Restorative Justice: a viable option for non-academic misconduct?
Managing Conflict in Education
Procedures for dealing with non-academic misconduct at Higher Education institutions frequently describe the objective of student discipline as being educational rather than punitive and those involved in the process frequently emphasize the importance of “student learning” or
“teaching a lesson”. Yet many institutions have procedures that emulate a criminal trial, pitting
the institution and the student against each other.
The following are examples of the legalistic terminology used in some policies: “guilty”,
“not guilty”, “conviction at trial”, “trial de novo”, “award costs”, “stay of the decision”, “frivolous, vexatious or without foundation”, “motion”, “plaintiff”, defendant”, “respondent”, “disclosure”, “oaths and affirmations”, “summons”, “notice of appeal”, “grounds for appeal‟, “oral testimony”, “opening statement”, “closing arguments”, “in camera”, “right of appeal”, “stay of the execution of the decision”, “binding jurisdiction”, “original and appellate jurisdiction”. In addition to using legal jargon, many of the procedures are so detailed and legalistic that the hearings are mini trials with detailed provisions regarding disclosure of evidence, time limits for various steps in the process and the order of the proceedings (opening statements, evidence, cross-examination, closing statements).
These provisions are intended to ensure a fair hearing and protect the rights of a student and, of course, to protect the institution from having its decisions set aside on judicial review
1where it is found to not have applied the rules of natural justice. Generally, and this is the case
in Canada, the courts have not stipulated that university tribunals, in order not to have their decisions overturned on judicial review, must incorporate all the elements of a trial with the procedural requirements regarding evidence, cross examination of witness, etcetera; thus one may question why many universities have included detailed provisions that turn their tribunals into mini criminal hearings with all the adversarial qualities that this entails. Hannah stated:
The literature and the case law provide no single set of clear and definitive
procedures for ensuring that the principle of natural justice will not be violated
by a college or university tribunal. While it is clear that colleges and
universities are not required to provide full, adversarial, court-like procedures,
it is less clear what they are required to provide. ... The rules of natural justice 2are flexible, and must be adapted to each individual set of circumstances.
1 The rules of natural justice require that two principles be complied with: audi alteram partem (let both sides be
heard) and nemo judex in causa sua (no one shall be a judge in their own case). The first principle entitles a person accused of an offence the right to a hearing which would include the following: being given notice of the allegation, details regarding the charge and evidence on which this is based, a right to respond to the charges (in more serious situations, to appear personally rather than respond in writing), to examine the witnesses where credibility is an issue and (maybe) to have counsel in especially serious cases. The second principle requires that the hearing tribunal not 1only be unbiased but that there be no reasonable apprehension of bias.
2 David A. Hannah, Student-Institution Legal Relationships in Colleges and Universities in the Common Law Provinces of Canada: An Analysis of the Case Law from 1982 to 1994 (PhD Dissertation, Bowling Green State
University, 1996) (unpublished) at 171.
David Hannah, in a study of all judicial decisions over a 13 year period that dealt with disputes arising between students and postsecondary institutions in the common-law jurisdictions in Canada, summarised the position:
While the courts are willing to, and have intervened in the decisions of colleges and universities when
there have been serious procedural deficiencies that have negatively affected students, they have done
so rarely, and have, for the most part, permitted postsecondary institutions to operate and act as they
Hannah concluded that postsecondary institutions in Canada are bound by administrative law and that their decisions must comply with the rules of natural justice or they may be subject to judicial review by the courts. However, the courts will only intervene in cases where there has been a serious breach of the requirements of natural justice and only when all appeal processes within the institution have been exhausted. The courts have been reluctant to intervene in academic assessment matters of universities and colleges; but a little less reluctant in matters involving factual and disciplinary matters, and will be concerned with the procedures that were followed by the institution rather than the substance of the matter. Other than in exceptional circumstances, where a breach of the principles of
Therefore, with no clear checklist provided by the courts on what universities must do to ensure that their decisions will not be set aside on judicial review; some universities have sought refuge in overly prescriptive and detailed policies written in very legalistic language.
