Academic Misconduct at Stephen F. Austin State University

College is hard enough as it is. You've got classes to worry about; your roommate has night terrors; it turns out that person you thought was the love of your life is wanted for check kiting in a couple of states. The last thing you need is an accusation of academic misconduct.

Unfortunately, faculty have gotten especially trigger-happy about accusing students lately, and they can be downright draconian when it comes to assigning sanctions. Innocent students do sometimes wind up accused. Students who have made a mistake do sometimes wind up with punishments that far exceed the nature of their crimes.

You don't have to just accept an accusation against you, though. You have the right to challenge your instructor's decisions. It's no easy task taking on your school, but you can do it. How? First, you have to find out everything you can about how your university treats these cases. What are the rules? What are the penalties for breaking them? What is the process for defending yourself? Once you know all that, you'll also want to find the number of a good attorney-advisor, someone who knows how schools operate and who has experience handling misconduct cases. You can defend yourself, but you're going to need help.

Defining Academic Dishonesty

Your very first job if you find yourself accused of academic dishonesty is to make sure you know exactly what you've been accused of doing. Only when you know the nature of the charges against you can you begin building a strong defense. As a bonus, of course, knowing the rules can help keep you from making mistakes in the first place.

Stephen F. Austin State University's policy on Student Academic Dishonesty is relatively simple as these sorts of policies go. The school lists just two types of violations.

  • Cheating: At SFASU, this refers primarily to the use of unauthorized materials in completing your coursework. “Unauthorized materials” can mean anything from a book to Google to another person. In addition, “cheating” includes the falsification of any information in completing your coursework, such as making up data for a lab report or inventing a source for a paper. Finally, the policy makes clear that helping someone else to cheat makes you just as guilty as the person who actually benefits from the cheating.
  • Plagiarism: This means attempting to pass another person's work or ideas off as your own, without giving them credit. Plagiarism can involve large deception, such as purchasing a paper from an online paper mill. Smaller mistakes qualify, too, though, such as simply failing to use quotation marks or cite sources properly.

Keep in mind: simple doesn't always mean easy. SFASU policy only mentions these two kinds of violations, but they're both just broad enough to be able to include virtually any kind of misconduct you could dream up. In addition, they're just broad enough to allow instructors to charge you with misconduct for almost anything and make the charges stick.

Procedures and Sanctions

It's not enough to know the rules. You also need to know what procedures the school uses to handle such cases. That's vital for preparing your actual defense strategy.

For the most part, instructors have primary responsibility for identifying, investigating, and punishing instances of academic misconduct. Faculty are supposed to meet with you if they suspect you of dishonesty and discuss the evidence as well as your side of the story. However, ultimately, they have the power to issue sanctions if they determine you are responsible (guilty). Sanctions generally include:

  • Warning letter
  • Retake or replacement assignment
  • Lowered grade or no credit on the assignment
  • Educational assignment on the nature of academic integrity
  • Reduction in course grade or failure
  • Temporary prohibition from retaking the course

Faculty who determine an infraction has occurred must report that infraction to the dean of the student's major. The dean has the authority to issue additional sanctions for egregious or repeat offenses. These can include:

  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

In addition, a copy of your infraction remains in your file.

You do have the right at SFASU to appeal your instructor's decisions, both in terms of the allegation itself and the sanction. However, the school doesn't make this process easy. First, you must appeal to the instructor. If this should fail to resolve the matter, you can further appeal to the instructional unit head. You can appeal the unit head's decision to the dean, who may or may not initiate a college council panel to review the case. Finally, you can appeal to the provost.

Keep in mind, however, that the process isn't set up to favor students.

  • The grade appeal policy begins by noting that under normal circumstances, only an instructor may change a grade.
  • The policy further notes that you may not appeal a grade simply because you disagree with the instructor. Appeals must be based on the fact that the instructor did not follow stated procedures.
  • Unlike a court of law, the burden of proving your innocence rests with you rather than with your instructor.
  • At no point do you have the right to a hearing. Even if your case is reviewed by the college council, you are not invited to participate directly. Rather the council simply reviews documentation and written statements.

These aspects of the process are one reason why it can be so useful to hire an attorney-advisor to help you with your case. They can assist you in filling out paperwork and advise you on how to prepare your documentation, but most importantly, they can keep an eye on the process and make sure the school doesn't violate your rights.

How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?

Students don't always contest the charges against them. The prospect of questioning a faculty member's decision, let alone taking on your school, can seem daunting. Many students just decide to accept the punishment, especially if that punishment seems relatively minor.

Here's the problem with that thinking. There are no minor punishments. Even a warning can cause long-term problems if it winds up in your academic file. A record of misconduct could cost you scholarships, keep you from applying for internships and fellowships, and even interfere with your ability to get a good first job. If you've been accused, don't take it lightly. Fight for your reputation and your academic future.

Joseph D. Lento can help. Joseph D. Lento is a fully-licensed, fully-qualified defense attorney. That means 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.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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