Written by Emma Jones // Photo by Jillian Jarvis
The University implemented a new “philosophy of discipline” into the Student Handbook, a decision that was announced during chapel Feb. 13 and influenced by the results of a student satisfaction inventory survey that was shared with the student body last semester.
The chapel presentation, which was led by Executive Vice President Jean-Noel Thompson and Assistant Provost Dana Steil, focused on the results of the inventory, including respondent demographics, identified strengths and challenges of the University, and main themes that were found in student comments. The end of the presentation was dedicated to the announcement of the new philosophy of discipline, which reads in part as follows:
Out of deep care for the welfare and dignity of our students, all conduct decisions are applied through love, mercy and justice. Harding University believes discipline is both a corrective and a restorative response to conduct violations, requiring careful assessment and a directed response to each student’s unique set of circumstances. In summary, the disciplinary response is designed to achieve the following: a redirection in behavior towards honoring God; an encouragement of personal responsibility and maturity; a protection of the rights and safety of all within the community; and maintenance of a unique environment that supports development, growth and learning, and is aligned with the Christ-centered mission of Harding University.
“We did a little bit of work looking at the student conduct procedures and realized that there was no basis,” Thompson said in an interview with The Bison. “It went right into policies. There was no sense of ‘Why do we do what we do?’”
Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Zach Neal said that as of the announcement Feb. 13, the new philosophy has been implemented in the Student Life office. He said the ideals of this philosophy have been present within his office, but now that it is in written form in the Student Handbook, it gives them more flexibility when it comes to case-by-case disciplinary scenarios.
“I think the culmination of the survey with previous conversations through the years just culminated in the perfect timing for this to be something that needed to be put forth,” Neal said. “The expectations [in the handbook] are still the same, but where you might have seen the word ‘will’ you’ll see the word ‘may,’ and that allows room to build trust. A one-strike, two-strike mentality still draws a line, and wherever you draw the line there would still be a frustration point, whereas this approach is saying, ‘We want to hear where you’re coming from.’”
Senior Chloe Cooper said her reaction to the new philosophy of discipline was a positive one and that after completing the survey last semester, this change was not one she saw coming.
“As someone who is a little critical of some of Harding’s policies, I find this [philosophy] to be more in line with the grace we are extended from Christ when we fall short,” Cooper said. “During my time at Harding, I have seen great change, and I anticipate that even greater, more positive change will be in Harding’s future as the administration aims to hear students’ frustrations and cultivate a more inclusive community united by Christ.”
Regarding the survey itself, 2,184 or 68% of full-time undergraduate students responded. Steil said the national average for universities who send out surveys of this type is around 20% to 30%, and that Ruffalo Noel Levitz — the company that provided the survey — was impressed with Harding’s high response percentage.
During the chapel presentation, Steil identified 15 strengths and 11 weaknesses that the University considered most important based on the satisfaction score given by students on the survey. Common strengths included topics of academic success and caring faculty and advisors. One weakness that both Steil and Thompson said surprised them was “Most students feel a sense of belonging here.” Thompson said that he felt the way the question on the survey was phrased led many students who do actually feel a “sense of belonging” to answer on behalf of those they felt did not, as based on a student focus group.
“I did not expect that to be as low as it was and to be a red flag challenge,” Thompson said. “[But] it made sense the way the focus group answered.”
Steil also said 1,125 of the 2,184 respondents provided comments on the survey. He shared that common themes were related to chapel, food, parking, social clubs, varied policies and treatment of marginalized populations, while addressing several specific comments anonymously.
“It is extremely important to us for you to know that we have read and reread every one of your comments,” Steil said during chapel.
Both Neal and Thompson said other areas of interest are continuing to be revisited by the administration, with Neal citing curfew, housing options and social clubs as a few examples. Thompson said with many of these topics, the administration wants to hear more from the student body before deciding a specific course of action. One issue he said is already being addressed is that of campus safety, after a focus group identified poor lighting as one of the main reasons for feeling unsafe around campus.
“That has expedited our plans to say, ‘Alright, let’s prioritize and see where we can now start to add more lighting,’” Thompson said. “That’s going to happen, and we’re taking action there.”
Thompson said soon students will be given the opportunity to volunteer to participate in focus groups on different areas of interest regarding the survey results. He said before opportunity arises, however, any students with questions about the survey or the new philosophy of discipline can reach out to himself, Steil or Neal via phone or email.
Neal said he hopes for the administration to continue a culture of open communication and dialogue through the end of the semester.
“The student body seems to be responding really well, and so the open dialogue is where we’re at,” Neal said. “As specific policies are analyzed and changes come, one emphasis point is strong communication.”