Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What if.....

What if...

ASP were not a safe place for students to reveal information?  Could we be effective Academic Support professionals if our students could not confide in us? I doubt it. Part of the function of any ASP office is being able to support students who are having personal issues.

After all, the ASP office is often the place where students feel that they can reveal highly personal information to a faculty member who will be supportive.  Is there any better safe haven in a law school for the student who is ready to “come out” or has experienced a birth control failure? I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of all of this information as an ASP professional.

But then again, sometimes we cannot, and probably should not, guarantee complete confidentiality.  When do we reveal our students' secrets to the law school administration?  What happens if a student tells you that they have engaged in behavior that is a blatant violation of school rules?  Like cheating, plagiarism, or in some religious-affiliated schools extramarital or homosexual relations?   

Like most cafeteria-style ethicists (and most lawyers), I suppose it would depend.  I think I would report cheating and plagiarism because I find these things very offensive in potential lawyers.  I would probably keep personal events that occur outside of school under my hat.  If a student were being threatened or bullied by other students, I would probably report the incident to our Dean of Students even if the student reporting it to me asked me not to.  I am happy to relieve a student of the burden of tattling, and actually, I feel that it may be my obligation to do so under some circumstances, particularly where the student is in danger.

For example, I once had student tell me that she was being ridiculed during class by other students in an "invitation only chat-room."   Her clothing, comments and appearance were all fodder for the students who were dishing out the gossip.  As a result, she had stopped attending the class regularly and did not participate unless called on (where she been happy to raise her hand prior to this incident).  She was mortified and hurt.  She begged me to do nothing, but I could not, mainly because I felt that her academics were being out in jeopardy by students who were behaving as if this were Junior High School and not Law School.  She was angry at me for some time, but thanked me before she graduated a year later.  Did I do the right thing?  I don't know, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

So, the ultimate question is this:  can you be an effective ASP professional in an atmosphere that not only prohibits certain behaviors but also prohibits encouraging those behaviors?  What does it mean to encourage?  Is a failure to report a rule-breaker to the law school administration tantamount to encouraging the student to do it again in every circumstance?  I don't know the answers to these questions, but I know this:  I am happy to be working at a school that doesn't require me to figure it out. (ezs).

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