Charges of academic dishonesty are serious business. When someone accuses you of cheating or plagiarism, your integrity is at stake. It's not just your reputation on the line, though. Misconduct charges can get you suspended or expelled. In fact, even something as small as a warning can threaten your future if it winds up in your academic file. You could lose scholarships. You might have trouble getting into graduate school. And try convincing an employer to hire you if they think you're dishonest.
It's important you dispute any allegation and that you question every sanction. To do that, though, you're going to need to find out everything you can about your school's policies. You need to know the rules, and you need to know what the judicial processes look like. Most importantly, you're going to need to know how to find the right help because you deserve justice, but it's no easy task to take on your school.
Defining Academic Misconduct at the University of South Alabama
First things first: you need to know the University of South Alabama's rules. This will help you avoid getting into trouble in the first place. In addition, though, if you should find yourself accused, understanding the charges is the first step to developing a defense strategy.
USA's policy seems deceptively simple. It lists just a handful of offenses.
- Giving or receiving unauthorized aid on an exam
- Improperly obtaining an advanced copy of an exam
- Unauthorized submission of the same work in separate courses
- Misrepresentation of information
- Alteration of transcripts or other university records
Here's the kicker, though. The policy also notes that misconduct is “not limited to” this list of violations. In fact, a vague misconduct policy like this one leaves a great deal of room for the school to level all sorts of charges against you.
In general, you want to avoid any of the following:
- Cheating: Any use of any unauthorized materials to complete your coursework. Whether you're getting help from your textbook or another student, if you haven't been given express permission, you're likely cheating
- Plagiarism: Attempting to pass off another person's work as your own. Here again, it's best to interpret this as broadly as possible. Plagiarism isn't just about buying a paper online. You can plagiarize if you borrow a sentence or an idea. In addition, plagiarism doesn't just apply to written work. It covers images, music, and even computer code.
- Misrepresentation: The falsification of anything, from lab results to official records to doctor's excuses.
The true test of whether something is “misconduct” or not is whether it's mentioned in your course syllabus. Every course is different, and ultimately your instructor has broad authority to define the rules. Your first job each semester, then, should be to go over this document with a fine-toothed comb.
Sanctions for Academic Misconduct at USA
In addition to making the rules, instructors also have the primary responsibility for identifying and punishing any misconduct. Faculty don't have the power to issue the most severe sanctions like probation, suspension, or expulsion. However, they can do almost anything they want within the context of their own courses. Penalties typically include:
- Verbal warnings
- Written warnings
- Makeup or alternative assignments
- Lowered grade on the assignment up to a zero
- Lowered grade in the course, up to an F
At USA, instructors aren't required to meet with you about the allegation. If they believe you're guilty of an offense, they simply contact you and let you know what sanction they've assigned.
It's important to know as well that your case doesn't end with your instructor's decision. All faculty are required to report all instances of academic misconduct to the college in which the incident occurred. The college then reports to the Office of the Provost. This office can level those harsher sanctions like suspension and expulsion. Typically, they do this only in the case of repeat offense, but you can also expect these kinds of penalties if you commit a particularly egregious violation.
Obviously, the process of dealing with an allegation of academic misconduct is simple and straightforward if you accept responsibility and the proposed sanction. You pay the penalty, and a record of the violation goes into your academic file.
If you choose to dispute the accusation, though, things get a little more complicated.
You can appeal either the findings or the sanction, but it's important to know that you have only seventy-two hours from the moment you receive notification of the charges to do so.
- Your first recourse is to the department chair. This person will schedule a conference with you to discuss the matter. They'll go over the allegations and give you a chance to respond. Then they'll decide whether or not to affirm your instructor's decisions.
- Again, once you're informed of the chair's decision, you have seventy-two hours to request an Academic Integrity Review of that decision. Most first offenses are dealt with by a single administrator from the Office of the Provost. This official's decision is final.
- Second offenses are handled by an Academic Integrity Review Panel. This panel holds hearings at which you can submit evidence and call witnesses. Decisions are based on a majority secret ballot, and again the decisions are final.
Joseph D. Lento, Academic Misconduct Attorney-Advisor
In academic misconduct cases, everything is at stake, and you're facing an uphill battle. You'll notice that most cases are decided by single individuals. You may not even have the chance to defend yourself at a formal hearing. In fact, USA doesn't even allow you to bring an attorney or advisor to meetings or proceedings.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't consult an attorney. A lawyer can provide invaluable advice on how to defend yourself. They can coach you in answering questions; they can help you draft documents; they can manage evidence for you. Perhaps most importantly, they can keep an eye on the process and make sure your school doesn't do anything that violates your rights.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who specializes in defending student clients. He understands how difficult it can sometimes be to get justice from a faculty member or an administrative official. He's dedicated his career to taking on-campus judicial systems. He's helped hundreds of clients defend themselves from charges big and small, and he can help you get the justice you deserve.
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.