Academic Misconduct Can Affect Security Clearance Eligibility

Even though academic misconduct allegations can often be attributed to youthful mistakes, or may even be the result of a misunderstanding, it's important that you seek legal guidance right away when mounting a defense against accusations.

The mistakes students make while they're in school can have far-reaching consequences that don't materialize until many years down the road. Specifically, academic misconduct that includes cheating, plagiarism, and other acts of dishonesty can prove to be a bar to federal security clearance eligibility when entering the workforce. Security clearance can even be revoked if the misconduct occurs after you've already received your clearance.

It may come as a surprise to learn that numerous jobs require a security clearance. The federal government employs, or contracts with, just over 9 million workers, many of whom require security clearance to perform their duties. If you have your sights set on a career with the State Department, or you're already in an ROTC program, then this number may not come as a shock to you. The important thing to know, though, is that academic misconduct can jeopardize current or future security clearance eligibility, ultimately limiting your job outlook.

Joseph D. Lento has vast experience helping students and their parents through the defense process of academic misconduct allegations. Mr. Lento understands how important your academic record is in terms of future success.

ROTC Cadets Accused of Academic Misconduct

The ROTC is an attractive path through higher education for many individuals. ROTC cadets receive training for military service, college tuition, and job security upon graduation. Students in ROTC programs may ultimately end up in the Air Force, the Marines, the Navy, or the Army and as such, there will come a point when they must obtain certain security clearance.

This point sometimes comes earlier than cadets expect, however, because the federal government wants to ensure that cadets are eligible for security clearance before investing time and resources into their training.

Importantly, ROTC programs also require students to maintain certain GPA averages during the course of their college careers. An academic misconduct investigation that results in suspension, expulsion, or the failure of a course will undoubtedly impact ROTC standing. ROTC cadets who've signed a scholarship contract with the program will additionally lose all of their funding if this occurs, so the competent defense of misconduct allegations is paramount.

Over 4 Million Government Employees and Private Contractors Require Security Clearance

The federal government is responsible for 6% of the workforce in the United States, and at least 4 million of those hired must obtain a security clearance.

If you're in school now, and don't have immediate post-graduate plans to seek out a government position that requires security clearance, you should still conduct yourself in a manner that wouldn't close the door on federal employment opportunities down the line. After all, federal jobs are coveted for their benefit programs and stability.

Regardless of whether you're planning to become a lawyer, doctor, or an accountant, there's opportunity for you within the federal government. You don't want to risk the chance to practice your profession within the applicable government branch just because you exercised poor judgment when you were younger and then suffered an inadequate defense of that judgment.

If you're accused of academic misconduct, you need to think about how it will impact your future in addition to the present. The investigation and disciplinary actions handed down by your school are often severe, and a record of it will be maintained in your file and later discovered when you apply for security clearance.

An experienced attorney-advisor will advocate for you and leverage their experience to negotiate with your school's disciplinary board to minimize damage to your future federal employment opportunity.

Private Contractors Also Need Security Clearance

The federal government hires millions of private contractors, and they too are often required to obtain security clearance before they're able to start their work. According to a CRS Report, over 1 million contractors received security clearance in 2015.

Private contractors are individuals who are party to a contract with a federal agency or department, wherein the contractor agrees to provide services or products to the federal government. The services can range from Department of Defense needs to IT Security needs and more.

In some cases, you may be required to obtain security clearance even when you haven't personally entered into a contract with the federal government. For example, if the company you work for enters into a federal contract to provide a service that you will contribute to, then you may be required to have security clearance if you're given classified information to perform the duties of your job.

The Three Types of Security Clearance

Security Clearance is defined as a determination that a federal employee or a private contractor “is eligible for access to national security information.”

There are a variety of security clearance types falling into three main categories—Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. The higher the security clearance required, the more in-depth the background check into your past will be. Almost no stone will be left unturned, and you can be sure that those handling your clearance eligibility investigation will find out if you have a misconduct record from years earlier.

Confidential Security Clearance is the most common and most easily obtained type of clearance. Confidential Security Clearance will be required when the job you're applying for involves access to classified information that could pose damage to the nation's security. Cybersecurity analysts and information systems operators or engineers are a few examples of the kinds of jobs that may require confidential security clearance.

The second level of security clearance is called Secret Security Clearance and will be required when an individual has access to confidential information that could cause serious harm or damage to the United States if handled inappropriately. These positions have more to do with your access to the information than they do the seniority of your position, and even administrative assistance within the federal government may be required to obtain Secret Security Clearance.

Finally, the third and most stringent type of security clearance is Top Secret Security Clearance. This clearance is reserved for federal employees handling the most sensitive information related to national security. Misuses of this sensitive information could result in “exceptionally grave damage” to the country. If you seek out Top Secret Security Clearance, the clearance investigators will conduct interviews with friends, family, educators, those who knew you in college, and so on.

