A Reminder from Dean of Students Allen Groves on New Procedures for Self-Disclosure of Prior Arrests and Convictions
Revised August 24, 2010
On August 6, 2010, U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan spoke publicly regarding a variety of important issues, including student safety. She noted that starting this fall, students will be asked (when first logging onto NetBadge) whether or not they have been arrested or convicted of a crime (other than minor traffic accidents not involving an arrest or injury to others) since they were first admitted to the University.
The required disclosure on which this procedure is based is not new. Since 2004 the University has required that students disclose relevant arrests or convictions. The change that has occurred for this year involves taking an active rather than passive approach to pointing out to students their obligation to promptly and truthfully provide this information to the Office of the Dean of Students. A new NetBadge prompt each fall will ask that students disclose relevant criminal arrests or convictions and will also remind them of their continuing duty to do so within 72 hours of any future such incident. There is a perception that many students simply may have been unaware of this policy, and the new system is designed to both inform them and obtain the necessary responsive information in an electronic fashion each fall.
Several questions have arisen regarding the manner in which the information obtained will be used. The following provides some answers to the most common questions.
QUESTION: What is the reason for this policy and the new implementation procedure?
RESPONSE: The underlying purpose is to help us maintain a safe community. However, it was among many policies published in the non-academic regulations of the University Record and thus may not have been fully known to all students who did not read the relevant policies applicable to them. For this reason, the decision was made, starting this fall, to move to an “active” system that prompts students to provide this information and reminds them of their continuing duty to make these disclosures. Critically, the system is still based on the concept of self-disclosure in our community of trust.
QUESTION: What types of criminal infractions need to be disclosed by students?
RESPONSE: Pursuant to policy, a student must disclose any arrests or convictions of a criminal offense, excluding minor traffic violations that do not result in an arrest or injury to others, regardless of whether they occur inside or outside the Commonwealth of Virginia and regardless of whether the University is in session at the time. Students should err on the side of disclosure if they believe an arrest or conviction may be covered by this policy.
QUESTION: What time period is covered by the duty to self-disclose?
RESPONSE: This self-disclosure policy covers arrests or convictions that have occurred “since you were first admitted to the University” until the date of response. Students should have already disclosed criminal history information at the time of application to U.Va., so this prompt is simply seeking any relevant information since that original application.
QUESTION: What about juvenile records, including those that have been sealed?
RESPONSE: Given that the University does not enroll many students under age 18, there should be very few cases in which a juvenile record is at issue. In the highly unusual case where a minor student has an underlying juvenile arrest or conviction that occurs after matriculating to the University and is otherwise under seal, he or she should seek the advice of counsel regarding the disclosure obligation in light of the relevant law of the state in which the arrest or conviction occurred.
QUESTION: What about the distinction between arrests and convictions?
RESPONSE: We recognize that arrests do not represent an adjudicated conviction or an admission of guilt. Disclosure of an arrest is understood as that – simply an arrest — and may result in follow-up questions by the Dean of Students with subsequent supplementation by the student regarding the ultimate outcome of the case. Our focus at all times is on the underlying behavior. For those arrests that are referred to the University Judiciary Committee (and only where the underlying offense falls within the UJC’s jurisdiction), a UJC hearing is generally delayed until the underlying criminal matter is fully resolved in court. However, we believe it is important to know in a timely fashion when a student has been charged with a crime. What ultimately occurs in a criminal proceeding may certainly inform any action the University considers taking, but it does not dictate the University’s response.
QUESTION: What about criminal charges that have been dismissed or expunged?
RESPONSE: Students should disclose arrests that were later dismissed, although there will be an opportunity after answering “yes” to explain the subsequent dismissal. Arrests or convictions that have been expunged by court action should not be disclosed (see the specific provisions of Virginia Code Section 19.2-392.4(A)). Students should consult with legal counsel if they believe a prior arrest or charge has been expunged as that term is defined under applicable law.
QUESTION: Who will review the information that is disclosed by students?
