II. Second Phase- Determination of Mitigating and Exacerbating Factors

Once a sanction deemed appropriate has been assigned in the first phase, the Hearing Board or Executive Board (expedited process) must consider any possible mitigating and exacerbating circumstances informing the case.  If the Board determines that such factors exist, it may choose to raise or lower the original sanction by one level only.  The following description provides some guidelines as to what appropriate factors might be.   Since each case is different, these guidelines are not exhaustive, but are used to explicate the general principles involved in raising and lowering sanctions.  The Board must use considerable judgment in determining whether to raise or lower a sanction. 

A. Mitigating Factors

  • After using the sanctioning guidelines to come to a consensus about the appropriate sanction for a given violation, Boards should take into consideration factors that might mitigate in favor of a lower sanction.
  • Serious discretion must be used by the Hearing Board in determining the presence of mitigating factors, since such personal situations are not an excuse for committing academic dishonesty.
  • It is important to note that Boards may consider as mitigating only those situations that might have impaired the judgment of the student at or close to the time the violation was committed.
  • Mitigating factors usually involve a personal situation, such as a death in the immediate family or serious mental or physical health problems, which the student claims contributed to a lack of sound judgment at the time the offense was committed.  The Board needs to use its good judgment in asking for documentation of such factors, as the privacy of the student’s personal life should be respected.   Frequently, an accused students will have already provided such corroboration to the investigating officer.
  • If the Board determines by majority vote that mitigating factors do exist, the Board may lower the sanction by one level only.  If the Board considers the personal situation extreme, it may recommend in the summary of the hearing proceeding that the student’s Dean consider adjusting the sanction further. The Dean may be better situated to determine the extent of the personal situation.
  • These kinds of situations may be considered mitigating:
  • The student supplies documentation from Counseling and Psychiatric Services that he/she was suffering from significant mental health issues at the time the violation occurred.
  • The student demonstrates that he/she learned “bad news” close in time to the violation, e.g., that parents were getting divorced, a parent had lost employment, the family made plans to move, a grandparent had died.
  • The student submits official documentation of serious personal victimization such as assault or robbery that occurred close in time to the commission of the violation.

B. Non-Mitigating Factors

Tempting as it may be, Boards may not consider the following circumstances as mitigating:

  • a given offense is a first-time violation.
  • the stress of having several tests or papers due at the same time as a mitigating situation, since this is experienced by almost everyone at some time.
  • any adverse repercussions that might arise from a given sanction.  For example, if suspension is determined to be the appropriate sanction for a violation, the board may not consider factors that might result from suspension, like the loss of a fellowship, a delay in graduation, or the student’s inability to obtain a security clearance for an internship.
  • These situations also may not be considered mitigating:
    • that the student is a second semester senior who will suffer in the job market if she receives a notation on her transcript.
    • that the student has an A average and has never done this before.
    • that letters provided by the student attest to good character, a good academic record, etc.
    • that the student had multiple assignments due during the week of the violation and could not find the time to do his/her own research for the paper.

C. Exacerbating Factors

  • After using the sanctioning guidelines to come to a consensus about the appropriate sanction for a given violation, Hearing Boards must also consider any situation that aggravates the original violation. 
  • Exacerbating factors make a bad situation worse by coupling an Honor System violation with any behavior or speech that demonstrates contempt for the academic integrity upheld by the Honor System.
  • In determining exacerbating factors, Boards may consider those actions taken by the student either during or after the commission of the offense that meet one or more of the following criteria:
    • the violation caused harm to others
    • the violation completely defeated the educational purpose of the assignment
    • the student had prior Honor System violations
    • the student attempted to obstruct the investigation through deliberate deception, false accusations, stealing evidence or engaging others in a cover-up
  • Consequently, these kinds of situations may be considered exacerbating factors:
    • In addition to his primary violation, the student deliberately destroyed library materials so that they were not available to others who needed them.
    • The student turned in an entire paper downloaded from the Web or purchased from a writing service.
    • The student was found In Violation for the same type of offense earlier.
    • The student cheated on a test, then tried to steal the test back from the professor to destroy the evidence.