You know how important your education is to your future. You know how much it's costing your parents to send you to college. So, you do your very best to excel in all your classes. You do homework days before it's due; you go to every study session; you get plenty of sleep the night before tests.
All of that may not be enough. The fact is, it's easy to wind up accused of academic misconduct. For one thing, the rules can be complex. Lots of professors these days want you to work in groups. Others, though, have strict policies against collaboration. You're supposed to do research when you write a paper, but look at the wrong source, and you could be in trouble. Googling information? Who knows anymore when that's appropriate and when it isn't? And none of this accounts for the fact that faculty these days are trigger-happy when it comes to throwing out accusations of cheating. In short, no matter how careful you are, you may not be able to avoid an accusation of misconduct.
How do you stay out of trouble? First, you find out everything you can about your school's academic integrity policy. What are the rules? What happens if you break one? How do you defend yourself from a false charge?
Finally, though, you also need to know what to do if trouble finds you anyway. You contact a qualified, experienced attorney-advisor to help protect your rights and get you the best possible resolution to your case.
Just What is Academic Misconduct?
Academic misconduct is distinct from other kinds of disciplinary violations in that it's related directly to your coursework. In simple terms, your school wants to make sure that you don't get any unfair advantages while you're pursuing your degree and that when you graduate, you actually know what that diploma says you know.
What does that mean in concrete terms, though? Webster University's Academic Integrity Policy lists four specific types of misconduct you're meant to avoid.
- Cheating: This word gets thrown around a lot without ever being fully defined. In fact, it refers to the use of unauthorized sources to complete your coursework. What counts as an “unauthorized resource”? It could be almost anything. A crib sheet would certainly count. So would an advanced copy of an exam stolen from your instructor's office. In fact, even just asking a friend from another section what to expect on the test counts as cheating.
- Plagiarism: As WU notes, plagiarism is “the most complex form of academic honesty” because it can “happen accidentally.” You know better than to buy a term paper from an online paper mill. The trouble is you can also be accused just for forgetting to include a citation after a quotation. It's also important to know that plagiarism doesn't just apply to the written word. You can plagiarize music, video, art, and even computer code.
- Fabrication: You're also prohibited from making up information as part of your coursework. So, for example, you can't write up a lab report for a lab you didn't actually complete or invent sources for a paper because you couldn't actually find any in the library. Even just signing another student's name on the daily attendance sheet could get you in trouble.
- Facilitation: Helping someone else commit misconduct is the same as having committed it yourself. In other words, if you write a paper for your roommate, you're just as guilty as they are, even if you're not the one turning the paper in for credit.
As the WU policy notes, this list of rules is by no means “exhaustive.” Many faculty members, for example, like to invent their own tricky rules for their own courses. Some don't like you to wear hats. Who knows why? Generally speaking, if the syllabus prohibits it, the university will back the instructor up.
Processes and Penalties
In addition to the list of rules, WU's policy contains a description of its procedures for challenging an allegation of misconduct. It's essential to know these procedures if you plan to defend yourself from a charge.
For the most part, Webster University deals with misconduct accusations within the classroom. That is, instructors have almost total authority to identify violations and assign sanctions. The Student Code of Conduct says nothing about how they are to go about doing this, merely that they should “address issues of academic dishonesty.”
The Code does offer some guidance when it comes to sanctions, suggesting potential disciplinary penalties might include
- Written warning
- Assignment on the nature of academic dishonesty
- Re-write of the assignment or a makeup assignment
- Reduced grade on the assignment, up to a zero
- Failing grade in the course
The Code goes on to note that repeat offenses are subject to probation or dismissal as are particularly egregious violations of the Academic Integrity Policy.
Curiously, however, the school offers no real remedy for students who have been falsely accused or who wish to challenge the severity of their sanctions. There is a Grade Appeal Process that consists of complaining to the department chair and, if necessary, to the “appropriate dean.” However, there are no procedures in place for filing appeals and no description of what the decision-making process looks like. When a school offers so little information about its judicial procedures, you absolutely need an attorney-advisor at your side to make sure you are treated fairly and that you receive all the due process rights to which you are entitled.
Joseph D. Lento: Academic Misconduct Attorney
Many students just accept accusations of misconduct and whatever penalty their instructor happens to assign them. That's always a mistake. Most sanctions cost money and time to complete. They can throw off your progress and ultimately hurt your GPA. Beyond these impacts, though, an academic misconduct sanction—any sanction—can have long-term consequences. Even a warning can cost you scholarship money or keep you from getting into graduate school if it should wind up in your permanent file.
Joseph D. Lento is an education attorney who defends students nationwide in academic misconduct cases. Whether you're simply meeting with a professor to discuss their accusation or going before the dean to prove your innocence, Joseph D. Lento can help. Joseph D. Lento has handled hundreds of cases just like yours. He's a skilled negotiator and a tenacious fighter. Don't let your school trample your rights or impose penalties far out of proportion to your offense. If you or your child has been accused of academic misconduct, contact the Lento Law Firm today.
Call 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.