Seeking administrative justice when legal recourse is unavailable

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Victims of pranks in West Campus often lack legal recourse to seek justice through judicial outlets, but the University provides additional avenues for students who feel they have been wronged.

UTPD chief of police David Carter said pranks in West Campus typically fall outside the criminal spectrum, which hinders police action. The less severe the offense, the less police are able to do with it in terms of investigation and interrogation.

“Once we establish that there’s no crime, then there wouldn’t be anything the police can do with [a case],” Carter said. “It’s really hard to prosecute lower offenses. That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be
administrative action.”

Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, who has primary authority and responsibility for the administration of student discipline, said administrative action is a viable option if there is a breach in UT’s institutional rules, on or off campus.

Unlike UTPD, University administrators’ jurisdiction extends well beyond campus.

“Any time something happens — something is thrown from a balcony, for instance — whether it be West Campus, Riverside, North Campus or Far West, two litmus tests determine whether or not and how Student Judicial Services will engage off-campus behavior,” Reagins-Lilly said.

“Student-to-student” incidents are the University’s first litmus test. Reagins-Lilly said the judicial process begins with information gathering and proceeds into an investigative phase. Conduct violations occurring during UT-sponsored activities — the second litmus test — are also included in the University’s jurisdiction.

“If we are in Spain, and the trip is a University-sponsored trip, and we have student-to-student violations, those parameters [will allow us to] begin our process,” Reagins-Lilly said.

According to chapter 11 of UT’s Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities, the University’s expectations for student conduct are grounded in the University’s Code of Conduct and Student Honor Code. Reagins-Lilly said her office will refer to chapter 11 any time they engage a student or gather information specific to a situation, and she encourages students to contact Student Judicial Services if they feel an institutional rule has
been violated.

“The beauty of our administrative process is that we’re focused on the development of students,” Reagins-Lilly said. “What’s most important is that students have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and conduct. It’s not punitive, punitive, punitive. We want to have constructive conversations and help
students reflect and think about their behavior.”

History junior Anne Pennington chairs the Student Conduct Advisory Committee, a group of students that provides student perspectives on matters of student conduct and academic integrity. Pennington said Student Judicial Services wants to address concerns that are relevant
to students.

“I wouldn’t discourage anybody from calling the SJS if something offends you or makes you feel unsafe,” Pennington said. “They can more likely help you than not, and that’s their goal. Their process is extremely constructive. They want to know if something is wrong, and they want to take action.”