Gehring believes that codes that are overly legalistic are adversarial and pit students against the institution resulting in there being a winner and a loser, instead of the discipline process furthering the educational mission of higher education. He further warns that universities must follow the procedural rules that they have set and that where legalistic language is used, confusions and a lack of understanding by students and others involved in the process results. He proposes that institutions review their procedures with a view to removing legalistic terminology and simplifying the procedures. “Thus, the more straightforward and clear the disciplinary procedures are the easier they will be for students to understand and for the institution to
I do not believe that there is A Model Code of Conduct – every institution must craft its
policies and procedures to suit its history, its needs, its community, its objective. However, these models are useful for obtaining ideas of how an existing adjudicative system can be improved
4and made less legalistic.
With the growth of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) we know that there are alternative methods of resolving disputes other than adjudication, and this is certainly the case at Higher
natural justice are found, the court will not replace the decision of the institution with its own, but will set aside the decision of the institution and refer the case back for a fair hearing by the institution.
3 Donald D. Gehring, “The Objectives of Student Discipline and the Process That‟s Due: Are They Compatible?” (2001) NAPSA 38 at 466.
4 See Edward N. Stoner II & John Wesley Lowery, “Navigating Past the “Spirit of Insubordination”: A Twenty-First
Century Model Student Conduct Code Script with a Model Hearing Script”
Education institutions. Here, if appropriate resolutions methods are used, the experience can
teach students skills for life (including how to resolve their own disputes).
The Spectrum of Resolution Options, developed by Schrage & Thompson, “provides a framework for student affairs educators to return to individualized incident management that is
5 focused on learning, student development, and the unique needs of individual parties.”
The Spectrum of Resolution Options
Jennifer Meyer Schrage & Nancy Geist Giacomini, Reframing Campus Conflict: Student Conduct Practice Through
a Social Justice Lens (Virginia: Stylus Publications, 2009).
Students are not a homogenous group and this is more so today than ever before when campuses have students from diverse backgrounds, cultures and, with an increasing number of
5 Jennifer Meyer Schrage & Monita C. Thompson “Providing a Spectrum of Resolution Options” in Jennifer Meyer
Schrage & Nancy Geist Giacomini, Reframing Campus Conflict: Student Conduct Practice Through a Social Justice Lens (Virginia: Stylus Publications, 2009) 65 at 67.
6 International students on campuses, different countries. Individuals have different conflict stylesand there is a need to provide different mechanisms for resolving the disputes that arise. I have found that many of these options exist on campuses, although they may not always be formally provided for and frequently are not “named” as such. Indeed, many of these are provided for by
Ombudspersons working on Higher Education campuses.
However, the option least frequently observed on campuses is the Restorative Practices and yet this option provides a great opportunity for Higher Education institutions to manage student discipline while honouring their educational mission. This does not mean that student learning does not take place at present as a result of disciplinary proceeding. Some of the sanctions provided for in the disciplinary policies reflect an educational purpose; for example, apologies, community service and educational requirements, such as writing a reflective essay or conducting research on a particular topic.
Frequently interventions that result in a valuable lesson for the student or where a transformation in attitude takes place, are done informally, not following any laid down procedure or guideline, but depending on the attitude of the person who has authority to deal with the situation and their willingness to deal with the situation in a way that is not punitive but that provides an opportunity for the student to learn from the experience, accept responsibility for their actions and make good the harm that was caused.
6 There are several assessment tools available for determining conflict styles. For example:
Kenneth W. Thomas & Ralph H. Kilmann, The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument (Tuxedo, NY: Xicom, Inc, 1974);
Ron Kraybill, “Personal Conflict Style Inventory” in Carolyn Schrock-Skenk, ed. Mediation and Facilitation thTraining Manual, 4 ed, (Akron, PA: Mennonite conciliation Service, 2000) at 64;
D. Hammer, Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory (Berlin, MD: Hammer Consulting) available at
<www.hammerconsulting.org> (last accessed May 6, 2010).
Howard Zehr, in Changing Lenses describes the two lenses, retributive and restorative, for viewing justice:
Retributive Justice – Crime is a violation of the state, defined by lawbreaking
and guilt. Justice determines blame and administers pain in a contest between
the offender and the state directed by systemic rules.
Restorative Justice – Crime is a violation of people and relationships. It creates
obligations to make things right. Justice involves the victim, offender, and the
community in a search for solutions which promote repair, reconciliation, and 7reassurance.
For the most part, Codes of Conduct that deal with non-academic conduct on campuses manage a retributive justice system within the university where the following questions must be answered within the framework of the disciplinary regulations of the university:
; What offence has been committed?
; Who is guilty?
; What punishment should be imposed?
