Aug 252013

I had been wanting to get back to blogging this week in the midst of working on several projects, but I wasn’t too motivated to make it a priority until I caught this little gem in the news. This comes to us from our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

This week North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill granting public university students in the state facing non-academic disciplinary charges the right to an attorney. The law, which is the first of its kind nationwide, ensures that students attending the state’s public colleges and universities possess rights similar to those already enjoyed by North Carolina’s K–12 students under state law. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) worked with a bipartisan group of state legislators to enact the protection into law.

“Students across America are regularly tried in campus courts for serious offenses like theft, harassment, and even rape. Being labeled a felon and kicked out by your college carries serious, life-altering consequences. Because the stakes are so high, students should have the benefit of an attorney to ensure the hearing is conducted fairly and by the rules,” said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley. “We are immensely gratified that the legislature and governor of North Carolina have taken this critical step in giving students a fair chance for justice.”

Since I don’t personally know Robert Shibley, I will withhold any opinions I may have have formed about him by virtue of reading this story. And I would call Mr. Shibley’s comments uninformed, but I highly doubt that Mr. Shibley is uninformed. Therefore, I can only surmise that Mr. Shibley’s comments are intentionally deceptive, and that he has pulled a fast one on state politicians in North Carolina. Given some of the other interesting pieces of legislation that have come out of the Tar Heel state (see the recent pieces of legislation on voting restrictions [worst voter suppression law in the nation], ending Sharia law [talk about a solution without a problem], and allowing the concealed carry of weapons in bars [because that couldn’t possibly go wrong]), I can’t claim that it is hard to mislead that state’s politicians, especially when they seem to want to be misled. So let me take a moment, albeit after the fact, to offer a lesson in higher education and the law, that legislators in North Carolina either missed, ignored, or were deprived of.

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May 102013

We have made it to the end of another academic year, and I will take a few minutes to pause and reflect before diving into the projects that have been unattended to as the result of a very busy spring. We have commencement ceremonies tonight and tomorrow, and I am very happy for the students that I have worked with who will be graduating this weekend.

I have finished my final class towards my doctorate degree, and am now in the process of writing my dissertation proposal, with the hopes of conducting my research in the fall before writing and defending the final product. My study is focusing on the self-efficacy of practitioners to manage conflict in the student conduct setting, with student conduct including adjudicatory processes, mediation, restorative justice practices, conflict coaching, and other forums of resolution. I have identified a host institution and am really looking forward to getting underway, with the hopes of being able to participate in my own commencement ceremony next May. 🙂

This summer is focused on getting the doctoral proposal submitted, as well as moving forward on some NCHERM projects. One thing I am very excited about is the upcoming new mediation curriculum, which I am hoping will be done by the end of the summer. We have been using some of the new material in training programs, and the revised curriculum is definitely an upgrade over the older Mastering Mediation materials. More information will follow about the completion of these materials, as well as when and where they will be available for campuses to purchase.

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May 242012

I haven’t done much updating of late, as I have been busy with many different projects. More information will follow during the summer, but here’s a re-cap of what I’ve been up to.

Rick at Chamber of Commerce

Rick keynotes Chamber of Commerce educational conference

On May 17, I had the opportunity to keynote a McLean County Chamber of Conference EDUCate conference with the theme of “Who changed the game? The new rules of work.” I presented an hour long speech on conflict management in both the work place and at home to over 90 participants in attendance. I then facilitated an hour long follow-up breakout session on conflict management styles. Thanks to all thos who were in attendance for your participation and excellent questions. Many thanks to Brian Davis at the Chamber for his gracious invitation. Continue reading »

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May 242012

From the NCHERM-CR website:

Summit on the Application of Restorative Justice Practice to Cases of Campus Sexual Misconduct


The NCHERM-CR, the Conflict Resolution Practice Group of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (, will be hosting a two-day invitational Summit on the use of restorative justice practices in student-on-student sexual misconduct cases.

This Summit is being convened to explore ways in which forms of conflict resolution, and especially restorative justice practices, may be utilized lawfully, productively and beneficially to improve on the traditional approaches used in student disciplinary proceedings.

The goals of the Summit are two-fold; to develop a set of model best practices for use on college and university campuses and to empower the creation of a pilot project to implement and research the effectiveness of the model.

Three colleges have agreed to send delegates to the Summit and to serve for a year as pilot sites for the model. Vassar College, Franklin & Marshall College and Colgate University will be working with the consultants from NCHERM-CR to demonstrate effectiveness so that the model can eventually be implemented for all interested colleges and universities.

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Feb 142012

The week of February 1-7 proved to be quite an interesting one in my life, both personally and professionally. I started the week traveling to the annual conference of the Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA), my first trip back to ASCA since they moved their conference location from Clearwater Beach, FL to St, Pete Beach, FL. The new location at the Tradewinds is a great choice, and the staff there demonstrated exceptional customer service and attention to detail throughout my visit. I began the conference by proposing to my partner Sandra (she accepted), so the week could have ended right there and I would have been happy.

