From time to time in my career, I have had people walk in my office and accuse others of inappropriate behavior or poor judgement. My inital reaction is to believe the person telling me these things, but I also know that they could be wrong for a variety of reasons. After listening to that person's story, I will normally ask the person's permission to approach the other person (there are times when I will not bother with permission because of the egregious nature of the accusation). For me, it is important to determine the truth of the situation. If what I am being told is true, then the offender needs to be confronted and next steps need to be put into place. If what I am being told in NOT true, then the accuser needs to be confronted and next steps need to be put into place. While I never relish having to "investigate" this type of situation, I do know that in doing so, I have the ability to establish and strengthen a culture of trust and forgiveness.
When confronting a person with a given accusation, I expect several things to happen:
- for the person being accused to realize the seriousness of their behavior
- for the person to feel sorry for what they have done
- for the person to ask forgiveness
- for the person to determine how they can restore any relationship that might have been hurt in the process
If this person continues to deny any wrongdoing, I will continue to press for awhile and ask multiple questions to see if I can get at the heart of the matter. As I apply more "law" I am hoping to get at the truth. There have been times when I have not gotten at the truth - and there have been times when it became apparent that the truth was that the accuser had either misinterpreted the action or telling a lie themselves - and now a whole new conversation needed to take place.
Getting at the truth is a delicate balance for those who are in a leadership position. I have always said that it is not the mission of any institution to hunt down and determine everyone who does something wrong - that would take too many resources away from the main mission. However, in order to establish a safe and trusting environment and culture, it is important to get at the truth, especially where people's reputations might be involved.
A few thoughts for those of us who are in a position where we might have to deal with these type of situations:
- do it quickly - gather the facts and then call that person into the office in a timely manner
- approach the conversation as "getting at the truth" rather than "getting that person"
- if the accusation is true, get them to determine how they will make amends and work to restore the relationship
- if the accusation is not true, bring the accuser into the conversation right away to clear up any misunderstandings - and then deal with the accuser
- assure both parties that if there is ever any retaliation against the other person you will deal with it immediately - and harshly
- work for forgiveness and changed behavior
- document, document, document
- where possible, share the story so that others understand how the culture of the institution works
And now for the rest of the story...as I confronted this student, they immediately broke down in tears and could not look me in the eye. They admitted to cheating, and kept saying they were sorry. After a few minutes of letting their sorrow sink in, I told them they were forgiven, and that an academic dishonesty form would be filled out and placed in their file. They immediately offered to write a note of apology to the instructor and planned to see the instructor later that day. We had a great discussion on WHY the student decided to cheat, and I believe that their behavior will be different in the future. Unfortunately, not all confrontations turn out that well; however, I left my office knowing I had done work that day to build the culture we want in the College of Business - a culture of academic excellence...a culture of student responsibility...and a culture of forgiveness. All in all, not a bad day for me!