One thing that unites Cornellians of all years and backgrounds is dealing with the ever-present threat of a “J.A.” — the catchall term for disciplinary action carried out by the Office of Judicial Administration.
A J.A. is meted out as a result of a violation of the Campus Code of Conduct, a wide-reaching, 46-page document that outlines what rules Cornell community members must follow.
In 2019 alone, 820 students were referred to the OJA — up from 640 referrals in the previous year, according to their annual report.
The perplexing nature of the J.A. is perhaps due to the complex process in which it is administered, due to the layers of meetings and paperwork that stem from violations of the code.
This process begins with the office receiving an alleged violation of the code, which encompasses everything from alcohol possession to faculty misconduct. An investigation is mounted through the use of eyewitnesses and other forms of evidence to find out whether the alleged violation occurred.
The subject of the investigation is then either cleared of wrongdoing or sent a “summary decision agreement” — a determination of the extent of the violation and its accompanying penalties. These range from an oral warning or educational sanctions, such as attending alcohol education courses, to suspension or dismissal from Cornell.
Once given a summary decision agreement, the accused can choose to accept it and its consequences, or request a hearing on the merits of the charges by a University Hearing and Review Board, which is comprised of a panel of students, staff and faculty who volunteer to review cases.
Michelle Horvath, the judicial administrator, said the office aims to make the disciplinary process educational for students, The Sun previously reported.
“We really want students to understand the wrongness of their behavior and understand why it occurred,” Horvath said. “Adult decisions come with adult consequences.”
But a common criticism of the judicial system involves the length of time it takes for a case to be resolved. Students allege that the process takes an inordinate amount of time between the initial investigation and the conclusion of the judicial process.
Another assertion is that the punishments given by the Office often are perceived as heavy-handed relative to the offence.
In one case, Mitch McBride ’17 rejected a summary decision agreement with the penalty of probation — which would entail a six-year reporting period for the offense — citing a fear that his acceptance to Georgetown Law would be compromised.
To aid and inform the accused, subjects of investigations may request help from the Office of the Judicial Codes Counselor, a group of five Cornell Law students meant to explain and aid with the judicial process. The current Judicial Codes Counselor is 3L student Gabrielle Kanter grad.
“Our role, first and foremost, is to be an advisor and counselor to [the accused],” she said. “Sometimes, we’re the only resource that person can go and have a confidential resource.”
In the judicial process, Kanter said the JCC is “always an advocate for the student … because we can speak on behalf of the students.”
Any proposed changes to the Campus Code of Conduct are deliberated by the Codes and Judicial Committee of the University Assembly and then sent to President Martha Pollack for approval.
The most recent of these was an August 2018 amendment that adjusted the Judicial Administrator appointment process and extended the term of Horvath by a year. Earlier this year, the University Assembly announced a “structural revision of the Campus Code of Conduct,” The Sun previously reported.
The Office of Judicial Administration wrote in their 2019 annual report that “the OJA would welcome any opportunity to participate in efforts related to revising and overhauling the Code.”