But the week did not end there; it was only beginning. The conference focused heavily on issues surrounding Title IX, threat assessment, and conflict resolution. Perhaps the best session came right away in the conference when Brett Sokolow, Bernice Sandler, Wendy Murphy, and Nancy Hogshead-Makar presented a powerful session on Title IX and the Dear Colleague Letter. Sandler in particular was a treat to hear, given her history and deep involvement in Title IX. The follow up question and answer session was equally entertaining and enlightening.

The conference also saw the public introduction of NCHERM-CR, a professional practice group out of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM). As the “CR” designation suggests, this group focuses on conflict resolution strategies beyond the adjudication of student conduct, focusing on mediation, conflict coaching, and restorative justice. I am honored that Brett Sokolow has asked me to chair this group, which at present includes such talented professionals as Chris Loschiavo (University of Florida), David Karp (Skidmore College), and Matt Gregory (LSU). We are currently developing our program menu and considering our initial projects as we launch what we hope will be a transformational effort in the area of student conduct and conflict resolution. I feel a debt of gratitude to Brett Sokolow, who sees this opportunity to benefit our profession and to give life to a network of professionals, several of us of whom were struggling to advance the former Campus Mediation Project. We will be adding more professionals over time, as well as working with consultants on a project by project basis. I am very excited about the work that we have to do. I am also now beginning the re-write of my original mediation training materials, which I expect to complete by summer in advance of the 2012-2013 training calendar.

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Jan 182012

I know I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from posting here, but it’s been very needed. The end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 have been very eventful, both in my personal and professional life. There is lots to share as I move forward this year, so keep checking back for regular updates.

The big personal news to date is that I have completed my comprehensive examinations (pending approval) and am now moving forward full-speed with my dissertation proposal, which I plan to defend in late spring. I have refined my research questions in the process of preparing for comps, and am now looking at a qualitative review of the preparedness of student affairs practitioners (most notably in student conduct and/or conflict resolution) to manage conflicts and to assist others in managing conflicts. It is based off a small pilot study I did back in 2004, and I am pretty excited about having a sense of clarity on my topic.

Work continues to go along well, and our Student Government Association continues to have a very productive and successful year. They have had many achievements this year, and have launched a new website to better connect with students. I am looking forward to seeing what this group can accomplish before they are done in April and a new group takes over.

In terms of conflict resolution work, I have decided that the Campus Mediation Project has finally run its course. While there is much work to be done in terms of promoting the development and implementation of more comprehensive conflict resolution systems on college campuses, the CMP is simply no longer the vehicle to be able to accomplish this. The movement is much bigger than mediation now, and needs to provide for a full spectrum of conflict resolution services. Additionally, the structure of CMP simply was not allowing me the opportunity to do as much as I would like.

However, there is an announcement coming in the next couple of weeks about my next project, which I am very excited about. More news will be posted on this site in early February involving campus conflict resolution efforts, so please stay tuned!



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Nov 092011

Here is a very kind article written by Eric Jome that was written for “Identity,” which is Illinois State University’s online newsletter for diversity issues. The original article can be found here.

Dean of Students staff members receive cultural competence training

You can claim you have no pre-conceived notions about others, but that is simply not true. Somewhere, on some level, everyone has biases and prejudices. You may not always be conscious of them, but they certainly influence how you interact and communicate with others. It can be a sobering experience to realize this about yourself. It can also be a daunting, but ultimately liberating, experience to face those biases and move beyond them.

Facing up to personal bias and prejudice has been a cornerstone of cultural competence training programs for staff members in the Dean of Students Office. The ongoing training, organized by the unit’s 10-member Cultural Competence Committee, has helped A/P and Civil Service staff members and graduate assistants to confront and identify biases and find ways to move beyond them in order to better communicate with students and other campus constituencies. Associate Dean of Students Rick Olshak chairs the Cultural Competence Committee and feels that the overall mission of the Dean of Students Office has been greatly enhanced, and that staff members have benefitted from the training, both personally and professionally.

“A lot of us will say ‘I’m not prejudiced, I treat everyone equally,'” said Olshak. “The truth is we do have biases, and they cause us to treat some people differently. The ultimate purpose of the training is to move us beyond simply acknowledging and appreciating diversity and help us achieve a true level of understanding about others that allows us to be more open in our communications. The training sessions have been very empowering for staff members.”

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May 172011

From Rick:

First, I want to thank all of the people who either left comments on my last entry or who took the time to write me kind words. “OCR versus the One-Trick Pony” and my other DCL entries generated a lot more traffic and feedback than I expected, further reinforcing my belief that educators see this as a very important discussion.

Beyond the DCL letter being an important point of discussion, it is also becoming clear that FIRE is being exposed as an organization with a political agenda and as an organization that is either unable or unwilling to take a reasoned position in order to promote collegial discourse. There is nothing collegial about FIRE, and their alarmist hyperbole about grand conspiracies that lack evidence reveals their true nature. Last week’s continued assault on the preponderance test is an excellent example of projecting hysteria over facts, and served as fodder for a close friend and colleague, Dan Kast, to write a response which will appear in detail in an article in the Summer 2011 issue of the Journal of Campus Safety & Student Development. I have had an opportunity to preview it and promise that people will not be disappointed with Dan’s reasoned but pointed response.

