Panel Volunteers are a vital part of college decision-making as they represent the student experience here at King’s. If you’ve ever hesitated to join or you just wish to learn more about the role, you’ve come to the right place as we’ve had the chance to speak with Suzanne Smith, a third-year who agreed to share her experience as a Panel Volunteer.
Could you briefly describe what a Panel Volunteer does and what that role entails?
It is really important for the student perspective and experience to be heard on panels. Panel Volunteers attend meetings of the Student Conduct & Appeals Panel and are part of the panel of three or four people who hear and decide the outcome of various types of alleged misconduct by students. The other panel members are academics from different faculties. The types of misconduct can range from allegations of various forms of cheating (eg plagiarism, collusion, contract essay-writing, contract problem-solving), to forms of behavioural misconduct. There are also committees that consider whether a student is fit to practise as a healthcare professional.
Please explain to us in a bit more detail what the role involves
Two weeks before the meeting, we are sent links to confidential documentation for the three or four cases to be heard by the panel at that session. The documentation typically contains the Academic Misconduct Referral Form in which the relevant faculty outlines the case against the student, and attaches their evidence of misconduct, and there is often a statement by the student refuting the allegations and/or outlining mitigating circumstances for the panel to take into consideration. The committee will then sit for about half a day to consider the cases.
The Panel Volunteers bring the student perspective to the discussions of the panel. This does not mean that our role is to support the case of every student (KCLSU is there for that), but more to give the perspective of the average student. Before the meeting, we need to read the documents very carefully, and consider whether anything is not clear and whether there are questions to ask the faculty or the student in the committee meeting itself. During the meeting itself, we are encouraged to ask our questions to the faculty and the student, and we then participate in the discussions after the faculty and student have left to arrive at the decision and then whether any sanction should be imposed or other action taken.
Why did you decide to become a Student Panel Volunteer?
My situation is a little different in that I am a mature student. I am a qualified solicitor and practised as a corporate lawyer for 25 years, before deciding to leave the law and study a subject I love. I wanted to bring to the panel not only my experience as a lawyer, but also my experience as a mother whose children have recently graduated from other universities, and my personal experiences as a student at King’s. I take the role very seriously as I appreciate we are making decisions that may affect the rest of the life of the student, but also appreciate that academic standards do need to be upheld at King’s. There is an important balance to be maintained. It’s not an easy role, but it’s a very valuable one.
How does your extensive experience as a lawyer before coming to King's give you a new perspective on your role as a Panel Volunteer?
The panel is not a court of law, and the rules are different, but it uses the same analytical skills as the legal profession, and other professions. My experience of the corporate world has helped me think on my feet in meetings and make my own mind up, having listened first to others. It has also given me the confidence to challenge senior academics and put my view across in the meetings. The skills developed at the panels would be invaluable for anyone going into the law, accountancy, HR, consultancy, academia, teaching, and any other walk of life where these skills would be useful.
What's the best thing you've taken from being a Panel Volunteer?
It has given me an excellent insight into the workings of the college. I’ve seen how the KCLSU and tutors play important roles in supporting students through difficult times, and would urge anyone who is having problems that might make them think that cheating is a way out, to try to get support for the underlying problems. The tutor is normally the first port of call, but the college offers many other forms of support.
Finally, would you recommend any students reading this interview to become a Panel Volunteer?
Definitely - go for it! It’s a great experience for anyone going into law, consultancy, HR, education, or academia and it’s truly a formative experience.
If you'd like to apply to be a panel volunteer, please complete this short form.