencies, or faculty or staff, the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services staff will call the student directly to schedule the appointment.
  • Additional follow-up with the student will be coordinated between the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services, Residence Life, Office of Student Conduct and Counseling and Psychological Services.
Referral to Counseling

In non-critical cases, students may be referred to University Counseling and Psychological Services or another mental health agency. Students referred to University Counseling and Psychological Services will be provided an intake evaluation. If the intake evaluation yields that the student is fit to resume University activities, then recommendations for follow-up counseling will be made. Student meetings with counseling staff are confidential. In some cases, the student may be asked by Student Affairs staff to agree to provide a written release of information to their counseling provider for staff follow-up and consultation purposes.

Referral to Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Senior Director of Student Affairs and/or Director of Student Enrollment Services

In critical cases, but where after meeting with the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at University Park or Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services at the campus, it is determined the student should remain in school, a retention plan of action will be developed between the student and the Student Affairs staff member. This plan may include such things as: psychological evaluation or assessment, on-going counseling or other agreed upon requirements for the student to remain enrolled. The designated Assistant Vice-President will also work with the student's college to ensure effective support regarding academic and other support resources.

In the more serious cases, and where after the meeting with the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at University Park or Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services at the campus, it is determined the student may present a continued direct threat, and that threat cannot be mitigated, the student may need to take a temporary leave of absence. In these instances, staff will first work with the student to leave under a voluntary basis. One option to the student is for the student to agree to take a voluntary medical withdrawal. This medical withdrawal may be for an undetermined or a specific period of time. If the student medically withdraws, no forced interim removal actions, including charges or sanctions for misconduct would be assigned. In resolving incidents in this manner the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at University Park or Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services at the campus would work directly with the student, their family, and their academic college to facilitate the withdrawal. When the student chooses to take a medical withdrawal, conditions of the withdrawal should include negotiating with the student agreed upon re-enrollment conditions such as; proof of psychological evaluation or assessment, on-going counseling, or other agreed upon requirements needed to transition the student back to campus. Staff may also have a role in helping the student locate appropriate counseling services in the community during their leave of absence. During the period of the medical withdrawal, staff will not typically place a registration hold on the student's record. If necessary, re-enrollment actions from a medical withdrawal may be initiated through the University Counseling and Psychological Services or the University Health Service. When the student re-enrolls, they will do so as a previously admitted student.

Referral to Office of Student Conduct

In rare circumstances, where the student refuses to seek help and misconduct is evident, a student may be referred to the Office of Student Conduct by the designated Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs or the Director of Student Affairs/Director of Student Enrollment Services at the campus. In this circumstance, the student misconduct is documented and reviewed by the Senior Director of Office of Student Conduct or the campus Office of Student Conduct designee. In an effort to resolve the incident at the lowest level, and in the best interest of the student, it is suggested that consultation occurs with mental health professionals even if formal charges of the Code of Conduct are considered or forwarded to the student. In managing the conduct referral, options before the Office of Student Conduct designee are as follows:

a. Voluntary Withdrawal Due To Misconduct: the student may agree to take a misconduct related withdrawal from campus for an indefinite period of time. If the student agrees to a withdrawal due to misconduct (motivated by emotional or psychological crisis), formal charges would not be assigned to the student. Resolving conduct incidents in this manner, where the student agrees to leave for a period of time would be the preferred method for case resolution. When cases are resolved in this manner, certain agreed-upon conditions would need to be met before the student would be allowed to return to school. These may include a specific plan for the student's return and not be limited to the following: re-enrollment only after having provided evidence of a psychological evaluation or assessment, on-going counseling from a licensed mental health professional, Office of Student Conduct designee receiving a favorable evaluation of services from a licensed mental health professional (student will need to sign a release of information for their provider), and the student receives approval for re-enrollment from the Office of Student Conduct designee relating to the student's progress. During the period of the misconduct withdrawal, the student will agree to have a registration hold and a transcript notation placed on the student's record. During the leave of absence, the student may not register for class, reside in University housing, or use or visit University facilities at any Penn State location without the expressed permission of the Senior Director of Office of Student Conduct or Office of Student Conduct designee.

b. Formal Disciplinary Action: the student may be removed from campus for misconduct exhibited during their enrollment. Resolving incidents in this manner include the filing of formal disciplinary charges related to violations of the University’s Code of Conduct. This action would include the creation of a formal disciplinary file and the pursuit of formal disciplinary sanctions. Formal disciplinary charges and sanctions would be filed as a last resort and would only be assigned when serious misconduct is present, the student is a risk to self or others, the student fails to voluntarily seek assistance, or fails to provide a medical release or other information to staff that would aid them in the student's mental health-related evaluation. Formal conduct charges may also be filed when a student violates previously written agreements established between the student and the Office of Student Conduct designee or when such conduct continues to disrupt the academic environment. If a student is removed from the University, sanction conditions for re-enrollment may include, but not be limited to the following: providing evidence of a positive psychological evaluation, on-going counseling related to the behavior from a licensed mental health professional and a medical release of information.

*Direct Threat is defined in ADA regulations as: "significant risk of harm to the health and safety of the individuals and others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Guidance states that a direct threat may be applied "to the safety of the individual." This definition allows universities and colleges the ability to apply direct threat to suicidal students. This position was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Chevron USA v. Mario Echazabal (No 00-1406, 2002).