09/24/2010 01:46 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Off-Campus Misconduct May Result in On-Campus Penalties

American University students recently realized their off-campus actions can result in on-campus punishments, due changes to the school's Student Conduct Code late last semester. But AU students aren't alone -- public and private colleges across the country are expanding their jurisdiction to include off-campus misconduct.

The code's biggest change, effective last June, allows the University the power to take disciplinary action, "when, in the judgment of University officials, a student's alleged misconduct has a negative effect on the university's pursuit of its mission or on the well being of the greater community."
Now, AU can discipline students for off-campus misconduct -- without any jurisdictional boundaries -- that does not necessarily violate local, state or federal laws. Previously, the University needed a police citation to further investigate off-campus misconduct.

Administrators inability to sanction alleged off-campus offenders without such legal documentation often left AU officials at a loss for how to deal with frequent and egregious misconduct that did not necessarily violate any laws -- like neighbors' noise complaints.
Last year, 15 of 27 off-campus neighbor complaints to the University were filed by one residence. Officials said they were unable to sanction these students before for their alleged misconduct, under the old code, because there was no violation of law.

But now, if similar behavior occurs, AU has the power to file Conduct Code charges. Sanctions can range from writing a paper, restitution, community service, writing an apology to the neighbor, removal from on-campus housing and suspension or dismissal from the University.
The changes come as AU is looking to pass its 10-year facilities Campus Plan, which includes the addition of an East Campus near local apartment complexes. The University needs to shore up neighbor support for the plan's approval -- which administrators consider to be part of the "university's pursuit of its mission."

Broad, vague language seems to dominate student conduct codes throughout the country, giving university officials more discretion in sanctioning misconduct both on and off campus.

- The University of Southern California's policy punishes off-campus violations of law, with or without police citations, as well as conduct that "adversely affects the university community and/or the pursuit of its objectives."
- The University of Florida can penalize students if their behavior "poses a significant threat of undermining the University's educational process."
- Students at Northwestern University can be discipline for "disorderly conduct or other action that disturbs or endangers the peace or comfort of others or the community."