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  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

Guidelines for the Independent Witness

You have been asked to serve as an independent witness to a primary hearing. Your presence at this conversation between instructor and student lends institutional support to an occasion that both parties may find stressful and difficult. Your presence will help promote appropriate behavior on everyone’s part.

Here are a few features of your role in the process. Some flow directly from the Code of Academic Integrity. Familiarize yourself with section II.

Your “independent” status means that you should be formally independent of ties to the course in which charges are being brought or to the student being charged. For example, do not serve as independent witness if you are on the course staff, supervisor of the instructor bringing charges, or the student’s advisor.

Being impartial does not necessarily mean being completely silent. During the hearing, you may contribute advice and information to both parties, especially if you have some experience with primary hearings. But whatever you say must be impartial.

Your chief role is that of observer. According to the Code, “The function of the independent witness is to observe the proceedings impartially, and in the event of an appeal from the judgment of the faculty member, be prepared to testify as to the procedures followed.”

In order to be able to testify properly, keep notes of the procedures followed. You need not create a record of everything said; you are not the meeting’s recording secretary.

Generally, the notes of the independent witness have not been made available to others, and rarely are they requested. If the student or the instructor should seek a copy of your notes, you are free to furnish or to withhold them. Only if the Academic Integrity Hearing Board (AIHB) seeks the notes are you obliged to provide them.

If the instructor’s finding or penalty is appealed to the AIHB, you may be asked to attend the meeting at which the appeal is heard. The AIHB chair will make every effort to insure that the meeting is scheduled at a time convenient for you.

Last Updated: September 21, 2016 at 10:47 am