Academic Misconduct at the University of West Florida

There may once have been a time when an accusation of cheating or plagiarism might get you a warning or a stern lecture from the dean. Those days are over. Colleges and universities take academic misconduct extremely seriously, and the penalties can be severe.

We hear every year that cheating is on the rise. College faculty hear those rumors too, and they've become downright paranoid about it. They accuse students far too quickly. Worse, the last decade in education has seen a steady inflation of misconduct sanctions. One offense can cause you to fail a course, and multiple offenses can get you expelled. Even lesser punishments can be problematic, though. A simple warning that winds up in your academic file can cost you scholarships, keep you from applying to graduate school, and even interfere with job applications.

With so much on the line, you really don't have a choice other than to fight accusations. That doesn't mean it's easy. You have to be careful, for instance, about how you word complaints to faculty and administrators. Procedures can be complex and difficult to navigate. Schools don't like to admit they're wrong. None of this means you shouldn't fight. However, it does suggest you need help in that fight. What you need is an attorney-advisor, someone to help you build your case and to help you present it.

Defining Academic Misconduct

A strong defense requires knowing exactly what you've been accused of doing. Of course, academic integrity means different things to different schools. The University of West Florida's policy on academic misconduct (UWF/REG 3.0300), for instance, links integrity to professionalism, suggesting that a successful professional career is tied to a familiarity with the principles of professional ethics.

In more concrete terms, the policy lists nine separate types of academic violations (though, importantly, it notes this list is not inclusive).

  • Cheating: Using unauthorized materials to complete your coursework
  • Academic theft: Obtaining unauthorized academic materials (tests, etc.)
  • Plagiarism: Attempting to present another person's work as your own
  • Resubmission of work: Submitting the same work in more than one course without express permission
  • Fabrication: Falsifying information as part of your coursework
  • Bribery: Offering something of value to influence a grade or other academic decision
  • Misrepresentation: Omitting any information in order to affect a grade or gain some other academic advantage
  • Facilitating dishonesty: Helping another person to commit academic misconduct
  • Violation of professional standards: Unethical behavior related to coursework as defined by your specific field of study

Sanctions and Procedures at the University of West Florida

Beyond knowing what you've been accused of doing, you also need to know what processes and procedures your school has in place for adjudicating allegations.

The University of West Florida has two different procedures in place, one for informal resolutions and one for formal resolutions.

Of course, instructors have the primary responsibility for identifying and punishing instances of academic misconduct at UWF, giving them a tremendous amount of authority. They are almost entirely in charge of the Informal Resolution process.

Basically, if your instructor believes you've committed a policy violation, they're supposed to meet with you and discuss the situation. That involves laying out the specific charges and giving you a chance to respond. In addition, they assign a sanction and ask you to sign an Academic Misconduct Procedure Form stating you understand the charges and accept the sanction.

No matter what the accusation, faculty require you to complete a training program on the nature of academic integrity within fifteen days of the infraction. In addition, they can assign a classroom sanction.

  • Verbal or written warning
  • Makeup work or resubmission
  • Lowered grade on the assignment in question, up to a zero
  • Lowered grade in the course, up to an F

If you accept responsibility and the sanctions that go with it, the case ends with this Informal Resolution.

Of course, you have the right to challenge your instructor's decisions. You can dispute the charge itself, the severity of the sanction, or both. Doing so means going through the school's Formal Resolution process. This is also the process the school uses if you've been accused of multiple infractions or if your professor has recommended suspension or expulsion as a sanction.

The Formal Resolution process involves a live hearing before the Academic Misconduct Committee. This committee is a four-person panel drawn from a pool of faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, and administrators. At least two members of the panel must be students.

At the hearing itself, both you and your instructor have an opportunity to make arguments, submit evidence, and call witnesses. In addition, you may be accompanied by an advisor, who may be an attorney. This person may advise you during proceedings but may not address the panel directly. Finally, the burden of proof is on the instructor, and decisions are based on a legal standard of evidence known as “Clear and Convincing.” In essence, this means panel members can find you responsible for a violation if they believe it is substantially more likely than not that you committed an offense.

Finally, you also have the right to appeal the hearing panel's decision to the Provost. However, appeals must be filed within ten days of the hearing, and grounds for appeal are strictly limited to

  • A violation of your rights during the process
  • The discovery of new information
  • Decision that's not supported by the evidence
  • An inappropriate sanction

Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Attorney-Advisor

It's worth saying again: If you stand accused of academic misconduct, the University of West Florida gives you the right to an attorney. You should always take advantage of that right. Your future is at stake, and you won't find it easy to take on your school alone.

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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