Like myself, Dan also had some strong reactions to FIRE’s hyperbole and took specific aim at a separate article written by Samantha Harris, FIRE’s Director of Speech Code Research. I won’t talk much about Dan’s response, since he has been kind enough to forward it to me to share via this blog. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed this piece immensely, and once again find Dan’s logic to be solid and his argument pointed. Enjoy the read!

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May 132011


In a few bright, shining moments FIRE has been the champion of those who both deserved and needed it, and that is not a bad thing. But the continued vilification of higher education as a collective is unwelcome, unfounded, and wholly unnecessary.

I wasn’t planning to have any one particular topic dominate this blog for any period of time, but it looks like the OCR Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) is doing just that, and for good reason. Although I don’t know anyone who works at OCR, I can only imagine that they would be thrilled to know that the conversation within the profession regarding the DCL is raging fast and furious on the profession’s leading listserv among student conduct practitioners. As a member of the Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA), I have been a member of this list for many years (even running the group for a significant stretch of time) and I have been closely following the conversations of my colleagues.

Background and initial reactions

My overall impression is that most practitioners that I have encountered understand that there is not a consistently level playing field for aggrieved parties (otherwise known as “victims”) in sexual misconduct cases, and therefore support the stance taken by OCR. But there are those who believe that OCR is advocating too strongly for these people, and that it is somehow a zero-sum game that means that the rights of accused students are being violated or abridged in order to create a responsive environment for the aggrieved party. My response has been very simple; we have at least fifty years of case law (dating back to Dixon v. Alabama, 1961) which has instructed colleges and universities on how to manage conduct processes and protect the rights of the accused student. But with the exception of a few forward-thinking programs, those same rights are rarely granted to the person bringing the complaint in sexual misconduct cases. While many institutions across the United States have done their best to accommodate aggrieved parties, other institutions have not, and a culture has been created for many aggrieved parties (the overwhelming majority of whom are women) where reporting, investigating, and bringing these cases through our conduct processes has not been a priority. In 2010 this culminated in the publication of an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, where a review of many campus conduct processes entitled, “Sexual Assault on Campus: A frustrating search for justice” was very critical of numerous conduct systems who failed to adequately address these cases. According to the CPI website, “The Center interviewed 50 experts familiar with the college disciplinary process — student affairs administrators, conduct hearing officers, assault services directors, and victim advocates. The inquiry included a review of records in select cases, and examinations of 10 years’ worth of complaints filed against institutions with the Education Department under Title IX and the Clery Act, as well as a survey of 152 crisis services programs and clinics on or near college campuses. The Center also interviewed 33 women who reported being sexually assaulted by other students.” Continue reading »

May 052011

Today I had the opportunity to attend a webinar from the National Association for College and University Attorneys (NACUA) on the issue of the OCR “Dear Colleague” letter.

First, the information and perspective offered by the presenters (Amy Foerster of Saul Ewing LLP and Gloria Hage of Eastern Michigan University) was poignant and on target. They reviewed the structure and purpose of the “Dear Colleague Letter,” the institutional obligation to respond to complaints, procedural requirements, grievance procedure requirements, and prevention measures.

Of all of the material covered, I particularly enjoyed the review of confidentiality issues. They reiterated the important point that a complainant’s desire to maintain confidentiality may ultimately limit the ability of the institution to respond, but does not relieve the institution of its obligation to investigate and to respond, as well as to offer appropriate relief to the complainant (such as switching classes, living accommodations, etc.). The presenters reinforced that this is a complicated issue and even OCR’s choice of language does not always provide clarification.

While understanding that this was a program offered by attorneys for attorneys, the one disappointment I had with this webinar was the model code that was offered. While the presenters frequently stressed that it was just a model, in truth it is a poor model that reflects a “judicial” process rather than a “student conduct” process. The presenters needed look no further than their own association to find what remains to be the best legally-grounded document that is written in student development language in terms of Ed Stoner and John Lowery’s Model Code of Student Conduct. While the practices offered in the proposed code today may have been legally sound, they reintroduce a great deal of non-developmental language that Stoner and Lowery had helped us eliminate. Thus, my advice to practitioners is to continue to use the Stoner & Lowery code as a model, and then supplement that code with the sexual harassment and sexual assault language offered in the presentation.

One particular part of the proposed code that I took exception to was the inclusion of what essentially amounts to a six month statute of limitations. Given our need as educators to respond to delayed reports, and knowing how rape trauma syndrome often handicaps a person’s ability to manage a response to an assault, I am concerned that such a seemingly arbitrary amount of time was applied. Why six months? Why not a year? Time prohibited us from being able to pursue this issue further, but it is one that gives me cause for concern.

Overall I thought it was a good webinar, and the presenters were well-versed in the material. Even campuses who handle sexual misconduct complaints well have fertile ground for continued discussion as a result of the “Dear Colleague” letter, and it will be interesting to see how campus practices evolve in the months and years ahead.