Academic misconduct seems like it should be such a simple matter. Your professor accuses you, and you either confess or deny the charges; you either assert your innocence or you accept the professor's or the school's sanction.
Life is never as simple as it should be, though, right? What happens, for instance, when an instructor with an itchy trigger finger falsely accuses you but then refuses to admit they made a mistake? What happens when maybe you did plagiarize a bit, but the punishment the instructor gives you is way out of proportion to your offense?
Northern Illinois University does have a process for dealing with each and every sort of complication that might arise. Those processes aren't simple, though, and if you want to defend yourself, you need to take the time now to understand just how everything works.
Defining Academic Misconduct
First and foremost, you need to know exactly what constitutes a violation of NIU's academic misconduct policy. This can help you avoid getting in trouble in the first place, but more importantly, it can provide important ammunition for proving your innocence if you should find yourself accused.
This part is fairly simple, or at least it seems simple at first glance. NIU identifies two kinds of violations:
- Cheating: This word applies to any “unauthorized” use of materials to help you complete your coursework. Unauthorized materials could mean almost anything, from course notes to Google to your roommate. If you're supposed to be relying only on what you know, any extra help is cheating.
- Plagiarism: Most of us know this word as well. It means passing another person's work off as your own and not giving them credit. Like cheating, plagiarism is a broad term. It applies to written work, but you can also plagiarize music, videos, even computer code.
Two well-known terms. Easy enough, right? Not so fast.
There is a bit of fine print to consider in NIU's policy. For example, it's important to know that you can be charged with academic misconduct for trying to commit a violation, even if you don't succeed. You can also be accused of helping someone else commit a violation. In addition, the policy is careful to note that “any behavior” prohibited by the course syllabus can be treated as misconduct. In other words, cheating and plagiarism aren't necessarily the only sins that can get you into trouble.
Second, while simple rules may sound like a good thing, simple can also mean “vague.” Vague instructions can make it hard to know exactly what's right and what's wrong. What one professor sees as a “typo,” for instance, could strike another as “plagiarism.” One instructor's definition of “collaboration” could be another's example of “cheating.”
Getting Justice at Northern Illinois University
The really complicated bit of NIU's academic misconduct policy, though, is how the school deals with accusations. Of course, things are simple if you confess and accept whatever sanction your instructor decides to impose. If you're looking to defend yourself, though, things can get messy.
Basically, there are two levels to the school's academic misconduct process: the Course level and the Student Conduct level.
Cases usually begin on the course level, with accusations by instructors. If your instructor believes you've committed academic misconduct, their first responsibility is to meet with you and get your side of the story. If, after this meeting, they still believe you violated policy, then they assign a sanction. Sanctions can include anything from a warning to a failing grade in the course.
If you admit responsibility for the violation but feel the sanction is too severe, you can protest that sanction by using the department's grade appeal process. This process begins with the department chair. The chair meets separately with you and the instructor before making a determination about whether your sanction was fair or not. If that does not resolve the situation, you can then petition the department's Grade Review Board to re-consider your violation. When you make these kinds of appeals, you are dealing with the department, but you are still basically working through the Course level.
If, however, you insist on your complete innocence, the case moves from the Course level to the Student Conduct level. First, a Student Conduct Administrator decides whether your case should be heard by a single hearing officer of a hearing board. In either case, a hearing gives you the opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses to help prove your innocence. Importantly, you can be accompanied to hearings by an advisor, though this person may not communicate directly with the decision-makers.
Finally, your case can wind up in the Student Conduct arena for other reasons as well. If your violation is especially serious or if it isn't your first violation, the Student Conduct Officer may assign you a disciplinary sanction. Sanctions on this level are in addition to whatever academic sanctions your instructor originally imposed, and they are of a different category. Usually, conduct sanctions include probation, suspension, or expulsion.
What To Do if You're Accused
You can fight a false accusation. You can negotiate a more favorable sanction. And you should fight. Even a minor violation can mar your academic record. That can hurt your chances at scholarships, internships, graduate programs and fellowships, or even make it hard to find a job.
Few students do fight, though, and if they do, they do not fight as effectively as necessary. Why? Because the task seems so daunting. You have to know which processes to use. You have to decide what approach to use for each one. And, professors are scary, especially when they have the school back them up.
Here's the thing, though: you don't have to go through all of this alone.
Joseph D. Lento can help. Joseph D. Lento is an attorney who specializes in student misconduct cases. He's served as advisor to hundreds of students just like you, helping them get the fair resolutions they deserve. Joseph D. Lento knows how to untangle complex school policies, and he's experienced in dealing with university faculty and administrators. If you're worried about how an accusation of misconduct may affect your future, don't hesitate: Put Joseph D. Lento and his expert team at the Lento Law Firm to work for you.
If you or your child has been accused of academic misconduct, don't wait. Act now to protect your future. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use ouruse our automated online form.