University of Virginia Dean of Students Allen Groves explained during a TEDx talk in 2013 why his school has avoided suspending or expelling students, even when they commit serious infractions.
"The university's role, in my opinion, shouldn't be punitive," Groves said. "It ought to be risk reduction and rehabilitation and education."
The talk took place on April 20, 2013, but was not uploaded until October of that year. The 10-minute address provides a more in-depth look at how a University of Virginia administrator approaches student misconduct.
UVA has come under intense scrutiny in the last week after a Rolling Stone article about the school's handling of reports of sexual violence on campus. Over the weekend, video surfaced online in which Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo, head of the university's Sexual Misconduct Board, admits a student can confess to rape and face a lesser punishment. Responding to criticisms of her comments, Eramo explained that confessions in an informal resolution would incline the university to be lenient.
But Groves has a different role.
Groves told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that his prior remarks did not necessarily reflect how he would respond in an official capacity to an act of rape, and clarified that he only has the power to impose interim suspensions.
Groves noted during his TEDx talk that he has "the authority to basically suspend -- it's called interim suspension -- suspend students from the university," though he said he exercises that authority "probably less than four times a year. And the reason is I will only exercise that authority if someone presents a present threat to health and safety."
Groves told HuffPost that he lacks the authority to impose severe sanctions such as suspension for a semester or longer, or expulsion. He clarified that such penalties can only be imposed by the student-run University Judiciary Committee, by the student-run Honor Committee or by the Sexual Misconduct Board, which is constituted of students, faculty and staff.
During his TEDx talk, Groves used the example of someone who gets severely intoxicated and physically assaults another student. He would not want to expel that person, Groves said, because if he did, the person could continue to drink heavily, could still have anger issues or could still harbor violent tendencies.
"They're angrier and we have taken away the one thing that was the only leverage we had on them," Groves said during the talk, adding that, "A calculated risk, based on the factors that I've given you, I think is wiser than just expelling someone from the university. I just don't see how that, at the end of the day, works for us." He concluded, "That is the way we try to pursue matters at the University of Virginia, and I think it's the right approach."
Groves told HuffPost he was discussing a philosophical rebuttal to zero-tolerance policies, and why he does not advocate for them.
"I was trying to make two points," Groves said via email. "First, what can we really do to make the community truly safer in a case like the one I was discussing (alcohol dependency/anger), rather than just move the problem on to somewhere else? Second, the criminal justice system can do things we as a university cannot, and a distinction between the two is critical."
Part of the scrutiny UVA has faced this month hinges on whether or not the prestigious university should expel students for sexual assault.
UVA has repeatedly denied media requests for information about punishments imposed on students found responsible for sexual misconduct. However, the university has confirmed that 13 students were found responsible for sexual assault between 1998 and 2014. A 2004 article from The Hook indicated that no one had been expelled for sexual assault in the five previous years. A Freedom of Information Act Request from Susan Russell, the parent of a former UVA student, showed that no one had been expelled for sexual assault through 2011.
One recent graduate, a sexual assault survivor who requested anonymity, said that federal investigators had met with groups of students on campus, who were asked if they were aware of anyone who had been expelled after being found guilty of sexual assault.
A Huffington Post analysis earlier this year showed that most students found responsible by their college for sexual assault nationwide are not expelled.
A separate analysis of 25 colleges by the Columbus Dispatch and the Student Press Law Center this week showed that of students responsible in 1,970 cases since 2010 for a violent offense -- sexual assaults, physical assaults resulting in serious injuries, robberies and other violent crimes -- a total of 152 students were expelled.