Security clearance eligibility lasts for the duration of your job, or for 5 years—whichever is shorter. It's also important to note that you can be reinvestigated at any time during your clearance period, so if academic misconduct occurs after you receive your clearance but before the expiration of your clearance period, you can still find yourself in hot water if you don't immediately secure counsel from a knowledgeable student misconduct defense attorney who can mitigate the disciplinary actions threatened by your school.

Academic Misconduct That Can Jeopardize Your Security Clearance Eligibility

You might wonder how academic misconduct can jeopardize your security clearance. While other types of misconduct, such as sexual misconduct or discriminatory misconduct seem an obvious red flag to security clearance, academic misconduct appears rather benign by comparison.

According to federal law, there are thirteen guidelines by which your security clearance eligibility will be assessed.

These guidelines are outlined as follows:

  1. Guideline A: Allegiance to the United States
  2. Guideline B: Foreign influence
  3. Guideline C: Foreign preference
  4. Guideline D: Sexual behavior
  5. Guideline E: Personal conduct
  6. Guideline F: Financial considerations
  7. Guideline G: Alcohol consumption
  8. Guideline H: Drug involvement
  9. Guideline I: Emotional, mental, and personality disorders
  10. Guideline J: Criminal conduct
  11. Guideline K: Security violations
  12. Guideline L: Outside activities
  13. Guideline M: Misuse of Information Technology Systems

Notably, Guidelines E, G, H, I, and M lend themselves to application in an academic misconduct violation. Under Guideline E, a pattern of dishonesty may demonstrate to investigators that you aren't fit for security clearance. Academic misconduct, such as falsifying records, cheating, or plagiarism fit well within an assertation of dishonesty, and depending on the severity of the behavior, especially when coupled with ongoing evidence of misconduct, it may result in a rejection of your security clearance application.

Guideline M is concerned with whether or not a person has shown a willingness to manipulate information technology systems. It may be hard to visualize how Guideline M and academic misconduct intertwine, but just look at this example of a college student who hacked into the school's system to change his grades. Although this is a serious offense, there are instances where hacking may be committed as only a joke. Unfortunately, even that may still constitute grounds for a deeper investigation into someone's history of dishonesty.

Academic Misconduct as a Sign of More Serious Problems

Guidelines G, H, and I pertain to addiction and emotional or mental wellbeing. While academic misconduct policies will focus on honesty and performance, there are instances when academic misconduct may be indicative of a substance abuse issue or a mental health issue. Individuals suffering from these conditions may be overwhelmed with coursework and find their grades slipping. They could be pushed to cheat or commit other dishonest acts.

When your security clearance application is processed, investigators may speak with individuals who knew you in college. If you've applied for Top Secret Clearance, investigators will go through every detail of your life with a fine-tooth comb. Even if you've never been arrested for a D.W.I., a former classmate or instructor who's being questioned about your academic misconduct record may add details about a substance abuse issue you hadn't otherwise disclosed on your security clearance application.

Lying on Security Clearance Forms is a Federal Crime

It's important to note that even if there are several years separating your academic misconduct record and your security clearance application, you do still need to be truthful on the security clearance application. Not only is dishonesty on your application a violation of Guideline E, but it's also a federal crime to conceal material facts from your security clearance form.

Understanding Mitigating Circumstances

The best way to ensure you'll be eligible for security clearance in the future is to handle academic misconduct claims appropriately when they arise. The 13 Guidelines listed above each contain a description of mitigating circumstances that, if demonstrated at the time of the misconduct accusation, may serve to overcome a violation of the Guidelines.

For example, in most cases, if you're able to demonstrate that the misconduct accusation was an isolated event, and that you've shown a desire to reform your behavior, you have a better chance at gaining security clearance. Many of the mitigating circumstances offered in the security clearance eligibility guidelines will mirror those an experienced academic misconduct attorney will advise you to demonstrate during the course of your academic misconduct disciplinary proceedings. Ensuring you take the best defense strategy steps as soon as possible will have long-term benefits.

How to Defend Against Academic Misconduct Claims

Academic misconduct accusations are common. Building a strong defense to them with the help of an experienced attorney-advisor will help you move forward with your education and your future employment opportunities.

As soon as you're notified of a misconduct allegation, you should find a legal advisor who can act as your advocate in communicating with your school disciplinary board. Do not respond to the university while your emotions are heightened, but rather allow your attorney-advisor to facilitate communication.

You should review the school's code of conduct so that you can understand the accusations against you. Additionally, take detailed notes of any email, text, or incident that you can recall and provide them to your attorney-advisor. If you suspect that you've been accused of misconduct as a result of discrimination or retaliation, it is paramount that you communicate this concern right away.

Defending an academic misconduct claim can be a tedious and highly procedural process. Be patient and follow the advice of your attorney-advisor.

Contact Academic Misconduct Attorney Joseph D. Lento

Joseph D. Lento understands what it takes to defend academic misconduct allegations made against you by your university. He works tirelessly to ensure present and future opportunities are protected while simultaneously communicating actionable steps that will help students recover from these allegations. To discover how the Lento Law Firm can help you, contact 888-535-3686 today.

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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 our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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