This process focuses on the offence committed and the offender with little attention being given to the needs of the victim or the community.
In a restorative system, attention is given to the needs of the victim (or person harmed), the community, as well as, the person who caused harm. The questions to be answered are:
; What harm has been done?
; How can this be remedied?
; Who is responsible for making things right?
7 Howard Zehr, Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice (Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1990) at 181.
Canada has a rich history of restorative justice with the world‟s first recorded victim-
8 and the acceptance of Aboriginal offender mediation case having occurred in Elmira, Ontario
9sentencing circles into the justice system. Today there are many different programs using
10restorative practices and many believe that the very nature of a university makes it an ideal place where restorative justice principles can be utilized in furthering the educational mission of a university and building community when students breach the behavioural norms of that community.
Within the policies and practices of managing non-academic misconduct, there are some indications of restorative practices being introduced. Many of the policies dealing with student misconduct (at universities in Ontario, Canada) refer to educative outcomes and many administrators emphasize the importance of “student learning” or “teaching a lesson” rather than punitive measures for student misconduct. Indeed, many universities stipulate in their policies
8 Russ Kelly was one of the teenage offenders who in 1974 went on a drunken spree of damaging vehicles and property in Elmira, Ontario. The offenders pleaded guilty to the 22 counts of willful damage to property and the probation officer in the case, Mark Yatzi, recommended to the judge that the offenders meet their victims, face to face. Although there was no precedent for this, Judge Gordon McConnell was interested in this novel approach to justice. The offenders, together with the probation officer, visited each victim, apologized, heard what the victims needed to say, assured them that they were not intentional targets of crime but rather random victims of vandalism and asked for forgiveness. They later returned with cheques to make right the harm they had caused. The success of this case resulted in the first Victim Offender Reconciliation Project being established (Community Justice Initiative (CJI) in Kitchener, Ontario) where other victims and offenders could meet to discuss the harm done and agree how to repair the harm. This remarkable story and the path that Russ Kelly‟s life took as a result of the restorative justice initiative can be found at <http://www.sfu.ca/crj/russ.html> (last accessed May 6, 2010) and in his book Russ Kelly,
From Scoundrel to Scholar… The Russ Kelly Story (Self Published: 2006).
9 Centre for Restorative Justice <http://www.sfu.ca/crj/> (last accessed May 6, 2010) and “Restorative Justice in
Canada” - document prepared by the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime
<http://crcvc.ca/docs/restjust.pdf> (last accessed May 6, 2010).
10 For information on Restorative Justice in Canada see: Simon Fraser University, Centre for Restorative Justice <http://www.sfu.ca/crj> (last accessed May 6, 2010) and University of Toronto‟s Criminology Information Service,
Restorative Justice Database
<http://link.library.utoronto.ca/criminology/restorative_justice/> (last accessed May 6, 2010) . For information on
Restorative Justice internationally see: Victim Assistance Online, Restorative Justice Resources
<http://www.vaonline.org/restore.html> (last accessed May 6, 2010).
that the purpose for imposing sanctions for misconduct is not to be punitive but rather for educational purposes.
Restorative justice principles can be implemented generally for the misconduct identified in discipline code in order to build community, align the beliefs of the university community with the expected behaviour and give legitimacy to the process of dealing with non-academic misconduct. David Karp says, “Restorative justice may be well suited to campus communities
1112 and Bill Warters because of their democratic and egalitarian ethos and educational mission”
It certainly has great potential for being effectively adapted to the unique
culture and needs of university members and community. Discussion and
outcomes generated by the people directly affected by a student‟s conduct can
help meet the University‟s educational mission, have a greater emotional
impact and seem more valid to all involved than outcomes imposed by 13administrators or as a result of bureaucratic processes.
It is important to recognize that mediation in the context of restorative justice is very different from the mediation process that is used when two parties (who are sometimes referred to as disputants) are in a dispute and come together in the presence of an impartial third party who assists the parties to resolve their issues in a collaborative manner. In a restorative mediation (or conference or circle) there is a victim and an offender who has acknowledged responsibility for the harm that has been caused to the other person; the purpose of the mediation
11 David R. Karp, “Introducing Restorative Justice to the Campus Community” in David R. Karp & Thom Allena
eds., Restorative Justice on the College Campus: Promoting Student Growth and Responsibility, and Reawakening the Spirit of Campus Community (Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas, 2004) 5 at 5.
