Been caught cheating? You're not alone. The International Center for Academic Integrity reports that somewhere around sixty percent of college students admit to cheating in one form or another. Numbers like that suggest maybe it's time schools took a different approach to academic misconduct. Maybe, for instance, they should be lightening the load on students and offering more tutoring.
Instead, every year colleges and universities get more draconian in how they respond to misconduct. They're more likely to accuse students, and the punishments have become increasingly steep. These days, plagiarizing a paper can result in a course failure or even get you expelled.
Don't be a victim of sanction inflation. You have rights as a student. Whether you're looking to fight a sanction or you're entirely innocent of the charges, a qualified attorney-advisor can help you challenge your instructor, take on administrators, and demand all the rights you're entitled to.
Defining Academic Misconduct
First things first: just what is academic misconduct? You can't hope to defend yourself until you know exactly what you've been charged with doing. In simple terms, academic misconduct means anything that might tend to give you an unfair advantage in completing your coursework. As Columbia College puts it, you're expected to “fulfill your [your] academic obligations through honest and independent effort.”
What does that mean in practical terms? Columbia's Academic Integrity Policy and Procedures goes on to list six specific categories of policy violation.
- Providing false information: This single category covers a multitude of sins. You could be accused of something as small as forging a note to get out of taking a quiz. And technically speaking, cheating on an exam would qualify as well.
- Falsifying or misusing forms or records: You probably realize that hacking into the school's mainframe and changing your grades will get you into trouble. You could get into just as much trouble, though, for changing what you wrote on a paper and then trying to convince your professor they mis-graded it.
- Unauthorized joint effort: You're expressly forbidden from collaborating with anyone unless, of course, your instructor has asked you to do so.
- Plagiarism: This involves the attempt to pass another person's work or ideas off as your own without giving them due credit. Even just forgetting to use quotation marks can potentially get you into trouble.
- Helping someone else commit misconduct: Columbia College wants you to know that aiding and abetting someone else in cheating makes you just as guilty as if you'd benefited yourself.
- Submitting the same work twice: Some schools refer to this as self-plagiarism. Essentially, you aren't allowed to turn in the same work to two different classes without prior permission from both instructors
Defending Yourself From Charges
In addition to knowing the rules, you also need to know how Columbia College handles allegations of academic misconduct. Who gets to make such accusations, for instance, and what kind of punishments can you receive if you're found responsible for a violation?
Faculty at Columbia College have almost total authority when it comes to identifying and responding to misconduct. An instructor is supposed to meet with any student they suspect, and they can dismiss the charges if you can demonstrate you're innocent. In addition, they have the power to assign a light penalty like a warning or an assignment on academic integrity if they believe your mistake was unintentional. Ultimately, however, they make the final determination as to whether or not you are responsible for (guilty of) a violation, and they decide what sanctions to assign you. That's a lot of power invested in one individual.
Typical sanctions include:
- Verbal or written warning
- Re-submission or makeup work
- Extra assignment on the nature of academic integrity
- Lowered grade on the assignment in question, up to a zero
- Lowered grade in the course, up to an F
Once they've finished with you, instructors are also required to report your misconduct to the Academic Dean and the Office of Student Conduct. These officials can assign additional behavioral sanctions for repeated offenses, including probation, suspension, and expulsion.
You do have the right to challenge your instructor's decisions. However, the process is limited.
- Within three days of receiving written notification, you must file a written appeal with the Academic Dean of your school.
- The Dean determines whether an appeal is justified in your case.
- The Dean solicits statements and evidence from both you and your instructor.
- The Dean decides whether or not the original finding should be upheld or overturned.
It's important to note that, while you do have options when you've been accused, the appeals process definitely favors the accuser. Only two people, for instance, will consider your case: your instructor and the Dean. You have no right to speak directly to the Dean or to defend yourself at a live hearing. The Dean can decide on their own not to grant your appeal at all.
When schools use procedures like these, procedures that don't allow you your full due process rights, you need an attorney-advisor, not just to help you prepare your case, but to observe and make sure you're being treated fairly at every step along the way.
Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Attorney-Advisor
Students don't always complain when they're accused of academic misconduct. You can understand why. The process isn't simple, and winning is an uphill battle. It might seem simpler to accept a sanction—especially if it is light—and move on.
The problem with that thinking is that there is no “light” sanction. Even a warning can be trouble if it winds up in your academic file. A warning—let alone probation or expulsion—for academic misconduct will make anyone look twice at you. You'll find it hard getting summer internships, applying to graduate school, or even finding a good first job out of school.
Don't take chances.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified, fully-licensed defense attorney. That means he's an expert at creating rock-solid arguments and crafting air-tight legal strategies. He's put that expertise to work for students. Joseph D. Lento is a premier attorney-advisor. He knows the law as it applies to higher education, and he's comfortable dealing with faculty and administrators. Joseph D. Lento has helped hundreds of students get the justice they deserve. He can help you do the same.
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.