Academic misconduct occurs when a student does not comply with the academic guidelines upheld by a school. The University of Pennsylvania, much like the majority of other educational institutions, value academic integrity and expect each and every member to abide by these regulations. If not, these dishonest actions are met with corrective actions.
If you are a UPENN student who has been accused of academic misconduct and plan on challenging these charges, you need to be aware of all of your options. Here is an in-depth overview of your school's disciplinary processes.
The Disciplinary Process
Any member of the UPENN community who suspects that a student has violated the institution's academic integrity policy is can file a complaint in writing with the Office of Student Conduct (OFC). A complaint basically asks the office to consider this matter for a referral or an investigation. You, the student in question, will be immediately notified of these allegations.
Once this complaint is processed, the OSC will evaluate if the code of conduct, Code of Academic Integrity, or any applicable regulations have been violated. In the event that there isn't any sufficient evidence of a violation, the matter will be dismissed without further investigation. However, if the OSC decides that it is probably a violation may have occurred, it will decide between two resolution options: mediation or an investigation.
UPENN is unique in its own right, being that it encourages each party in a complaint to resolve academic misconduct conflicts through informal mediation. Mediation preserves the relationships between all parties involved in these cases, by providing complainants (the person who made the complaint) and respondents (you) the option of solving problems on their own terms. Mediation sessions are non-adversarial and informal, making for a quick and less stressful experience. A mediator will be assigned to facilitate productive communication between you and a complainant to achieve the ideal goal: reaching an agreement. In order for mediation work, both parties must first agree to engage, and both parties must be able to come to a resolution.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the OSC will likely proceed to the investigation process.
The alternative option to resolving academic misconduct charges is an investigation. During this 60-day process, the OSC will conduct interviews with you, the complainant and any other people who are relevant to the case. For respondents who get to this step, this is the most portion of the disciplinary process.
This is your first and possibly only chance to tell your side of the story. If your actions were a genuine mistake, or the whole debacle was a complete understanding, you can explain this to investigators. While you're making preparations for your interview, you must remember that everything you say could be brought up as evidence in a hearing. This is why it's important you make sure your version of events is consistent.
Once an investigation has concluded, a finding will be sent to you notifying you of your determination and sanctions. Insufficient evidence of a violation will lead to a dismissal. A finding of responsibility, on the other hand, will leave with options of either accepting this finding and go through with the imposition of sanctions, or you will have to resolve these charges by means of a disciplinary hearing.
Voluntary agreement to sanctions
This is the route students take when they're exhausted by their school's long and tumultuous processes, and are eager to put this unpleasant experience behind them. Some students are also compelled to agree with the investigation finding if the sanctions aren't so severe. These reasons are understandable and valid in some circumstances. However, if the sanctions listed in a finding read anywhere along the lines of a withdrawal from your program, probation, or suspension, you may want to think long and hard before coming to a voluntary agreement with the OSC. Also, take into consideration the existence of prior academic misconduct violations, as the sanctions may be stiffened if school authorities see fit.
Resolving charges by disciplinary hearing
If you opt out of a voluntary agreement, a disciplinary hearing will be scheduled within 30 days for you to attend. Although hearings mildly resemble trials, there are more than a few distinctions. One of the most obvious being that they are not constrained the technical and formal logistics prevalent in hearings. The main goal of a hearing is to incite discussion about the facts, the individuals involved, the circumstances under which the perceived event transpired, and the nature of said conduct.
Attending a hearing is another chance for you to defend yourself, as you will be able to present your own case before the panel, and call witnesses to testify on your behalf. Retaining a student defense attorney is useful in hearings. The Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) may allow an advisor (the role filled by an attorney) to question witnesses on your behalf. An attorney can also help you prepare a presentation to the hearing panel that is effective and compelling.
A panel comprised of staff members will ultimately deliberate and present whether a student is found responsible or not responsible for an academic misconduct violation. If the panel finds that a student is responsible for a school policy violation, they will provide recommended sanctions.
Appealing a decision
For many respondents, a finding of responsibility is considered the end of the road. Students believe that the fight is over, and they will have to deal with the repercussions they fought so hard to evade. However, there is one last effort a student can make to avoid the imposition of sanctions. You can request an appeal.
A request for an appeal must be filed with UPENN's Disciplinary Appellate Officer (DAO) within ten days of a disciplinary hearing. In order for it to be granted, it must contain reasonable grounds as to why a school should reassess its decision. An attorney will be able to help you in this area too, and maximize your chances of being granted an appeal.
Pennsylvania Student Defense Attorney
For students who may be facing the consequences of a program withdrawal, suspension, or expulsion as a potential result of academic misconduct charges, retaining an attorney to help you prevail in a hearing would be in your best interest. Legal professional Joseph D. Lento has rendered his expertise to students facing dire repercussions in intercollegiate settings for over 15 years. He can do the same for you. Contact him today for help.