Almost No Students Were Expelled For Misconduct

students-in-classAs the Board of Regents considers revisions to expand administrative rules to off-campus misconduct complaints, new official misconduct records reveal UW-Milwaukee handled only 41 cases in the last five years.

That is an average of almost seven cases per year. The UW-Milwaukee Office of Student Life misconduct records do not include the total number of incidents handled by other campus departments, which sanction students for rule violations but do not refer these incidents to the dean of students, a recent Front Page Milwaukee investigation found.

The rules covering student conduct and conduct on university property, known as Chapter University of Wisconsin System (UWS) 17 and 18 of the State Administrative Code, include nonacademic misconduct that is subject to disciplinary action such as violence, theft, disruption, and intimidation on campus grounds as well as prohibited behavior on campus property. Front Page Milwaukee found:

  • There were only two cases of expulsion in the five years, although 83 percent of the cases referred to the dean of students’ office were categorized as either “serious danger to the safety of campus members or guests” and “stalking or harassment.”
  • Of the five-year caseload, 41 percent resulted in probation. Almost 30 percent resulted in suspension.
  • Not all of the incidents handled by other campus offices were included in the official report produced by the UW-Milwaukee Office of Student Life, even though they are required to submit these numbers, according to the dean of students.
  • Theft is the most frequent crime on campus, but only two incidents were included in the dean’s report.
  • Hundreds of misconduct incidents at UWM, according to residence halls and campus police, involved underage drinking, but most of these offenses were not included in the official record in stark contrast to other UW schools, even though students escorted by ambulances from the dorms due to excessive drinking average three times a week.

The true number of campus misconduct is difficult to discern, but may number in the hundreds. Front Page Milwaukee found that Residence Halls, Campus Police, Union staff, and the Office of Student Life do not sufficiently coordinate to produce an accurate assessment of overall misconduct incidences at UWM. Heavily redacted records due to the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act made it difficult to determine specific sanctions, such as length of probations for certain offenses committed on campus.

The investigation into misconduct at different university campuses followed after Front Page Milwaukee submitted open records requests to obtain the number of misconduct incidents handled at several UW System schools, as well as specific offenses for students and sanctions charged against them.

Front Page Milwaukee sent requests to several state public and private universities and conducted interviews with staff in the different campus offices that deal directly with misconduct issues on campus, including residence halls, Union security, UWMPD, and the Office of Student Life.

Campus police data

Reports reveal that UWM students have been cited for underage drinking, disorderly conduct in dorms, theft from UWM bookstore, and assault against other students.

From May to December last year, the number of cases handled by the campus police involving UWM students is more than double the number the dean reported for the whole year. In December 2008 alone, nine incidents involved UWM students, the total number of incidents tallied in the dean’s record for last year.

“I’m not necessarily getting all the records,” said UW-Milwaukee Dean of Students Jim Hill, who oversees misconduct referrals at the Office of Student Life.

“Police can give a student a citation and be done with it, the resident hall can sanction a student in the residence hall and be done with it,” said Hill, who said that the campus departments do not currently coordinate when handling misconduct incidents.

Detective Sergeant Art Koch, from the University Police Department, said not all cases that his department deals with are referred to the dean of students.

“We give hundreds of tickets,” said Koch, who revealed that his department has busted up parties where there would be 80-90 people with tickets.

“And there’s too many to be referred to the dean.”

But his office is not alone. The University Housing Director Scott Peak and Associate Director of the Union Thomas L. Viel said they will not necessarily refer incidents that they have handled to the dean of students either.

“Typically we would be delegated to handle those issues, most issues, by our office,” said Peak, who said residence halls do not handle UWS citations but enforce a housing contract with housing residents.

Other Universities

Yet, misconduct records retrieved by Front Page Milwaukee from other UW schools reveal much higher numbers of nonacademic misconduct.

In contrast, other UW schools reported alcohol incidents to the dean of students’ office. UW-La Crosse totaled 450 complaints for alcohol related incidents alone last year.

UW-Madison, the state’s flag ship school, reported over 1,200 cases of non-academic misconduct incidents, and nearly a third happened in the residence halls.

UW-Parkside reported a total of 171 cases of nonacademic misconduct, including 64 cases of under-age drinking.

UWM reported a total of nine cases of misconduct for 2008. Most of these were the more serious cases faced by other offices. Two of these cases involved stalking or harassment.

Seven involved “conduct that constitutes serious danger to the personal safety of a member of the university committee.” At least one of these students, according to a letter sent to the student from the Office of Student Life, was involved with possession of drugs and was sanctioned with probation.

Another letter to a student in this category revealed a physical attack against another UWM student which resulted in a year suspension. Other letters from the dean report sexual assault and a violation of a restraining order.

Alice Muelhbauer, a senior studying architecture and conservation of environmental science, considers the campus safe generally, but does not agree with the dean’s statistics.

