Frequently Asked Questions: Families

If you are the family member of a student that is involved in the university’s conduct process, please understand that the policies and procedures are not comparable to a courtroom, but they do adhere to the university’s Code of Student Conduct. The following FAQs are not intended to replace information in our guiding documents but to assist you in understanding our process. You may also wish to review the FAQs provided within the student section.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Where can I find a copy of the Code of Student Conduct and the Resident Student Handbook? Each document can be found online by selecting the “Conduct Process” drop-down menu or by clicking Code of Student Conduct 2020-2021.

Why is a particular rule or policy in place? Policies are designed to support the university’s educational mission. They are meant to support a safe environment where people can work, study, and live without undue interference. They are also designed to build and support the academic and social community, teach students responsibility and interdependence, as well as promote ethical development.

Who will hear my student’s case? Depending on the violation(s) the case will be heard by the student-run Community Adjudication Board or an administrative hearing officer from the Office of Student Conduct and Office of Housing & Residence Life. All administrative hearing officers are full-time professional staff members (or graduate staff) and resolve cases stemming from both on- and off-campus incidents.  Any case involving sexual misconduct will adhere to a specific set of policies and procedures.  More information on the sexual misconduct can be accessed on the Office of Student Conduct home page.

Why is my student being charged? When an incident is reported, students are charged based on alleged violations. All students who may have been involved in an act of misconduct are charged based on the referral information. The purpose of the student conduct system is to determine whether or not a student is responsible for a violation based on a preponderance of the information (or ‘more likely than not’).

Developmentally, this is a period of exploration and experimentation for students. They may be in a period of transition from late adolescence to adulthood. They may also be away from home and the daily influence of their parents for the first time. As students are testing the beliefs and values they learned at home, they may make choices that are inconsistent with these values.  Such testing is part of the developmental process and is normal. However, students must also learn that the choices they make may not be healthy and may lead to consequences.

My student was a bystander and completely not involved. Why did he/she receive notice to attend a hearing? All students identified as having involvement in an incident that may be in violation of university policy receive a hearing notification letter.  A bystander may have valuable information that is relevant to the case. As members of the Mason community, it is imperative that all students fully cooperate.

The alleged incident took place off campus. Why is the university involved? Off-campus behavior that adversely affects the University community and/or the pursuit of its objectives falls under the scope of the Office of Student Conduct.  Accordingly, if the University has knowledge of an incident off campus, an investigation of the alleged incident will follow. Individuals are responsible for their behavior and successive impact on the community. George Mason University reserves the right to hold students accountable for their behavior from the time of application through receipt of degree. This is to include behavior prior to and immediately following the semester, as well as behavior occurring in between periods of enrollment.

How long does the adjudication process take?  Students can expect to receive notification from their hearing officer in the time following the date of the incident. For those students who elect to have their case heard by the Community Adjudication Board, notification of the board’s decision is sent 5 business days following the hearing.  It is important to note that the timing of the semester and complexity of the case may also factor into the length of a student’s process.  Additionally, a student may opt to appeal a particular finding or sanction as well.

What occurs in a hearing?  An administrative hearing is a student’s opportunity to share their account of the incident. Though the order may vary, the following may be discussed at an administrative hearing:

  1. The hearing officer will first begin by ensuring an understanding of the pending charges, the rights and obligations afforded to the student respondent, and the general case resolution process.
  2. The student is then given the opportunity to enter a plea of “responsible” or “not responsible” for each alleged violation.
  3. The student is given the opportunity to share his or her account of the incident and alleged violations.
  4. Both the hearing officer and student are afforded an additional opportunity for questioning prior to concluding the hearing.
  5. The hearing officer will engage the student on their individual experience at George Mason University.
  6. For additional information, click here.

How can my student prepare for the hearing? You may wish to review this webpage with your student. It may also be beneficial to suggest your student schedule a pre-hearing meeting (an opportunity to speak to the hearing officer about the student’s rights and obligations, as well as address questions or concerns) with the hearing officer.

Do I need to hire an attorney? This is an administrative process, and not a legal proceeding. However, students may have an attorney act as their advisor. The same expectations apply to a student’s attorney as they would to any other individual serving as an advisor.  To permit an advisor, a student must complete a FERPA waiver and file this with the Office of Student Conduct.

