The Purpose of Precedent
To retain the respect of the Stanford community and to get community buy-in, the student judicial process must be in fact and in appearance a reasonable, fair and transparent one. Judicial Panels play a major role in the process. While recognizing their obligation to craft solutions tailored as much as possible to each individual case, panels also recognize that while cases may have different details, many are similar both factually and circumstantially.
In an effort to ensure equity across the board, panels have developed and consistently apply standard sanctions for many types of misconduct occurring with some regularity. Standard sanctions are essential to the integrity of the judicial process, serving as guides for future panels and giving students assurance that they will not be treated arbitrarily in the system. Standard sanctions also help responding students prepare their sanction statements by giving them the opportunity to consider contingencies, to realistically assess the impact of possible sanctions on their Stanford career—something they could not do if sanctions depended on the whim of a panel. Precedent-based sanctions are also valuable to the university community, providing it with clear expectations for behavior and established consequences for certain misbehaviors (such as plagiarism or theft), and acting as a deterrent to other students.
This is not to say that standard sanctions must be adhered to blindly, without regard for the particular facts or circumstances of a case. Panels are empowered and encouraged to use the full range of options listed in the Penalty Code to resolve a case. While consistency in imposing sanctions is desirable (recognizing they cannot ensure consistency in impact), panels may depart from issuing a standard solution—but when that happens, panels should detail the aggravating/mitigating facts and circumstances that guided their decision for the benefit of the particular participants and for the benefit of future panels and responding students.
Below is a list of common violations and the resulting sanctions. Wherever possible, a “standard” sanction is included, as well as a “high” and “low” penalty, together with the reasoning/rationale provided by panels.
Honor Code Precedent
First time Violation
Since at least the 1970s, the standard sanctions for a first time violation of the Honor Code have been a one-quarter suspension and 40 hours of community service. (A “No Pass” is often issued in Honor Code cases, but that is a decision that only the instructor may determine.)
- In the same course: unless students were notified of a possible violation before allegations of repeat violations in the same course occurred, panels typically consider this as an aggravating circumstance (not as a repeat offense), and increase community service hours and/or add a quarter of suspension to the standard penalties. In egregious cases, with multiple aggravating circumstances, panels have imposed two quarters of actual suspension.
- In different courses, same quarter: Typically, panels finding a student violated the Honor Code in different classes during the same time frame (without having been notified of the first alleged offense) treat this as two “first time” offenses and double the standard sanctions.
- Standard sanctions for repeat violations (e.g., a violation in fall quarter and another in spring quarter) typically result in a three-quarter suspension and one or more educational components. This sanction was also imposed when a student had been notified (by a faculty member or the Judicial Officer) about a possible violation even though the student had not yet been sanctioned by a Judicial Panel.
Fundamental Standard Precedent
There is no standard or ordinary sanction for many Fundamental Standard violations because of the great range of behaviors covered by this university policy. However, during the sanctioning phase of a hearing, the Judicial Advisor provides panelists with outcomes of any previous case(s) involving similar facts and circumstances (information provided to responding students prior to the hearing itself).
Judicial Panels considering expulsion are strongly encouraged to discuss specific case precedent during the sanctioning phase of the hearing with the responding student, to allow the latter to comment on past “case law” on this issue, as well as to be available to answer questions posed by panelists.
Expulsion permanently severs students from the university. This ultimate sanction should be reserved only for the most egregious misconduct, such as repeat violators whose refusal “to abide by acceptable community standards of behavior adversely affects the ability of others here to pursue their legitimate academic goals.” (Quotation from then-President Donald Kennedy, approving a Stanford Judicial Council recommendation for expulsion.) Cases resulting in expulsion have included multiple violations of either or both the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard, and a single Honor Code act (submitting a wholly, or substantially, plagiarized thesis/dissertation).
Per the Judicial Charter, recommendations for expulsion must be acted upon by the provost. Panels recommending expulsion should carefully document all the relevant facts and all aggravating circumstances, and articulate their rationale for concluding that the only reasonable sanction was permanent removal from Stanford University.