A PhD candidate has damaged possessions of a flatmate in non-university housing by purposely dropping their laptop and keying their car.

Is it acceptable to report such behavior to the university of the PhD candidate?

Clarification: This has obviously been already reported to the police. The question was whether this should be reported additionally to the university. The given US university has a lengthy "off-campus student conduct code". However, a contact is only specified for a title IX coordinator. The guideline does not specify how or if non-sexual misconduct as defined by the "off-campus student conduct code" should be reported.

Clarification 2: All of us from the same university, but no overlap at all in terms of departments.

Clarification 3: The remaining flatmates and me decided not to take any university-related action. Nevertheless, the thought that the given person will soon graduate as a PhD and get hired by someone expecting a "qualified" postdoc that will "mentor" students is irritating to some degree to me.

  • 25
    In the US, universities do consider themselves to have an interest in policing/disciplining certain kinds of student misconduct off-campus. Here’s a relevant link, and another. It seems like this is somewhat controversial and raises some legal issues. But if your conscience tells you to report it, I think that’s a reasonable thing to do. The school may or may not do anything, though.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 9, 2020 at 6:04
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. Mar 12, 2020 at 17:42

7 Answers 7


No, it would be inappropriate to report misconduct to a university if the misconduct has no relation to the university, except that the perpetrator was a student.

If the misconduct occurred on campus, involved university equipment/resources, or involved an official supervisory relationship, then it might be reported.

  • 4
    There might be cases where Title IX gets a university involved in off-campus misconduct. I am unsure. That would be USA-specific. Mar 9, 2020 at 4:03
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    However, here's something which is confusing me. Universities sometimes ask for a background check at the start of a PhD program. Accordingly, some universities appear to be interested in this type of information. Or does this type of argument not apply in this context?
    – William
    Mar 9, 2020 at 5:15
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    @William that is a different question.
    – Solar Mike
    Mar 9, 2020 at 5:35
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    I've never heard of a background check for a PhD position. Maybe for a teaching/outreach position. Mar 9, 2020 at 9:06
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    @AnonymousPhysicist This is slightly incorrect. If the case involves two students from the same university, then it is seen as bullying and will be investigated by the university, at least in some universities, as I know this was the case with me.
    – Lukali
    Mar 9, 2020 at 18:13

I don't know how it works in all countries, but in all cases, the university does not have the jurisdiction to investigate in such a situation. You accuse the PhD candidate of misbehaviour off-campus but this needs a process to be confirmed and only the police can start such a process.

In Germany, such behaviour affects the PhD candidate when he wants to submit his/her thesis, some faculties ask for a newly issued certificate of conduct. The idea is that a PhD should have good behaviour reflected in society. However, this is judged by only the competent authority, which is obviously not the university.

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    Can you point towards a "Promotionsordnung" or similar document explaining what you wrote in your last paragraph? I've worked at 5 different German universities in the past, and haven't heard of such a thing. The only thing I am aware of is that when hiring a PhD student as a scientific employee (which is the most common funding way in Germany), a certificate of conduct needs to be provided. It should list only major violations of the law, though, certainly nothing of the type mentioned by the OP.
    – DCTLib
    Mar 9, 2020 at 8:24
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    @DCTLib see here, page 13, item 8. Looks like, if you are not hired as a scientific employee, you do have to provide a certificate of conduct when you submit your thesis.
    – wimi
    Mar 9, 2020 at 8:40
  • @DCTLib all German universities asked for it. Some of them make the process easier and neglect it if the candidate is an employee at the university or if he/she is working in public service (the assumption is that he/she already submitted it when he was employed and the public employer will be notified of any new record that coincides with the functions of the employee).
    – Yacine
    Mar 9, 2020 at 8:52
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    @DCTLib " It should list only major violations of the law, though, certainly nothing of the type mentioned by the OP." It is not subject to our assessment, but only to the court to judge what is major and what is not. If it is listed in the certificate of conduct, the "Promotionsausschuss" decides whether it prevents accepting the submission. I don't think the OP asked whether this behaviour is major or not but wants to whom to report the behaviour.
    – Yacine
    Mar 9, 2020 at 9:01
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    @Younes Interesting. But note that all your previous universites may have asked for it, this is still by no means universal. For example, the University of Bremen Faculty 1 doesn't have such a requirement: uni-bremen.de/fileadmin/user_upload/sites/referate/referat06/… - Ruhr-Uni Bochum also doesn't know such a requirement in maths uv.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/dezernat1/amtliche/ab1205.pdf - and I just didn't check the other faculties.
    – DCTLib
    Mar 9, 2020 at 12:04

In my experience, such a report would only hurt your own reputation.

