College is hard enough as it is. You've got books to read, papers to write, and exams to cram for. The very last thing you need is a charge of academic misconduct hanging over your head. Who has time to track down evidence, talk to witnesses, meet with instructors, let alone file appeals with the Dean's Office or put together a presentation for your school's judicial committee?
Maybe that's why some students choose to just accept accusations and the penalties that go with them, even when they're completely innocent. It just seems like far too much trouble to take on a fight you don't even know for sure you can win. Easier to just accept a lower grade and move on.
The problem with this attitude is that accusations can have long-lasting consequences, even if the sanctions in question seem minor. Even a warning, if it ends up in your academic file, can interfere with internship applications, damage your chances of getting into graduate school, or limit your job prospects.
And here's the thing: you don't have to deal with an allegation by yourself. An attorney-advisor, someone with experience protecting students' rights, can help you prepare and present your case, from drafting documents to meeting with school administrators. So don't ignore the charges, but don't try to handle the case all on your own either. Instead, find the right lawyer to represent your interests and get the justice you deserve without all the hassle.
Defining Academic Misconduct
Any time you're accused of breaking the rules, the first thing you need to do is find out exactly what the rules are. You can't defend yourself—especially if you're innocent—if you don't know just what it is you're supposed to have done.
Every school defines academic integrity differently, of course, and every school has its own particular set of prohibitions against misconduct. Southeastern Louisiana University's policy is short and simple—less than a page long. You might be tempted to believe that means it's easy to stay out of trouble there. That's not necessarily true.
Here's what the policy actually forbids.
- Having someone else complete your work for you
- Using unauthorized materials during an exam
- Communicating with another student during an exam
- Improperly acknowledging sources in a paper
- Submitting a paper in more than one class without permission
The problem with these rules is that none of them is ever fully explained. In fact, they aren't even listed clearly. Instead, they're hidden in the policy's first paragraph, buried in sentences like,
For such modes of assessment to operate fairly, it is essential that the instructor be assured that the work used to evaluate the student's performance is genuinely the student's own.
As a result, it's hard to know just what behaviors you're supposed to avoid, and it's easy for instructors to accuse you of virtually any type of violation and make it stick. Can you get in trouble for using the wrong method to cite your sources? Maybe. Can you find yourself accused of a violation for asking your roommate to explain a tricky calculus problem to you? Possibly.
Confusing policies are just one reason why it's important you have a good attorney by your side if you decide to push back against an allegation of academic misconduct. Lawyers know how to parse language and explain whether or not you should have known better.
Judicial Procedures at Southeastern Louisiana University
The second thing you need to know if you're dealing with a charge of academic misconduct is how your school goes about adjudicating these charges. What's the process for proving your innocence or demanding a fairer sanction?
As a starting point, the primary responsibility for identifying and punishing misconduct rests with instructors. Of course, if you simply accept responsibility and the accompanying sanction, the whole process is relatively straightforward. The policy mandates your instructor lower your grade on the assignment or—in particularly egregious cases—lower your grade in the course. Then, they're supposed to report the violation to the Department Head and the Dean so you can be further punished for repeat offenses.
If, however, you dispute either the accusation itself or the proposed sanction, you can appeal your case to the Department Head. You must do so, however, within ten days of being told about the accusation. In addition, all appeals must either contend that the facts of the allegation are in error or that the sanction is disproportionate to the offense.
If either you or your instructor disagrees with the Department Head's decision in the matter, you may further appeal your case to the Dean of the college in which the department is located. Once again, you have just ten days from the time you're notified of the Head's decision to file this second appeal. Ultimately, the Dean's decision is final.
It's worth noting what this process doesn't include. Specifically, you aren't entitled to a hearing. You don't get to present your case in person, and you don't get the benefit of multiple decision-makers considering your case. Rather, single individuals are entirely responsible for deciding whether or not they are responsible for violating policy and for punishing you accordingly.
As you might imagine, a system like this is ripe for abuse. It's all too common for Heads and Deans to simply rubber stamp the original instructor's decisions. This is yet another reason, then, why it's vital you have an attorney to advise you, to raise questions when it looks like your rights might be being violated, and to ensure your case is decided fairly.
Joseph D. Lento, Academic Misconduct Attorney-Advisor
Don't take chances with your future. Proving your innocence may not be easy, but the alternative—a black mark on your record—is always worse.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who specializes in advising student clients. In other words, he knows how to construct air-tight arguments, organize evidence, and cross-examine witnesses. Day-to-day, though, he applies those skills to help get justice for students like you. Joseph D. Lento knows the law and particularly how it applies to higher education. He also knows how to communicate effectively with faculty and administrators. Whether you've been charged with something big, like coordinating a large-scale cheating conspiracy, or small, like forgetting to cite a source in a paper, Joseph D. Lento is ready to help you get the very best possible resolution to your case.
If you've been accused of academic misconduct, contact Joseph D. Lento today to find out what he can do for you. Call 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.