Penn Is Now Noting Disciplinary Violations on Student Transcripts

Even as the Department of Education urges colleges to overlook criminal records. Crazy much?

Terracotta Heraldry on the Duhring Wing.   | Steven Minicola, University of Pennsylvania  Communications.

Terracotta Heraldry on the Duhring Wing. | Steven Minicola, University of Pennsylvania Communications.

Last week, the University of Pennsylvania announced that students who violate its academic integrity, student conduct or sexual violence codes will no longer be eligible for Latin graduation honors — those “cum laude” notations that look so sexy on a diploma — or for inclusion on its Dean’s List. “In addition,” according to the official announcement, “when a student receives a sanction of probation, suspension or expulsion from the Office of Student Conduct or the Sexual Violence Investigative Officer, that sanction will be part of the student’s permanent record and, therefore, reportable outside of Penn.”

That means if you get caught smoking pot in your freshman year, or cheat on a test, or are convicted by a campus tribunal of failing to ask permission before kissing your boyfriend, your violation of school rules will now be fodder for potential employers and graduate schools.

The move comes in the wake of a decision earlier this year by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers to recommend such transcript notations as a “best practice.” According to Inside Higher Ed, “Colleges are feeling more pressure to include misbehavior and academic infractions on transcripts.” Why? Because the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, with the support of, among others, Joe Biden, believes there is a “rape crisis” on college campuses (even though the Department of Justice says college students are less likely to be sexually assaulted than non-college students).

An entire industry of campus administrators has sprung up to protect students from sexual assault and harassment and colleges from lawsuits related thereto — an industry that’s costing those colleges millions of dollars per year. (Student debt, anyone?) According to the New York Times, “The expansion of Title IX bureaucracies — often at great expense — is driven in part by pressure from the federal government, which recently put out a series of policy directives on sexual misconduct on campus. More than 200 colleges and universities are under federal investigation for the way they have handled complaints of sexual misconduct, up from 55 two years ago.”

So, let’s review: In an effort to comply with the U.S. Department of Education, Penn is putting notations on students’ permanent transcripts of sanctions for sexual harassment and assault. Yet here’s the opening sentence of a story in Wednesday’s New York Times:

The Obama administration is urging universities and colleges to re-evaluate how questions about an applicant’s criminal history are used in the admissions process, part of an effort to remove barriers to education, employment and housing for those with past convictions, in many cases for minor crimes.

This directive came in a brand-new “Dear Colleague” letter sent to schools on Monday by the Department of Education. In announcing it, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. noted that Americans with criminal records “continue to face significant hurdles in obtaining access to higher education or career training.” It’s all part of a movement to alleviate “growing concerns that admissions questions marginalize black applicants,” according to the Times. The Common Application is reviewing its questions about criminal history as part of this process, and the State University of New York is also reviewing its application practices. This is rather odd, because New York is one of several states — another is Virginia — that have laws requiring that college transcripts contain notations of disciplinary transgressions.

In other words: The Department of Education doesn’t want you to ask applicants to your college if they have criminal records, because the American legal system is flawed. But it would like your college to note, on students’ permanent transcripts, whether they were found guilty of sexual harassment or assault by your impossibly muddled internal pseudo-legal system — a system that the American Association of University Professors has deemed wildly unfair, saying that DOE-mandated processes “have had a chilling effect on academic freedom and speech” even as they abuse the due-process rights of students.

Head spinning yet?

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