U Student Judicial Affairs not there to only discipline

by Matthew Gruchow

F or Sharon Dzik, her job will always be more about a passion for students than discipline – a mixture of education and sanction, she said.

But, she said, the University population does not notice this work because of confidentiality laws prohibiting her from talking about the specific disciplinary cases she handles.

Dzik is the director of Student Judicial Affairs. At the office, students who have broken University policies and rules – academic, such as plagiarism, or nonacademic, such as sexual assault – are disciplined. Discipline varies from expulsion to academic probation.

The stigmatizing of the type of students who come to the office must stop, she said.

“People really have to get over that stigma that if you come here, you’re automatically in trouble,” she said.

Many people fail to see the office staff as a group of educators who teach students how to avoid cheating and getting into trouble, she said.

“It’s one of the most teachable moments that there can be for students sometimes,” Dzik said. “We have a code of conduct, and we’re here to uphold that.”

Educating University faculty members on what violations to report and helping them understand the disciplinary process is equally as important, she said.

The office gathers reports of student misconduct from all areas, including residential life and campus police, Dzik said.

For the 2003-04 academic year, the office had 384 cases, she said. Academic dishonesty counted for 168 of those cases, she said.

“I don’t think there are a lot of things falling through the cracks,” Dzik said.

According to statistics for 2003-04, men and women appear equally prone to violating policies and having disciplinary problems, Dzik said.

Amy Jo Pierce, a junior political science student and Minnesota Student Association vice president, who said she is not speaking on behalf of MSA, said she agrees the office could be more visible.

“As a student, I would say pretty much any department at the (University) should be more visible to students,” Pierce said.

More students are using the University’s Student Dispute Resolution Center, said Jan Morse, director of the center. Morse said there’s not one particular reason for the increase.

As the office launches preventative programs, the agency will be more visible to students, Dzik said. Programs include Student Advocates for Academic Integrity, which was launched this month.

Reaching students

The office has an opportunity to reach students when their academic careers could be in jeopardy, Dzik said.

Being fair and compassionate is essential to judicial work, she said.

“It takes a lot of diplomacy, but it also takes a lot of compassion to do this kind of work,” Dzik said. “You have to really listen to people and understand why a person gets into a situation they’re into.”

Dzik said she has had more positive than negative interactions with students.

“Their issues aren’t with me, per se, as authority but more with the way they feel like life is treating them,” Dzik said.

Students have generally been receptive and appreciative of the office’s work, she said.

“I enjoy talking to all kinds of students,” Dzik said. “I don’t think there’s anyone you can’t reason with and talk to.”

Learning not to take it home

Dzik said she has been at the University for 10 months, after leaving a judicial affairs position at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif.

In her career, she has handled cases varying from plagiarism to student death.

It is important that judicial officers be involved in other campus activities to ease the emotional toll that can leave some jaded, she said.

Dzik never takes work home with her and exercises to relieve stress, she said.

“Everyone in this type of job needs to have that place where they can go and not have to think about it or have your family involved with it.”