Colleges and universities take academic integrity seriously. Because of course they do. No school is going to survive for very long if it develops a reputation for cheating. Employers just aren't interested in hiring graduates from schools like that.
There's serious, though, and there's obsessive. Far too many professors spend far too much of their time obsessing over who might be cheating and what to do about it. They wind up accusing students who are entirely innocent. They wind up blowing simple mistakes into huge crises. They assign punishments way out of proportion to the nature of the actual offenses.
What do you do if it happens to you? First, don't panic. It's no easy task to take on your professor or to challenge your school's administration. You can do it, though. Start by finding out all you can about how your university handles these cases. What are the rules, what are the sanctions, and what are the procedures for defending yourself? Then, make sure you have an attorney-advisor on your side. You need to know as much as possible about what you're facing, but you also need to know: you can't handle it alone.
Defining Academic Misconduct
All schools have rules, but every school defines academic integrity a little differently. Indiana University of Pennsylvania focuses on the value of doing your own academic work as an honest reflection of your abilities as a student, “academic work should be the result of an individual's own effort. Academic assignments help students learn and allow them to exhibit this learning.”
In other words, cheating short-circuits the process of demonstrating your knowledge and skills.
The Academic Integrity Policy offers a list of nine separate prohibitions to support this focus.
· Plagiarism: IUP uses strict language to talk about plagiarism, defining it as “stealing” someone else's work and “lying” about it. Basically, plagiarism involves submitting another person's work or ideas as your own without giving them due credit. Keep in mind: it doesn't just apply to text. You can plagiarize images, videos, music, and even computer code.
- Fabrication: Making up material as part of your coursework. For instance, you shouldn't invent sources for a paper or make up lab results for experiments you haven't done.
- Cheating: The “attempt to misrepresent [your] mastery of information or skills being assessed.” This might ultimately include anything on this list, such as plagiarism and fabrication.
- Technological Misconduct: Again, a very broad category, involving any sort of “computer dishonesty” or the violation of “university computing policies.”
- Academic Dishonesty: “Deceitful or unfair conduct” related to your coursework. IUP mentions activities like tampering with grades and sabotaging other students' work.
- Facilitating Academic Integrity: IUP wants you to know that helping another person commit academic misconduct is its own form of academic misconduct.
- Out-of-Classroom Misconduct: This involves unethical behaviors committed during off-campus activities such as internships, service-learning opportunities, and practicums. Wherever you might find yourself, the rules about academic integrity still apply.
- Noncompliance: Failing to complete a sanction for misconduct also serves as its own form of misconduct.
Of course, IUP is careful to note that this list is not inclusive. That is, the university reserves the right to accuse you of misconduct for basically anything it feels is “dishonest.” One reason, in fact, that you need a good attorney-advisor is to make sure that you're being treated fairly and not being held accountable for pointless, inane rules.
Processes and Penalties
Indiana University of Pennsylvania is just as thorough in outlining its judicial processes as it is in describing its various rules.
As at most schools, allegations originate with instructors. Even if another student should turn you in, the instructor takes responsibility for investigating, judging, and—if necessary—sanctioning the violation.
Unless your case involves a severe policy violation, faculty are required to meet with you and give you an opportunity to give your side of the situation before they pass judgment on whether or not you actually committed an offense and before they assign any disciplinary penalties. Ultimately, though, they can issue a variety of different sanctions, including:
- Verbal warning
- Written warning
- Re-submission or makeup work
- Additional 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
If you accept responsibility for committing a violation and the sanction that goes with it, the case is simple. You sign a Documented Agreement form, serve your punishment, and that's that.
However, you have the right to protest either the charge itself, the sanction, or both, and you're almost always better off doing so. In such instances, you'll be given an opportunity to make your case at a hearing before either the Chair of the department that houses the course or a full Academic Integrity Board (AIB). In either case, you have the right to both submit and review evidence and to offer statements in defense of your position. You may also consult an advisor, who may be an attorney. However, advisors are barred from participating directly in any proceedings.
Additionally, the instructor can recommend harsher punishments if they feel your offense warrants them, punishments such as:
- Academic probation
- Removal from your academic program
- Removal from school
- Revocation of degree
These recommendations are always subject to a hearing before the Department Chair or AIB, as are all cases of repeat offenses.
Joseph D. Lento: Academic Misconduct Attorney
Not everyone chooses to fight academic misconduct charges. Many students, even those who are totally innocent, would rather accept a punishment than go through the complicated process of filing an appeal, gathering evidence, and creating a presentation.
This is almost always a mistake. No matter what penalty you've been assigned, it can have long-term repercussions on your academic and professional careers. You may think that a warning or re-write is no big deal. If the accusations wind up in your permanent file, though, it could cost you scholarship money, prevent you from getting into graduate school, and interfere with your job prospects.
More importantly, as difficult as it is to take on your school, you don't have to do it alone.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who specializes 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.