The University’s resolution system is charged with addressing the alleged acts of misconduct of its students.  While students are afforded the right to an advisor, students are primarily responsible for engaging with the University. A student’s advisor is permitted to consult with the student and provide support. The advisor may not speak on behalf of the student or address the hearing board or officer.

Will decisions be made based on the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard? No. Findings of “responsible” and “not responsible” will be made based on a preponderance of the evidence or whether it is “more likely than not” that a violation occurred (‘more likely than not’).

As a family member, may I attend the hearing with my student? An advisor (that may be a parent, friend, professor, TA, etc.) is permitted.  An advisor is not authorized to address the hearing officer(s) or board directly, but may provide support by conversing privately with the accused student. (See above for additional information regarding advisor participation.) Student conduct proceedings are not open to the public.

My student was charged criminally for this same incident. Is that double jeopardy? No. The University Student Conduct System is modeled after administrative proceedings and is independent of the legal system. It resolves alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct whereas the legal system resolves charges for alleged violations of the law. Therefore, resolving an incident through the off campus court system and through the University internal process is not considered to be double jeopardy. The legalese “double jeopardy” is inapplicable to Mason’s administrative system.

What is a sanction and what is the range of sanctions that can be assigned? A sanction is an additional responsibility (or set of responsibilities) that a student receives after having been found responsible for violating university policy; a sanction is the university’s response to the student’s behavior. Sanctions can range from a written warning to suspension or expulsion. Each student’s individual situation is assessed by the hearing officer, who determines the most appropriate resolution. The sanction process will consider the greatest opportunity for learning while protecting the best interests of the Mason community.

What options are available to my student during the period of suspension? The suspension period provides an excellent opportunity to address outstanding sanctions following your student’s decision. Most sanctions must be completed prior to the student petitioning for reinstatement. Please talk to your student about the specific conditions established in the decision letter. It will be important to remember, throughout the period of separation, students who have been suspended from the institution are also trespassed from all GMU campuses. University policy that prohibits students from making progress to their degree while suspended from the institution. Students who have questions about their ability to complete coursework, while suspended, are directed to their academic advisor and/or academic department of major.

Students and families with questions on financial matters are encouraged to contact Student Accounts or the University Registrar’s Office.  The Office of Student Conduct has no authority in financial decisions.

Will sanctions appear on my student’s transcript? The Office of Student Conduct sanctions that appear on a transcript are those involving a non-academic separation from the University. Transcript notations include “non-academic suspension” or “non-academic dismissal.”  If a student withdraws from the University while a conduct matter is pending, this may be noted on the transcript as well (“withdrew while under investigation”).

How do sanctions impact my student’s ability to pursue graduate study and/or receive financial aid? The impact a conduct record has on a student’s ability to pursue graduate study depends on (a) the way in which the graduate institution phrases their question on prior disciplinary history and (b) the nature of the violations and sanctions. Most colleges and universities ask about a student’s prior conduct history on the application for admission. Understanding the question (e.g., “Have you been suspended/expelled from another college/university?” versus “Do you have a conduct history with another college/university?”) is vital to knowing whether or not your student’s record needs to be disclosed.

When receiving a request from another institution in response to a student’s application for study, the Office of Student Conduct will not release information without a student’s (or former student’s) permission.  Additional incident information may be provided on request, and students can preview their conduct record(s) by contacting our office directly.

I know that my student is entitled to some measure of privacy, but I pay for tuition and/or my student is under 18 years old.  Will I be notified? The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (or FERPA) includes a student’s conduct record within the privacy protections afforded to a college student’s educational record. Generally, the university will not disclose a student’s conduct history without written permission from the student.  FERPA privacy protections are extended to all students, regardless of age.

We encourage students to speak with their parents and believe that as adults, students should take responsibility for initiating the conversation. Maintaining open lines of honest communication is important and may have a positive impact on appropriate decision making throughout the college years.

Students must sign releases that allow us to speak with parents about an incident or record.  In addition, you may be notified if there is an imminent risk to the student’s health, safety, or welfare. A copy of the FERPA waiver can be found here.