12 Bill Warters has for many years promoted alternative dispute resolution and mediation on university campuses and established and moderated CCRNet (Campus Conflict Resolution Network) and designed and built the campus-adr website <www.campus-adr.org> (last accessed May 6, 2010).
13 Bill Warters, with Tom Sebok and Andrea Goldblum, “Making Things Right: Restorative Justice Comes to
Campuses” (2000) 1 Higher Education Report 1 online at <http://www.campus-
adr.org/CMHER/ReportArticles/Edition1_1/Restorative1_1.html> (last accessed May 6, 2010).
session is not to resolve a dispute, but to enable the victim and any other persons (family, friends, community) to speak about the harm that has been caused and its impact and for everyone involved to work together to find a way to make right the harm caused by the offender and take steps to ensure that this does not occur in the future. Relevant training for the facilitator of the restorative justice process is essential as it is necessary to ensure that the process does not cause
14 revictimization of the person harmed.
Ron Claassen and Zenebe Abebe report these observations from staff associated with the Restorative Discipline program at Fresno Pacific University:
My initial skepticism to Restorative Disciple was that I thought it was going to
be soft and let people who had really done something wrong off the hook.
What I have seen is that in most cases dealing with situations in a restorative
way leads to greater ownership, accountability, and change as an offender. I
now look forward to discipline situations knowing that there is great potential
to come out with improved relationships and both victims and offenders who
have grown. Dave Obwald – Resident Director
One of the most interesting things that I have noticed is that the more serious
the case the better the outcome has been. When it is a more serious case, the
student seems to be more willing to make things right. When it is not as serious,
we have to deal with more apathy. They are more engaged when it is a serious
violation. Jason Elk – Graduate Assistant and CJC Case Manager/Mediator
In a community that values group processing, to have one person wielding so
much power just did not fit our culture, let alone the pressure of determining
guilt and innocence and becoming the personification of campus discipline.
Who wants to be known as „Judge Dread‟? It was time for a change in how we
operated our student discipline process. Adopting principles and concepts from
the field of restorative justice has allowed us to create a new process that fits
our community ethos of group decision making and support. Don Sparks – 15Assistant Dean of Students
14 Three examples of different restorative processes: integrity boards, conferencing and mediation, used successfully in higher education settings, are reported in Karp & Allena, supra note 11.
15 Ron Claassen & Zenebe Abebe, Restorative Discipline at Fresno Pacific University
<http://disciplinethatrestores.org/RestorativeDiscipline.pdf> (last accessed May 6, 2010).
However, introducing restorative practices has costs and can involve a great amount of additional time and effort and will have its opponents. Indeed, restorative processes are not appropriate for all cases; for instance where a student denies responsibility for the offence, the university must be able to use its adjudicative process to test the allegations and only if the tribunal is satisfied that the student is responsible, should sanctions be applied. Similarly, restorative processes: conferencing, circles and victim-offender mediation are not suited to victimless crimes and are inappropriate where the beliefs of the community are not aligned with the code of conduct, for example offences under the code for under-age drinking or possession of illegal substances (although if a student is assaulted or property damaged as a result a student being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, this could be appropriate for a restorative process).
Restorative Justice processes can take many different forms: victim offender mediation,
16 - but generally, to access these processes the student must accept conferencing, circles and boards
responsibility for the harm that was caused. The process therefore does not replace other methods of resolving disputes involving misconduct. However, where a Restorative Justice practice is appropriate, it is a process that allows a student to learn from the incident and for community building to occur.
Ideally Restorative Justice practices should be introduced to a campus after a needs assessment of the campus has been conducted and as part of a system for managing conflict and resolving disputes on campus – i.e. it should be one of the options on the spectrum of resolution
16 Karp, supra note 11, 5 at 12 and for a table comparing the four processes, see David R. Karp, “Integrity Boards” in Karp & Allena, supra note 11, 29 at 38. The main difference is that the Integrity Board operates much the same as the traditional judicial boards in hearing allegations of misconduct and determining whether the offence has been committed, but in the sanctioning part of the proceeding conducts itself in a restorative manner – by enquiring about
the harm caused and its impact on the community and seeking an outcome that will repair the harm done and allow for the reintegration of the parties back into the community; whereas, mediation, circles and conferencing are dependent on the offender taking responsibility for the harm caused and the process seeks to address the harm caused and reduce the risk of the behaviour reoccurring.