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Student conduct czar Stephen Bryan leaves Duke

A fixture of Duke’s student conduct process has departed after 20 years at the University.

Stephen Bryan, formerly the director of the Office of Student Conduct, left Duke for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he will serve as the associate vice chancellor and dean of student support and advocacy. He began the job July 1 and will oversee the University of Illinois’ student conduct system, among other offices.

“I immensely enjoyed my time at Duke and hope that I made positive short- and long-term contributions to the Duke community,” he wrote in an email. “I have heard from a number of current and former students, who, upon hearing of my departure, reached out to me and thanked me for the difference that I made for them.”

Bryan began working at Duke in 1999 as the assistant dean for judicial affairs—what student conduct used to be known as—before taking charge of OSC in 2005. He explained that “professional and personal circumstances” led him to step down from his role at Duke in May and assume his new role in Illinois. 

At Duke, he oversaw the transition from a paper to electronic system of student conduct data collection, advocated for and designed the role of residence coordinators in campus dorms and expanded staffing from two to six members in the student conduct office.

Sue Wasiolek, dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs, praised Bryan’s tenure.

“He has been a great listener and has provided students with a chance to tell their side of the story, never making assumptions,” she wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “When a student was found responsible for a violation of the code of conduct, he made it clear to them that this was merely a ‘snapshot’ of their Duke experience and did not define who they were. He presented every aspect of the disciplinary process as a learning opportunity.” 

Bryan also revised several documents, including Duke’s code of conduct, alcohol policy and sexual misconduct policy.

“He was very instrumental in revising the code of conduct to make it more streamlined and understandable and less mired in ‘legalese,’” she wrote. “He was also a key player in creating and continuously revising and improving the process for responding to claims of sexual misconduct.” 

Bryan played a prominent role in disciplinary action cases that were implicated in lawsuits. For example, when soccer player Ciaran McKenna sued Duke and Bryan for a violation of due process after OSC deemed him guilty of sexual assault, Bryan testified in court to defend the process in February 2017.

In August 2018, McKenna reached an undisclosed settlement with the University after winning a permanent injunction against a suspension earlier in the year.

Several individuals—including a student who was investigated for alleged cheating, Alpha Epsilon Pi brothers who were accused of violating the alcohol policy and lawyers who worked with students during the student conduct process—questioned the fairness of OSC’s process in a series of articles by The Chronicle in April and May 2017.

“They did everything they could to make me feel guilty despite the fact that they found me not responsible,” said a student in 2017, who wished to remain anonymous, about her Student Conduct panels when she was investigated for allegedly cheating on quizzes.

Bryan doesn’t think complaints against Student Conduct are a Duke-specific issue.

“Of course, an office such as the Office of Student Conduct that by its core function is responsible for investigating/adjudicating allegations of university policy violations reported to it will undoubtedly have critics who believe the process was unfair or resulted in the wrong conclusion,” Bryan wrote in an email after joining the University of Illinois.  “Unfortunately, this is the nature of the beast in student conduct adjudication and is not unique to Duke.” 

Wasiolek explained that the search process for a new OSC director has not yet begun and will require consultation with Mary Pat McMahon, Duke’s incoming vice provost/vice president for campus life.

The best candidates for the position would understand the “educational nature” of Duke’s disciplinary system, in addition to possessing a sense of fairness and strong judgment, she added.

Clay Adams, associate dean of students, will serve as interim director of OSC until a replacement is named.

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