RESPONSE: The Dean of Students (or, if necessary, an Associate Dean of Students as his designee) will review each response to determine if follow-up is needed. This is being done to insure that one uniform source is making this review, helping to provide consistency and fairness in its ultimate application.
QUESTION: What action will be taken based on the information that is disclosed?
RESPONSE: Our current assumption is that for most disclosures, there may be a follow-up e-mail or conversation to fill in any necessary facts and context. For arrests and convictions occurring in Virginia, the Dean of Students will also access the court records database of the relevant city or county to check the specific charges and status of each. For more serious infractions, there may be a meeting with the Dean to discuss what the student is doing to prevent a repeat offense or similar harmful behavior and also an offer of information regarding University counseling, alcohol or substance abuse resources to assist the student in future decision-making. The most serious cases may require referral to the University Judiciary Committee for a hearing, consistent with the system of student self-governance at U.Va. For a small number of cases that indicate a significant risk of violence, referral to the University’s Threat Assessment Team for evaluation may also be warranted.
QUESTION: Will the information disclosed by students be reflected on a student’s academic or permanent record at U.Va.?
RESPONSE: All disclosures will be documented in a confidential, password protected database maintained in the Office of the Dean of Students for the purpose of noting and tracking any follow-up actions taken and to provide possible context for any future infractions. However, only matters that ultimately result in UJC adjudication will be subject to future disclosure by the Office of the Dean of Students in response to student-authorized inquiries by graduate programs and employers regarding a student’s conduct or disciplinary record at the University. Arrest or conviction information may also be shared with appropriate student services staff in the student’s relevant school of the University (e.g., Engineering, Law, etc.) and may be subject to disclosure by that school if covered by a subsequently authorized disclosure by the student (for example, as part of a broad background check required under certain professional licensure requirements).
QUESTION: Will there be a “two strikes” or “three strikes” policy that mandates a particular form of disciplinary action by U.Va. based upon offenses disclosed through this process?
RESPONSE: While many colleges and universities do employ a strict “two strikes” or “three strikes” policy or otherwise require immediate suspension for particular offenses, U.Va. does not. Instead, we utilize a case-by-case approach in evaluating conduct-related incidents. Each case will be evaluated on its facts to determine what follow-up, if any, is appropriate. Although the Dean of Students may impose an interim suspension of a student (which remains in place until a UJC hearing may occur), that interim sanction is used only in the most serious cases that are determined to present a present risk to safety.
QUESTION: What about graduate or professional school students? Do the same procedures apply to them?
RESPONSE: Yes. Graduate and professional school students should respond in the same manner as undergraduate students. The review and follow-up procedure that the University’s Dean of Students will follow is the same regardless of school of enrollment. Information may be shared by the Dean of Students with the student services professional in the school of enrollment, as those staff members may have more regular opportunities to interact with their graduate or professional school students.
QUESTION: What about a student’s privacy?
RESPONSE: Most arrests and convictions are a matter of public record in the court files of each jurisdiction. In addition, a student agrees to be governed by the policies of the University when he or she enrolls, and as noted, this policy requiring self-disclosure of criminal arrests or convictions is not new. Students also were required to make similar disclosures when they first applied to any of U.Va.’s schools. The University will maintain the information disclosed by students pursuant to this policy in a confidential fashion. It will be accessible to, and reviewed by and with, only those staff with a need to know such information.
QUESTION: What role do the Honor system and the University Judiciary Committee play in this procedure?
RESPONSE: As with many other things at U.Va., a student is being asked to give a truthful response regarding prior or intervening arrests and convictions “on my Honor.” Thus, an intentionally false response that is not trivial in nature (as defined by the Honor system) would be subject to being referred to the Honor Committee for investigation and further action. In addition, a failure to comply with the self-disclosure procedure could be referred to the University Judiciary Committee for a hearing based upon an allegation that such failure represents a violation of the University’s Standards of Conduct (in particular, Standards 6 and 12). Under U.Va.’s system of student self-governance, the ultimate adjudication of any matter referred to the Honor Committee or University Judiciary Committee rests with our students.