Phase II: Consideration of Mitigating and/or Exacerbating Factors
At the beginning of this phase of deliberation, and only after the student has been determined to be In Violation, the envelope containing information regarding any past violations will be opened. Information in the envelope will also indicate if there are no prior violations. A prior violation of the Honor System is considered an exacerbating circumstance, especially when a previous violation is of the same type as the present violation, and likely will affect the board’s view of the current case under discussion. The information in the envelope also will indicate whether the student has participated in the Sanction Reduction (SR) Program related to any previous sanction eligible for SR.
While it is difficult for Hearing Board members to ignore mitigating and exacerbating factors during the initial phases of the sanction determination process, it is important that these factors be separated out and considered only when it comes time to settle on a sanction deemed appropriate to recommend to the Dean.
Deans (and academic advisers) may know more about the student’s particular history and circumstances than will either a Hearing Board or Executive Board. Therefore, the Deans of the schools in their final decisions will want to be sure that any change they make to the recommended sanction not duplicate considerations that have already adjusted the hearing board’s recommendation up or down. It is important that the summaries both of hearings and of expedited decision-making reflect these considerations.
As with the rest of the process, a determination of the validity of mitigating and exacerbating factors operates on the preponderance of the evidence standard. Thus the first question to ask about any possible mitigating or exacerbating factor is whether, in the judgment of the board, it is more likely than not that a particular circumstance really happened and reasonably affected the accused student’s behavior. Students wisely will provide as much corroboration of such circumstances as they can within reason and to be believable.
Guidelines for factoring in mitigating and non-mitigating circumstances:
Boards should take into consideration factors that may mitigate in favor of a lower sanction. Serious discretion, however, must be used by the Boards in determining the relevance of mitigating factors, since such personal situations are not excuses for committing academic dishonesty. Mitigating circumstances typically are those that may have impaired the judgment of the student at or close to the time the violation was committed.
Some potentially mitigating factors:
● The student describes 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 and medical history should be respected. Frequently, an accused student will have already provided such corroboration to the Investigating Officer, and thus would be part of the case file. Without documentation, the Board can reasonably ask appropriate questions to better understand or corroborate what the student says.
● The student provides documentation from Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) or other medical/mental health professionals that they were suffering from significant medical or 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, etc..
● 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, or has documentation of debilitating and continuing effects.
● The student is doing their “best work” as a student at Georgetown but can demonstrate that they had not been adequately prepared in high school or at a previous school of higher education for college-level work expected of Georgetown students..
● There is a genuine misunderstanding of an assignment’s requirements, and verified by the syllabus or instructor in writing.
● Verifiably submitting the wrong paper due to poor computer “hygiene” (i.e., poor filing system for draft and final course assignments). This situation would be more mitigating than exonerating.
Tempting as it may be, neither Boards nor Deans of schools may not consider these kinds of circumstances sufficiently mitigating to change a recommended sanction. This is a non-exhaustive list:
● The record shows that the offense is a first-time violation.
● The student claims to have been unaware of the Standards of Conduct, e.g., using one’s work for multiple purposes.
● The student is a first-year undergraduate, new to college.
● Similarly, the student claims that because he/she is an international student, and didn’t know better; or because of cultural norms different from Georgetown’s expectations that students express/trust their own own ideas and use their own voices; or where plagiarism, cheating, etc. were acceptable ways of “doing business” in the countries they come from and where they were educated prior to Georgetown.
● The student claims to have been overwhelmed by the stress of having several tests or papers due around the same time. Such stresses are “normal” and typically experienced by almost every student at some time.
● The student has an A average, and/or is involved in numerous high-level co-curricular activities, and says he/she has “never done this before,” or claims “This isn’t like me,” or “I was raised to be an honest person.”
● The student provides letters attesting to good character, a good academic record, etc.
● The student describes “unintended consequences” that might arise from a given sanction, such as
○ the loss of a fellowship, a delay in graduation, or the student’s inability to obtain a security clearance for an internship
○ the student is a junior or senior who will suffer in the job market if she receives a notation on her transcript.
● The students claims to have been too involved in a job and/or co-curricular activities.
After using the Sanctioning Guidelines to come to a consensus about the appropriate sanction for a given violation, Boards also should consider any situation that may exacerbate the student’s essentially dishonest behavior, which may result a more severe sanction.. Exacerbating factors make a bad situation worse by coupling an Honor System violation with behavior or actions that demonstrate a disregard, or even contempt, for the academic integrity upheld by the Georgetown Honor System.
In determining exacerbating factors, Boards may consider those actions taken by the student either during or after the commission of the offense and which meet one or more of the following criteria, and/or unusual and serious actions not included below:
● The violation caused harm (academic, psychological, professional) to others.
● The student had at least one prior Honor System violation as evidenced by the Honor Council record provided in the sealed envelope.
○ The student had been found in violation (and sanctioned) for the same type of offense earlier, and even recently..
● The student attempted to obstruct the investigation through deliberate deception, false accusations, stealing evidence, falsifying evidence, or engaging others in a cover-up.
● The student had applied to and/or completed Sanction Reduction and subsequently committed another violation.