Suspensions and Discipline:
Comments from Pamela T. Horne
by Pamela T. Horne
Assistant to the Provost for Enrollment Management and Director of Admissions
Michigan State University
I've handled "discipline and crime" questions at two different Big Ten universities, and here is how I advise applicants and their parents who are facing this issue now:
1) Students and parents should be told that the student must be honest in responding to all questions on a given application. Our question is worded "have you ever..." which means that we do expect a "yes" response even for "expunged" suspensions-in other words, those disciplinary actions that the high school has deleted from a permanent record once a student has successfully completed a probationary period. Similarly-even though juvenile court records are sealed-we expect the student to disclose offenses to us that were handled in juvenile court. It doesn't matter if it's a matter of public or private record-we want the student to disclose.
2) The student should carefully read the question-many universities may be interested only in particular kinds of offenses. We don't like wasting our time reading about students playing hooky, having cigarettes in the school parking lot, etc. Our application, for example, asks for information on disciplinary action that was as a result of academic dishonesty or behavior that harmed or had the potential to harm others. We honestly don't want to hear about minor kinds of inappropriate behavior.
3) Students should provide a comprehensive explanation of the offense, its aftermath, and what the student learned from the experience. It is the responsibility of the student to provide this-not the school.
4) Parents and students should give colleges and universities the benefit of the doubt. We do understand youthful indiscretions and are not looking at responses to these questions as an easy way to deny admission! The purpose of these questions is to promote a safe campus environment and an academic community of integrity. In most cases, a senior admissions person or a campus-wide committee will make the deny decision based solely on conduct/crime. We absolutely look at each situation individually, and assault is treated differently than skipping school. My experience is that 80-90% of the infractions are relatively minor-episodes that a student has learned from-and the student is cleared for admissions evaluation based on all other factors.
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Pamela T. Horne is the Assistant to the Provost for Enrollment Management
and Director of Admissions at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.