If Bob the PhD candidate, damaged possessions of Alice, his flatmate, and keyed her car in non-university housing, and you report it to the university, it is highly possible to have the response "please report the incident to the police" in return.

There are always many bilateral relations going on in a workplace, and the administrators, if they are professional enough, will try not to involve in vendettas. Thus, if you yourself get involved in such a situation, not only you will gain anything, but the results will possibly be:

  1. You superiors will have a bias about you, and you will be remembered as a person who is involved in some irrelevant plot.
  2. Bob will definitely hold a grudge against you and probably will seek for your mistake to report it to your superiors.
  3. Alice will probably say "thank you" and be grateful, but ultimately, she will not return the favor in case you face above two consequences.

I don't know what is the positive side of reporting such an incident, but I am almost certain that there will be negative consequences in the future.

Is it acceptable to report such behavior to the university of the PhD candidate?

It sure is. You can report literally anything -- even what you had for lunch -- to the university. However, what you report tells a lot about you. Therefore, if I were you, I'd stay away and try not to involve in such an incident, unless my name comes up.

  • Thank you for framing it this way. From a pragmatic point of view, this makes certainly sense!
    – William
    Mar 9, 2020 at 23:08
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    Not every Alice even wants her "car damage" annoyance to spread to irrelevant contexts needlessly. Mar 11, 2020 at 16:50

I think whether to report this incident to the university, and how, depends crucially on the relationship of the flatmate to the PhD candidate and the university.

If, for example, the two are both PhD students with the same supervisor or working in the same lab, this could be considered a workplace harassment issue. The flatmate should report it to their lab and/or PhD supervisor and say that they feel threatened being around this person.

If both are students at the university, whether and how to report this probably depends on details of their relationship. "Reporting" may not be quite right, but perhaps there is an office for conflict resolution (an Ombudsman or Dean of Students should know) that could help the two deescalate this conflict.

If the flatmate has no relationship to the university, I can't see much point in trying to involve the university. Dealing with it through the courts is probably the best way to go. In addition to involving the police, as OP indicates has been done, the flatmate should pursue civil claims, and possibly consult a housing lawyer to discuss either evicting the PhD student from the flat or breaking lease and leaving the PhD student to find another roommate.


I know a univerity library that checks books upon return, because in the past students have copied relevant pages for themselves and then blacked out the information so that they could learn and have good grades but deny others of learning and getting good grades.

So if the PhD candidate did this to sabotage the flatmate who is also a student at the same university, for example because both are running for the same job offer, this may be of interest to the university. Otherwise, I don't think it's any of their business to deal with it.

  • very good and not so obvious point. Generally, it's not the university's business, but there might be some very particular cases when it is the university's business.
    – Andrei
    Mar 12, 2020 at 9:55

When the police investigation is done, and the person has receives a sentence, it might be appropriate to inform the university, but that is a job for the police, if the law in your country says so. In no way is it right to tell anyone else than the police about something like this. If you do, the university might want to do some investigations themselves, and that's not their job. That's how Kangaroo courts started. Let the police do their job and let if be with that.


Adding this datapoint, which I interpret as saying the answer is yes, with caveats.

Press release by the Dean of Students of the National University of Singapore

When such offences are committed, the NUS Board of Discipline, which comprises student and faculty representatives, will also conduct its own disciplinary proceedings.

It will consider factors such as the severity of the offence, the need for justice for the victim, the rehabilitative needs of the student offender, the safety of the NUS community, and also the decisions and penalties imposed by the authorities.

I'm not familiar with the facts of the case but from what I have seen, one NUS student committed voyeurism against another NUS student. The police investigated and issued a "12-month conditional warning", and NUS has (?) imposed their own penalties.

Caveats are that 1) police were involved already 2) the media at large also got involved 3) the crime was committed on campus 4) voyeurism is likely more serious than keying cars.

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