Once upon a time, you could cheat on an exam and the harshest punishment you might expect was a stern lecture from the Dean. Those days are long past. Today, academic misconduct is a serious offense. You can wind up failing a course. Multiple offenses can get you expelled from your school altogether. Defending yourself can be complicated and involve collecting evidence, tracking down witnesses, and presenting your case before a hearing panel.
A serious charge demands a serious response. Whether you're entirely innocent, made an honest mistake, or are just looking to reduce the severity of your sanction, your best chance of salvaging your academic reputation and moving forward toward your degree is to hire an attorney-advisor to represent you.
What Is Academic Misconduct, Anyway?
Rather than talk about “misconduct,” South Dakota State University (SDSU) takes a positive approach, focusing on “integrity.” The opening paragraph of the school's Policy on Academic Misconduct and Academic Appeals explains integrity this way:
Integrity and honor function as forms of a ‘social contract' where individuals have a duty to follow the rules and norms of academia as well as a duty to ensure their peers also follow such rules and norms.
That's a fancy way of saying that no one should be allowed to gain an unfair advantage in completing their coursework or obtaining their degree.
The policy goes on to define five specific categories of misconduct.
- Cheating: This term typically refers to the use of unauthorized resources to complete your coursework. SDSU goes further, noting that you are responsible for abiding by every rule an instructor sets forth and avoiding any behavior that a “Reasonable Person” might consider cheating.
- Plagiarism: In general, this refers to the attempt to pass another person's work or ideas off as your own without giving them due credit. Obviously, having another person write your paper would qualify. Plagiarism doesn't have to be so extreme, though. Simply including a quote from an article without using quotation marks and providing a clear citation would also count.
- Fabrication: This involves inventing information or data as part of your coursework. You can't, for instance, simply make up a source for a paper or falsify a lab report for an experiment you didn't actually perform.
- Misrepresentation: This has to do with trying to convince someone you are acting on behalf of the university when you're not authorized to do so.
The Academic Misconduct Process
In addition to laying out the rules, SDSU's policy on academic misconduct describes the process instructors must use for identifying and punishing violations and the process students can use to appeal their instructors' decisions.
As you might expect, instructors have the primary responsibility for responding to academic misconduct. After all, they're the ones in the best position to recognize when cheating or plagiarism occur.
An instructor's first responsibility is to inform the school's Student Conduct Officer, who can let them know whether a student has a prior offense. In addition, instructors must:
- “Thoroughly document” the misconduct
- Review all evidence before making a charge
- Inform their Department Head of the incident
- Meet with the student to explain the allegations and give the student an opportunity to respond
Allegations can be resolved “informally” if the instructor decides the student is innocent of the charges or if the student admits to the charges and accepts the sanction the instructor has assigned. Sanctions are usually academic in nature and include things like:
- Verbal or written warning
- Resubmission or replacement assignment
- Lowered grade on the assignment, up to a zero
- Extra assignment on the nature of misconduct
- Lowered grade in the course, up to an F
If a case isn't resolved informally, it is subject to the Student Conduct Process. In simple terms, the Conduct Officer conducts a full investigation, and students are allowed to defend themselves at a formal hearing before a Student Conduct Panel.
At SDSU, students have a number of important due process rights in such cases. Among these are the right to a presumption of “Not Responsible” (Innocent), the right to have an advisor present during meetings and hearings, the right to present witnesses, and the right to submit questions to the panel to be asked of any witness.
Finally, you should know repeat offenses are subject to harsher penalties. These can include probation, suspension, and expulsion.
Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Attorney-Advisor
Students don't always feel comfortable challenging their professors. Going through the formal resolution process can be a daunting experience, and there's no guarantee you will win your case. Under those circumstances, it may seem simpler and easier just to accept the charge against you and any penalty that might go with it. Why bother fighting, especially if the punishment seems particularly light?
Unfortunately, there are no “light” punishments. Even a warning can wind up in your academic file. That can cause you to lose scholarships. You might have trouble getting internships or getting into a graduate program. And you don't want to have to explain in an interview with a prospective employer why you cheated on your astronomy final.
Better to fight for your reputation. Joseph D. Lento can help you do that.
Joseph D. Lento is a qualified defense attorney. 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 he knows how it applies to higher education. In addition, he's adept at communicating 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 can help you get the very best possible resolution to your case.
If you've been accused of any type 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.