Much like all the other colleges and universities in the US, the University of Massachusetts Lowell takes academic integrity extremely seriously. There are, of course, all sorts of grand-sounding, idealistic reasons for this. As you probably recognize, though, there are also some very practical reasons for it: Employers aren't exactly anxious to hire graduates from schools with bad reputations.
There is a fine line, though, between protecting your reputation and subjecting your students to unfair accusations and draconian discipline. Schools can sometimes be so anxious to make sure students aren't cheating that they start jumping at shadows. Then maybe they don't provide judicial procedures that guarantee student rights, and the next thing you know, they're tossing dozens of innocent students out on their ears.
Take the time to find out how your school deals with academic misconduct allegations. Then, make sure you know who to call if you should find yourself accused someday. You should never allow your school to mistreat you, but there are times when you may need help to prevent it.
A Definition of Academic Misconduct
Every school defines academic misconduct just a little differently. Some talk about honesty. Others mention honor. The University of Massachusetts Lowell focuses on integrity. It all comes to the same thing, though: Academic misconduct applies to any action that gives you an unfair advantage in gaining your degree.
UMass Lowell goes further, listing out six specific behaviors that qualify as misconduct, though these overlap in many ways:
- Trying to claim credit for other people's work
- Using unauthorized or fabricated materials to complete work
- Falsifying documents
- Intentionally interfering with the work of others
- Misrepresenting your academic performance
- Helping someone else do anything of these things
Of course, most of us recognize the sort of standard kinds of cheating and plagiarism schools are looking for. We all know it's wrong to copy a classmate's answers on a test. You aren't supposed to buy your term paper from some online company. Those six categories, though, cover quite a lot of sins that you might not have realized were actually sins:
- Signing a friend's name to the daily attendance sheet
- Asking your roommate, who takes an earlier section of the same course, what's on the exam
- Submitting a fake doctor's note to cover an absence
- Lying about your coursework on a scholarship application
- Copying someone else's computer code into your own
In fact, the rules are so general that you can be accused of academic misconduct for any number of things that might not really even be academic misconduct. In truth, it is often up to an instructor's discretion as to what qualifies. Some instructors, for instance, are known to treat incorrect paper citations as misconduct. It's not always easy to know where the line is between participating in a study group and giving someone too much homework help. In some classes, internet research is strictly forbidden, while in others, it takes the place of a textbook.
The point is, there are mistakes to avoid, but you can also find yourself in trouble even when you have the best of intentions.
The Justice Process
When it comes to how the University of Massachusetts Lowell deals with accusations, the process doesn't typically favor students, and it can sometimes be difficult to find justice.
Accusations usually originate with instructors, who may assign either minor or major sanctions. Minor sanctions include:
- Oral or written notice of misconduct
- Repeated assignment
- Lower or failing grade on an assignment
- A lower grade in the course
Major sanctions include:
- Non-deletable failing grade in the course
- Suspension from the university
- Expulsion from the university.
Instructors are encouraged to notify students—“when possible”--about sanctions before they're assigned. In any case, they are required to submit a Notification of Academic Dishonesty form to the Office of the Provost. The Provost then notifies the student of the specific violation, the sanction, and the student's right to appeal to the Academic Dean. If the student doesn't file an appeal, the Provost can uphold the sanction or even, at their discretion, impose a stronger sanction.
An appeal to the Dean basically provides an opportunity for both the student and the instructor to present their sides of the story. This single individual, then, has the power to decide whether to uphold the sanction or not.
Likewise, the Academic Dean's decision is subject to appeal to the Provost, though the Provost merely reviews documentation. That is, they don't meet with either the instructor or the student.
One of the options open to a Provost is to refer the case to the Academic Integrity Appeals Board, an ad hoc committee made up of three faculty members. In such cases, students have the opportunity to offer testimony and evidence in their own defense. Once again, however, hearings are at the discretion of the Provost. They aren't guaranteed to students.
In short, it is possible to challenge an instructor's accusation, but it isn't always easy to get justice.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help
It isn't unusual for students to feel overwhelmed by their school's justice system, and looking at UMass Lowell's you can see why. Professors already seem untouchable to students, and administrators are almost always willing to back them up. As a result, many students simply accept the accusation against them and whatever penalties they've been given.
That's a mistake. Even minor sanctions are reported to the Office of the Provost and can become a part of a student's academic record. When a record reflects a history of “cheating,” it can have serious repercussions on scholarship applications, graduate school applications, even job applications.
Don't just accept a punishment. You have options. Fighting isn't always easy, but you can win.
Joseph D. Lento is an attorney who specializes in helping students defend themselves against university accusations across the United States. Joseph D. Lento built his career fighting for students' rights. He's handled hundreds of academic misconduct cases. He understands how schools operate. He's experienced talking with faculty and administrators. Whether you're looking to fight a false accusation or negotiate for a fair penalty, Joseph D. Lento can get you justice.
If you or your child has been accused of academic misconduct by your college or university, you can fight back. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or by using our automated online form.