I sit on my department's academic misconduct committee. When students are suspected of academic misconduct they are invited to a meeting with the academic misconduct committee. The university polices are pretty clear that students not only can, but should, have an advocate attend the meeting. The policy also states that the advocate cannot be a lawyer providing legal representation, but can be a friend/family member who happens to be a lawyer. The university student services provides an advocates if students request it. At our last meeting we had a case of suspect collusion by two students. Both students had been assigned the same university advocate.
These collusion type meetings tend to be messy and involve bringing one student in and hearing that side of the story, sending that student out and bringing the other student in and hearing the other side of the story, and then often iterating a number of times. We attempt to keep the students isolated so they do not hear each other's side of the story. In the case of the same advocate representing both students there is obviously a confidentiality issue.
Based on the evidence we had it was clear student A had copied/worked with student B and produced a "joint work product" and turned it as her own. This expressly prohibited and constitutes academic misconduct. We did not have evidence that student B had knowingly colluded with student A and therefore were going to let student B off.
We called student B and the advocate in for a final meeting and began explaining to the student that they had not done anything wrong and no penalty would be applied, when the advocate proverbially threw student B under the bus and said that student B had colluded with student A. The end result was that both student A and student B were penalized. It is not clear if we applied a lighter penalty to student A because of admission of wrong doing by student B. I walked away from the incident feeling dirty.
We have not referred the case to the central university committee because of "procedural irregularities" because the central committee is consistently harsher than us and we are confident the central committee would have penalized both students (even without the admission of student B) harsher than we did. Should that matter or should we just report it to the central committee?
This incident has raised a number of related questions for me. Should the advocate be reported? Do we need to convince the university to change its advocacy policies for claims of joint work? Is there a fundamental conflict of interest of the university advocate and should students be encouraged to get their own independent advocate?