If you're still thinking college is like Animal House or Old School, it's time you woke up to reality. There may once have been a time when you could nail your professor's office furniture to the ceiling and get off with a stern lecture from the Dean. That time is long gone, though. Schools today take academic integrity seriously: they are quick to accuse students of breaking the rules and harsh when it comes to handing out punishments.
If you find yourself accused of misconduct, you may be tempted to try and handle it yourself. In fact, your school may tell you you don't need an advisor, and that you don't need to get an attorney involved. The fact is, if your school finds you responsible, that finding can have long-lasting repercussions on your academic and professional careers. An attorney gives you the very best chance of salvaging your reputation and ensuring your future stays bright.
How East Tennessee State Defines Academic Misconduct
East Tennessee State's Academic Integrity policy seems relatively simple and straightforward. For one thing, it lists just three types of violations. In addition, it does little to define these in concrete terms.
Here's what the policy specifically prohibits.
- Cheating: Cheating involves the use of any unauthorized materials in the completion of any academic work. It's important to recognize just how broad the phrase “unauthorized materials” is. It can include anything from advanced copies of an exam, to crib notes, to the internet. Asking another student to take a test for you would qualify. In fact, even something as seemingly innocuous as asking a student from another section what to expect on the test can get you accused of cheating.
- Plagiarism: You probably know that plagiarism means attempting to pass off another person's words or ideas as your own without giving them due credit. As with cheating, though, this offense covers a wide range of activities. Obviously, you can't steal whole passages from an academic article and insert them into your paper. Even borrowing an idea, though, can get you in trouble. In addition, plagiarism isn't just confined to the written word. You can plagiarize images, video, music, even computer code. In fact, some professors will accuse you of academic misconduct for using an online image without properly citing it.
- Fabrication: ETSU describes this as the “falsification” of any materials involved in completing an “academic exercise.” That would seem to apply to things like inventing sources for a paper or making up lab results.
The problem with a brief list of offenses that are only vaguely defined is that it leaves open the possibility that your instructor might accuse you of misconduct for virtually anything. Based on ETSU's definition of plagiarism, for instance, you could be accused simply for improperly citing a source. Your professor could conceivably charge you with misconduct for forging a doctor's note to get out of a quiz. Further, the policy notes that you can be accused not just for direct violations but for indirect violations. It also points out that helping someone else commit misconduct makes you just as guilty as if you'd committed the misconduct yourself.
The very best to protect yourself from an allegation is to make sure you read course syllabi carefully. In general, schools almost always side with instructors in disputes if they've clearly identified what they expect in their syllabi.
Academic Misconduct Procedures
At ETSU, your instructor has the primary responsibility for identifying and punishing instances of academic misconduct. Sanctions can include anything from a warning to a lower grade on the assignment, to a lower grade—including an F—in the course. Again, instructors have carte blanch, for the most part, to define misconduct and to determine sanctions.
However, you do have some important rights.
- Your instructor must consult with their department chair before lowering your grade.
- Your instructor must notify the Dean's Office of any accusation.
- The Dean's Office must notify you of the accusation and sanction within seven days.
- You may contest your instructor's decisions to the school's Hearing Board.
- The Hearing Board includes three instructors but also three students.
- You are allowed to appoint an advisor to accompany you to the hearing, and this advisor may be an attorney. However, advisors cannot participate directly in the proceedings.
- You may appeal the hearing board's decision to the “appropriate vice president.” Grounds for appeal include
- The discovery of new evidence
- A procedural error
- An unduly harsh sanction.
While you do have these rights and others, it's not always easy to know how to use them to best advantage. For that, you need an attorney as your advisor, someone who's familiar with the concept of due process and who understands how your school's judicial procedures operate.
Joseph D. Lento, Academic Misconduct Attorney-Advisor
Students don't always contest the charges against them. That's almost always a bad decision. Many students worry that they may face repercussions if they challenge their instructor. Others feel like going through the trouble of a hearing would take too much time and effort. However, sanctions for academic misconduct can be serious—up to, and including expulsion. More importantly, even a minor sanction, like a written warning, can have long-term consequences. If a sanction appears on your transcript, it alerts scholarship committees, internship committees, and hiring committees that you have a history of dishonesty. You have the right to contest your instructor's decisions, and it's in your best interest to take advantage of that right.
You're going to need help, though. ETSU gives you the right to an advisor, and the right to choose an attorney as your advisor. Take advantage of these rights.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who specializes in defending student clients. In fact, he built his career fighting for student rights. 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, you can trust Joseph D. Lento to get you 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.