“It’s probably higher,” said Muelhbauer.

How It Works

Incidents referred to the Office of Student Life generally begin with a letter from the dean to schedule a meeting with the dean or another officer to give their account of what happened, and an investigation will begin to see if it falls under UWS.

The dean factors other sanctions for the offense before pursuing more action. His office sends a letter to the student outlining his finding and sanction. Student can agree to the decision, or make an appeal. A committee of faculty could be hear the appeal.

UWM is on par with other UW schools in the types of sanctions handed out, with hardly any expulsions. Probation sanctions give students one more chance before further action is handed out. Suspensions vary in length, but max at two years, and are system wide. Continued misconduct can lead to expulsion from the UW System.

Hill said he handles cases progressively, offering students a chance to modify behavior while giving them a chance to meet their educational goals.

And though the Board of Regents is considering expanding UWS to off-campus incidents, most that could be handled on campus by the dean are not.

Drugs and Alcohol

Koch said underage drinking is a regular state citation that does not fall under UWS 18. He must refer drinking at RiverView and Kenilworth dorms to MPD since they are not in areas controlled by the Board of Regents.

“Should they be [referred to the dean]?” asked Koch when told that other schools provide official statistics that include alcohol and drug sanctions.

“Maybe they should,” Koch said, but he was unsure how the Office of Student Life would handle the amount of cases.

“If it is alcohol related we can put them through an alcohol education class that’s held here,” said Peak, who said ambulances escort highly intoxicated students on average three times per week.

University Housing, Office of Student Life, and UWMPD have separate programs called Choices About Responsible Drinking, BASICS, and the Alcohol Deferral Program that try to modify behavior in regards to drinking. ADP will drop charges for first time offenders.

Koch and Hill agree that alcohol and drugs can lead to more serious behavior, such as sexual assault and battery.

Koch said his department would usually refer cases of sexual assault or more serious offenses to the Office of Student Life.

But even cases involving heroin, oxycotin, and suboxone, which made recent headlines this spring when Luke Murphy died of an overdose at Sandburg Hall when he combined suboxone with alcohol, are not necessarily referred to Dean Hill.

Koch said these cases are referred to the Milwaukee County district attorney, but on a case-by-case basis to Hill.

Serena Begay, a grad student studying counseling and an ex-peer advocate, believes alcohol incidents should be reported to the dean’s office of misconduct.

“It shows what college students are doing,” said Begay, who said reprimanding students alone would not stop them from drinking, but tracking the number of incidents would raise awareness.

At the Union Alcohol Outreach Center, Sarah Bellstock works with students going through BASIC. She said statistics can be important to see what students are doing, but reveal only one way of tracking what issues students face, and she believes UWM is working to identify who is at risk.

“From a health point, we want to be seen by students as one who helps them,” said Bellstock.

Theft Underreported To Dean

Most crime on campus involves theft, according to Koch. In December, police cited a student for stealing an iPod valued at $250 from a roommate in Sandburg West Tower. They also arrested a student for stealing books from bookstore.

Last September, campus police arrested an employee of the UWM library for theft of cash and checks. In October, police cited a UWM student for attempting to take a library book without checking it out. Yet no counts of theft were included for all of 2008 for cases over four months old.

“For instance somebody shoplifting, do you think that should be referred to the dean of students?” asked Koch. “No, and that would normally not be,” he said of first time offenders.

“If it’s a situation where there was a theft and it was one of our employees,” said Viel of Union staff, “we would handle it in house and not refer it to the dean of students.” Viel said a student would be terminated from the position and his office would consider the matter closed.

Viel said Union security sometimes deal with UWS Chapter 18 which prohibits certain conduct on campus grounds. If police are called for fights or assault at a Union event, Viel said perhaps the dean would get information from the police report.

Smaller and larger universities report more incidents to the dean’s office. And the Office of Student Life is looking to retrieve software called Maxient to help facilitate coordination of judicial affairs from different departments and perhaps Milwaukee Police, which occasionally alerts Hill of situations involving UWM students. UW-Whitewater, River Falls, and Stevens Point all have purchased the program.

The different offices said they have good relationships with each other and do have meetings to determine what issues they face and how to better handle misconduct on campus. But more coordination could reveal crisis situations that individual offices may overlook.

“Maybe the dean of students sees an altercation at the financial aid office and we have the same student doing the same thing with a suite mate,” said Peak. “Now we put all the pieces together, pull them aside, and say what’s going on?” said Peak.

Housing, Union staff, and UWMPD said Maxient software would help coordinate issues in the future. For the moment, each uses discretion in determining what to report to the dean.

But Sandburg residents Henry Bell, studying creative writing, and Anthony Short, studying education, believe that better statistics of incidents in the dorms and campus should be reported to the dean of students’ office, including alcohol consumption.

“If someone wanted to change something, they should have stats,” said Bell.

Edgar Mendez contributed to this story.