What do you need to know if you've been accused of academic misconduct? First, you need to know that this is not a trivial matter. It doesn't matter whether your professor is failing you in the class or just issuing a verbal warning. What matter is that little notation that goes into your file, that notation that tells the world you're guilty of cheating or plagiarism. That is a permanent stain on your record. It can cost you scholarships, keep you from getting the best internships, and even interfere with your job prospects out of college.
With that much at stake, you should never simply accept your instructors' allegations or the sanctions they've assigned. It's always better to fight to preserve your reputation.
How do you do that? First, you find out everything you can about the charges you're facing. What exactly are you being accused of? What are the penalties if you're found responsible? What are the procedures for defending yourself? Then, you make sure you have an experienced, qualified attorney-advisor at your side. The right attorney can be the difference between winning and losing your case.
You can fight—you should fight—and you can win. But it's going to take perseverance, and you're going to need help.
Defining Academic Misconduct
You've probably come across the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga's Honor Code Pledge at some point during your academic career. Maybe you've even been asked to sign it. This phrase is at the heart of it:
“I pledge that I will not give or receive any unauthorized assistance with academic work or engage in any academic dishonesty in order to gain an academic advantage.”
That seems reasonable enough. What does it mean in concrete terms, though? That is, what are the rules? The Honor Code goes on to list eight separate infractions, though there is some overlap. Knowing these can be key, not just to staying out of trouble in the first place, but to building your defense. Only when you know exactly what you've been charged with doing can you know how to prove your innocence.
- Cheating: The use of any unauthorized materials to complete your coursework. “Unauthorized materials” is broadly defined and can include anything from your book to another person to the internet.
- Plagiarism: Attempting to pass another person's words or ideas off as your own. Plagiarism is usually thought of in relation to text, but it can apply to images, video, music, and even computer code.
- Fabrication: The invention of material as part of an academic exercise, like making up a source for a paper or generating fake statistics for a lab report.
- Use of Unauthorized Materials: This would seem to be covered under “cheating,” but UTC includes it as an additional category.
- Use of Unauthorized Assistance: Again, a repetition of the basic prohibitions under cheating.
- Gaining Unfair Advantage: A catchall category designed to make sure you don't take any shortcuts in getting your degree.
- Causing Unfair Disadvantage: You're also prohibited from doing anything that might harm another student's efforts to obtain their degree.
- Assisting Others in Misconduct: Finally, helping someone else break the rules is treated the same as if you had broken the rules yourself.
Sanctions and Procedures
As important as knowing the rules at your school is knowing what judicial procedures it uses to handle policy violations.
The University of Tennessee, Chattanooga is actually quite legalistic in how it deals with misconduct. That's to your benefit since, as part of the guidelines, you are entitled to important due process rights. However, it's also why you need an attorney-advisor at your side. Procedures are complicated, and someone with experience in the law can be crucial to helping you navigate them.
Here's a basic outline of what happens.
- Faculty don't simply accuse you of cheating and assign penalties as they do at other schools. Instead, they submit a written allegation to the Office of Student Conduct (OSC).
- If the OSC decides to proceed with the case, it issues you a formal Notice of Charges.
- You're then invited to meet with the OSC to discuss the allegation and to give your side of the story.
- Assuming the case isn't resolved during the preliminary meeting, the OSC proceeds to conduct a full investigation into the matter, including interviews with the Complainant (usually your instructor) and any other witnesses and the collection of evidence.
- Finally, your case is adjudicated through one of three different processes, depending on the severity of the allegation.
- Honor Code Officer Hearing: A formal hearing before a single administrative official from the OSC
- Honor Code Board Hearing: Hearing before a panel made up of students and faculty
- UAPA Hearing: Hearing before an administrative judge appointed by the university
In all cases, you have the right to present evidence, call witnesses, and make arguments in your own defense. In addition, you have the right to be accompanied by an advisor who may be an attorney. This advisor may not speak on your behalf but may offer advice during the proceedings.
Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Attorney-Advisor
Not every attorney is qualified to serve as an advisor in academic misconduct cases. The fact is, local or family attorneys usually aren't familiar with campus judicial procedures. They're not comfortable talking to faculty and administrators. They don't always understand just what's at stake. You need a lawyer with experience dealing with university procedures, someone with a track record of getting students the justice they deserve.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified, fully-licensed defense attorney who has devoted his career to making sure students are treated fairly by their schools. Joseph D. Lento has represented literally hundreds of clients just like you, helping them defend themselves from all kinds of accusations, from simple plagiarism to complicated cheating schemes. Joseph D. Lento knows how your school operates. He's also familiar with your school's judicial procedures and experienced in dealing with faculty and administrators. If you're a student looking to take on your school, you need the best representation you can find. You need Joseph D. Lento.
If you've been accused of any type of academic misconduct, contact Joseph D. Lento today to find out how he can help. Call 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.