If your professor has charged you with academic misconduct, you might be tempted to just go along with the accusation and accept the punishment, even if you did nothing wrong. It seems daunting to challenge an instructor's decisions, let alone take on the entire weight of your school administration. The trouble is, accepting the situation can have repercussions that extend far beyond the course and the semester. Any sanction—even a warning—can cost you future opportunities if it shows up in your academic file. You could lose scholarships, miss out on internships, have trouble getting into graduate school, or even struggle to find a good job.
You should always defend yourself, dispute every allegation, and question every sanction. But, you don't have to do it alone. Joseph D. Lento built his career representing students in campus judicial cases. He's helped hundreds of students defend themselves, and he can help you do the same.
Defining Academic Misconduct
You might be asking yourself, why would a college student need to hire an attorney? It turns out there's a lot that can go wrong. The University of Mississippi has an extensive policy on academic integrity, and they take violations very seriously. Here's a list of all the conduct the school expressly prohibits.
- Cheating: You can be charged with cheating for using any unauthorized materials to complete your coursework. “Unauthorized material” can mean virtually anything, which means you never know when you may face an accusation.
- Plagiarism: This means trying to pass another person's words or ideas off as your own. Keep in mind: plagiarism doesn't necessarily have to be deliberate. You can be charged simply for making a mistake.
- Acquiring information inappropriately: This includes getting course materials such as assignments and exam questions from sources unapproved by the instructor.
- Lying or falsification of data: USM defines this as “any statement of untruth” relating to academics. Something as relatively innocuous as signing another student's name to the daily attendance sheet might qualify, then.
- Stealing or defacing: Again, this can get very petty. Writing in a library book would seem to meet the definition.
- Multiple submissions: You're not allowed to submit the same work to more than one course without permission.
- Conspiracy: In addition to being accused of committing misconduct yourself, you can also be accused of helping others to commit misconduct.
In fact, this list is not conclusive. Your instructors have the right to hold you accountable for all sorts of other rules, as long as they list these in the course syllabus. Rules are important, of course, but it does sometimes feel like getting an education is more like traversing a minefield than participating in a learning experience.
Judicial Procedures at the University of Southern Mississippi
You could follow all the rules listed above and still find yourself in trouble. Instructors can and do make mistakes. They sometimes accuse innocent students or assign penalties that are far out of proportion to the offense. In addition to knowing the rules, then, you also need to be familiar with the judicial process, so you'll know how to defend yourself.
First, you should know that your instructor has the primary responsibility for identifying and responding to academic misconduct. They are supposed to meet with you to explain the charges. However, there are no rules about how they go about deciding whether or not you are responsible for a violation, and they can assign sanctions as they see fit. Typically, sanctions include
- Verbal warnings
- Written warnings
- Makeup assignments
- Lowered grade on the assignment in question, up to a zero
- Lowered grade in the course, up to a failure
Should you disagree with your instructor's decision, your first challenge must be to the department chair. If the chair cannot resolve the issue, you may then initiate formal appeal proceedings. Your case will be heard by the Academic Integrity Appeals Board. This Board is made up of five members—three faculty and two students.
The hearing is an opportunity to make your case. You have a right to examine all the evidence, which can be crucial in constructing your arguments. In addition, you have the right to call witnesses to testify on your behalf. Finally, you may consult an attorney, and you may bring your attorney with you to the hearing. However, they may not address the Board directly.
The Board's decision is based on a majority vote and relies on a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” According to this standard, the members must find you responsible if they believe it is more than fifty percent likely you committed an offense.
Let's be clear: unlike some other schools, the University of Mississippi does give you the means to challenge your instructors' decisions. In addition, it gives you some important rights you can use to defend yourself. That doesn't mean the process is easy to navigate or that cases are easy to win. This is yet another reason why you need an attorney on your side. An attorney who knows USM procedures and who has experience representing student clients is going to give you the very best chance of success.
Joseph D. Lento, Academic Misconduct Attorney-Advisor
College isn't what it used to be. You're not just called in to the Dean's office and given a stern lecture anymore. Proving your innocence or questioning the severity of a sanction means doing legal battle with your school's faculty and administration. Don't try to take on that battle alone.
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.