Information for Advisors
If you are considering serving as an advisor to an MIT student who is participating in the COD process as a complainant or respondent, it is important to understand the advisor role.
Who is an advisor?
Each complainant and respondent is permitted to have one advisor. Advisors can be any person of the student's choice except a member of the media or an attorney, with the exception that attorneys are permitted to serve as advisors to complainants and respondents in cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence, or stalking. Both the complainant (person bringing the case) and the respondent (student alleged to have violated MIT policy) have equal rights to advisors in the process.
The advisor role
The advisor's role is to be supportive of the student they are working with so that the student is enabled to participate effectively in the Committee on Discipline (COD) process. Advisors can serve as moral support, planning assistance, logistical support, and advising resources for the student they are working with. The specific role of the advisor will depend on what type of support the student desires from the advisor. Common advisor roles include meeting with the student to help them think through the situation; helping the student prepare for hearings, sanctioning panels and other meetings; reviewing and providing feedback (though not editing) on written material the student plans to submit; and connecting the student to support resources like Mental Health and Counseling and Student Support Services as needed. Advisors are permitted be present with the student for hearings, sanctioning panels, and other meetings related to the COD process.
Advisors do not address the members of the COD or other parties during hearings, sanctioning panels, or other meetings. They do not represent the student to the COD or attempt to influence the COD on the student's behalf. Advisors may not submit written material to the COD on the student's behalf and they may not write material for the student to submit to the COD as the student's own work. Advisors do not serve as intermediaries between the student and the COD. Rather, the student is expected to engage with the COD and the Office of Student Citizenship (OSC) directly. The advisor is expected to be familiar with the COD Rules and Regulations and follow them at all times.
Choosing to be an advisor
Parties may choose advisors for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a friend suggests someone; sometimes parties select someone they know and trust; sometimes parties choose someone they believe will bring specific knowledge and experience to the matter. Some questions to consider if someone asks you to serve as an advisor are as follows:
To what degree are they seeking moral support versus planning support? Are you comfortable with that balance?
Do you have a conflict of interest? If so, consider sharing that with the person and offering to assist them in finding another advisor.
Hearings are typically heard on a weekday evening. Consider if you have time both for the hearing and the preparation the person expects. Being available for the hearing may be especially important.
Throughout the Process
- Encourage your advisee to consider their larger support system and how to share information with that group. That might include academic advisors, coaches, family, friends, the head of house or GRT in their residence hall, living group members, etc.
- Not all cases go to a hearing. Help your advisee understand that the Institute may provide a less formal administrative response.
- Your advisee may share personal information that does not directly pertain to the case. Many of these cases impact a person’s life outside of the immediate matter itself. This sharing is normal and, as an advisor, you can help refer them to important resources at MIT for managing these complexities.
- Communicate as directly as possible with your advisee. Email is convenient but in-person and phone communication adds important dimensions.
- Remember that your role is to help the student prepare and be reflective. It’s not your role to try to influence the COD or to try to predict the outcome.
Important information to keep in mind
Before a COD hearing, sanctioning panel, or other meeting:
- Ask to read all the documents the student has regarding the case.
- Assist your advisee in considering who might appear as witnesses or submit statements and what evidence they could submit. Note that formal rules of evidence don’t apply.
- Assist your advisee in considering what to include in opening and closing statements.
- Help your advisee with deadlines. See information about the process for more information.
- Understand and help your advisee understand “preponderance of the evidence” as MIT’s standard for determining responsibility.
- Help your advisee consider what questions they are comfortable answering and how, if at all, they will decline to answer questions. Credibility and honesty are important elements for all parties in conducting a hearing process.
- A hearing or sanctioning panel may be the first formal presentation for your advisee. Help them consider how to speak, dress, and present themselves in this context.
- When your advisee has meetings with OSC or others, offer to attend.
- Sometimes respondents are not permitted on campus pending the result of the process. If your advisee is not currently on campus, consider by what means you can communicate with them. Contact OSC if you believe technical support or permission to visit campus is appropriate.
- Encourage your advisee to ask the Office of Student Citizenship about how case information is kept confidential and when it is shared.
Advisors' role during a COD hearing or other disciplinary proceeding
Participating in the discipline process can be emotional. Help your advisee listen and attend to the hearing as it is occurring. In planning, you may need to repeat information as you talk with your advisee.
After a COD hearing or other meeting
- Try to be available to the advisee for discussing the hearing or meeting. Such moments can sometimes be emotional. Checking in afterwards and making sure the person is able to cope is crucial.
- Offer to be available for the outcome meeting, if applicable.
- Especially if you are advising a respondent who is found responsible, help them consider how they can learn from this experience and how they will explain it in the future, if needed.
If you are advising a respondent
- Help them evaluate if they should take responsibility for the allegations and, if so, how to do so. Especially but not only if the respondent is considering taking responsibility, remember that a wide range of sanctions is possible. About 2% of cases brought to the COD annually result in suspension or expulsion.
- Encourage them to reflect on what sanctions they believe might be effective and appropriate to help guide their future decisions.
- Encourage them to consider how they could have handled the situation differently. On occasion, respondents believe their behavior to be normative in the community.
- Help them look to Institute policy, which the COD will evaluate, rather than what they perceive to be community norms.
The role of attorneys
Because the student discipline process is separate from legal processes, students are not permitted to have attorneys present during hearings or other related meetings, except that attorneys are permitted to serve as advisors to complainants and respondents in cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence, or stalking. Attorneys may not serve as advisors in any other type of case. In no case can a student submit materials written by attorneys. A student may always consult with attorneys outside of the proceeding itself. If your advisee is working with an attorney, consider the following:
- Does the attorney understand the campus process and how it differs from external legal processes? If not, they may find it helpful to review the COD Rules.
- Does the attorney understand their role and your role?
- If the attorney has questions that cannot be answered by referring to the COD rules, encourage them to contact OSC or ask MIT's Office of the General Counsel.
Advisors need not serve as the only resource for a student participating in the COD process. While only one person can be present with a complainant/respondent during the hearing, advisors may want to suggest their advisee consult the following resources:
- MIT Mental Health and Counseling
- Student Support Services
- Academic or First-Year Advisors
- Coaches and activity advisors
- Student Financial Services
- Heads of House or Living Group
- International Students Office - International students may have legal and immigration issues with COD cases. If you are working with a respondent who is an international student, please do contact ISO).
- Office of Student Citizenship