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Campus Scenes, Fall / Autumn. Credit: Andrew Brodhead /

Introduction to the Penalty Code

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The Penalty Code provides a wide variety of sanctions to redress student misconduct. While the Code may serve many purposes, its three main purposes are punishment, redressing injury to and protecting the Stanford community from future injury, and educating the offending student. Judicial Panels imposing sanctions for violations of University policies must consider all three purposes. Although all three purposes are important, each may be a factor of varying significance in any particular case.

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Judicial Panels apply sanctions only as severe as is warranted and necessary to appropriately address the misconduct of offending students. Nevertheless, students found to have violated the Honor Code or the Fundamental Standard (or other student-related institutional policy) clearly have broken university rules. The Penalty Code exists, in part, to curb such misconduct by imposing sanctions that have an impact. While no particular sanction realistically will have an equal impact on each offending student, punishment is unavoidable in most cases because offending students are frequently deprived of some or all of the rights and privileges afforded to Stanford students in good standing for a specific period of time.

Example of Appropriate Use

Student A inserts a portion of an essay that he found on the Internet into his paper and submits the essay as his own work. He is found to have violated the Honor Code. The sanctions imposed by his Judicial Panel include a one-quarter suspension from the University. While suspended, A will not be able to take a chemistry class he was interested in (or in fact register for any classes), nor able to serve on an ASSU committee to which he had been assigned.

Example of Inappropriate Use

Student A is also planning to participate in a volunteer opportunity that is reserved for active students primarily during spring quarter. His hearing takes place in fall quarter, and he is found to be in violation of the Honor Code. The standard penalty would be a winter quarter suspension. Student A’s sanction statement confirms that a winter quarter suspension would not cause him undue hardship. The evidence presented indicates the standard timing for a suspension is proper. Nevertheless, the Judicial Panel decides to suspend A during spring quarter, specifically to deprive him of the volunteer opportunity.

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Redress Injury/Protect Against Future Injury

Students who violate the Fundamental Standard or Honor Code (or other student-related institutional policies) injure the Stanford community. The injury may be tangible (e.g., assault, theft, vandalism) or intangible (e.g., breach of trust, damage to reputation). Again, one purpose of the Penalty Code is to redress such injuries, particularly in cases where a student’s continued presence on campus may be further injurious to Stanford community members. In cases where monetary damages are documented, Judicial Panels may require restitution, but cannot impose monetary fines.

Examples of Appropriate Uses

  • Student B forges the signature of her academic adviser on a number of university documents. Her actions are found to be in violation of the Fundamental Standard. B’s misconduct breached the trust that must exist between faculty and students, damaged the reputation of her adviser, and wasted valuable University resources. Her sanctions include 50 hours of community service to the Stanford community as a way of redressing the damage she caused.
  • Student C has twice broken into his next-door neighbor’s room, and stolen cash and CDs from her. Student C is found to be in violation of the Fundamental Standard. The Judicial Panel requires him to return or replace the stolen CDs, pay full restitution to his neighbor, and because panelists conclude from the evidence that Student C may repeat his misbehavior, suspend for a quarter as well.

Example of Inappropriate Use

Student A is found to be in violation of the Honor Code for plagiarizing a portion of his essay. His Judicial Panel assesses a $500 fine as a way to redress the harm caused to his TA and professor. (Note: this is an explicitly prohibited use of the Penalty Code.)

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Student misconduct violations serious enough to merit expulsion are very rare. The overwhelming majority of offending students either will remain members of the Stanford community or have the opportunity to return to the university following a suspension. The university wants all its students to complete their degrees, and Judicial Panels strive to use the Penalty Code as effectively as possible as a positive educative tool. Most Stanford students who are brought before a Judicial Panel have simply made poor decisions; many attribute their actions to personal issues they are struggling with, unsuccessfully (such as stress, depression, problems with drugs or alcohol). It is proper and appropriate for Judicial Panels to use the Penalty Code to encourage offending students to seek help or to continue to address personal issues to enable them to have a positive and productive career at Stanford after the disciplinary case is resolved. (Note: such "positive sanctions" or encouragements may not be made mandatory.)

Example of Appropriate Use

Student A admits he had an alcohol problem at the time he violated the Honor Code, and that his drinking was interfering with his studies. His sanction statement says that since the Honor Code charge was filed, he has stopped drinking, and now regularly speaks with a counselor to help him remain sober and better structure his life. One of A’s sanctions is 40 hours of community service, but the Judicial Panel allows up to 20 hours of counseling to count towards the 40 hour requirement, as a means of encouraging him to continue to deal positively with his alcohol problem.

Example of Inappropriate Use

Student B states she was depressed during the period when she forged her adviser’s signature, that her depression overwhelmed her better judgment, and that she knew at the time that what she was doing was wrong. B’s Judicial Panel imposed a 50 hour community service penalty, appropriate under the circumstances—but concerned over her condition, panelists also inappropriately required her to seek 25 hours of psychological counseling as part of her sanction.