The one rule to remember as a college student? Expect the unexpected. You just can't know when your economics professor is going to spring a quiz on you; you can't know when a plain old late-night study session is going to turn into a full-blown, four-alarm keg party; and you can't know when you might find yourself accused of cheating.
Think it can't happen to you? Think again. University faculty have become pretty trigger-happy over the last several years. They're far too quick to level accusations at students and far too zealous when it comes to assigning sanctions. And, if you should find yourself accused, you should know that proving your innocence won't be an easy matter. University disciplinary procedures can be nearly impossible to navigate. Plus, most schools tend to side with instructors in these cases, to the point of sometimes treating students unfairly.
How do you deal with a charge of academic misconduct? You find out all you can—right now—about your school's policies. You learn the rules. You make certain you understand how investigations work. Most importantly, you know how to find a good attorney-advisor to help you when you need it. In short, you expect the unexpected, and you prepare for it before it happens.
Defining Academic Misconduct
The first key to fighting an allegation of academic misconduct? Know the rules. You can't craft a solid defense unless you know exactly what you've been accused of doing. Of course, as a bonus, knowing the rules can help you avoid making mistakes in the first place.
The University of Central Missouri's Academic Honesty Policy is actually pretty simple as such policies go. It lists just three specific types of dishonesty.
- Plagiarism: Plagiarism is a broad term that can include many different sins. You probably already know you can't download a paper from an online paper mill and try to pass it off as your own. However, you also have to be careful to give credit to all your sources when you write a paper.
- Cheating: UCM lists a handful of specific examples of “cheating,” like copying another student's work, asking another student to take an exam for you, and gaining advanced knowledge of exam contents. In simple terms, though, cheating involves using any unauthorized source to complete your coursework. Whether it's a book, a website, or another person, if your instructor hasn't approved it, you're probably cheating.
- Breach of Standards of Professional Ethics: Finally, many students at UCM have opportunities to work in research and on real-world projects. The school expects you to maintain the same ethical standards as any professional working in your field.
Avoid these three categories of misconduct, and you're golden, right? Not so fast. UCM also offers a broad definition of integrity that includes:
“any act, which would deceive, cheat, or defraud so as to promote or enhance one's academic standing.”
In simple terms, anything that could potentially give you an unfair advantage in completing your coursework can get you accused of academic misconduct. That means you have to be careful if you want to avoid missteps. It also means that no matter how careful you are, you may still not be able to avoid making a mistake. There are just too many possible mistakes to make.
When you find yourself in trouble, you're going to need help dealing with it. A qualified, experienced attorney-advisor gives you your best chance at keeping your academic career on track.
Processes and Penalties
Just as important as knowing the rules is knowing how the school handles accusations of rule violations. Whether you're in a courtroom facing a judge, or a classroom facing an instructor, a successful defense requires knowing how the judicial system operates.
At the University of Central Missouri, faculty have primary responsibility for identifying and responding to academic misconduct. However, they must follow procedure if they believe you've committed an offense.
First, your instructor must meet with you to discuss the charges. This is your opportunity to give your side of the story, and if your instructor accepts your version of events, they may dismiss the charges entirely. If, however, they believe you're responsible for a violation, they can issue a sanction drawn from a pre-approved list:
- Revision of the original assignment or a make-up assignment
- A grade of F on the assignment in question
- A grade of F in the course
- Recommendation that you be dis-enrolled from the course
- Recommendation that you be dis-enrolled from your degree program
- Recommendation that you be suspended from UCM
UCM further requires all instructors submit an Academic Alert Form to the school's Academic Alert team any time they assign a sanction. This means the Alert team has a record of your infractions and can issue harsher penalties for additional offenses.
Of course, if you accept the charge against you and the penalty that goes with it, the case is simple. You do have the right to appeal your instructor's decisions, though. Essentially, this process involves moving up the administrative chain of command. That is, you first appeal to the chair of the department that houses the course. If that should fail, you may further appeal to the college dean. Finally, you may appeal the dean's decision to the school's provost. Any of these officials has the power to further investigate the case, consider evidence and interview witnesses, and ultimately decide whether or not you are responsible for a violation.
Joseph D. Lento: Academic Misconduct Attorney
Not everyone chooses to fight academic misconduct charges. Even totally innocent students sometimes accept the charges against them rather than go through the complicated process of an appeal.
This is almost always a mistake. No matter what penalty you've been assigned, it can have long-term repercussions on your academic and professional careers. Even a warning can wind up in your permanent file, and that can cost you scholarship money, prevent you from getting into graduate school, and interfere with your job prospects. Don't risk these outcomes. Take every allegation seriously. That means preparing yourself; it also means finding help.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who specializes in academic misconduct cases. Whether you're simply meeting with a professor to discuss their accusation or going before the dean to prove your innocence, Joseph D. Lento can help. Joseph D. Lento has handled hundreds of cases just like yours. He's a skilled negotiator and a tenacious fighter. Don't let your school trample your rights or impose penalties far out of proportion to your offense. If you or your child has been accused of academic misconduct, contact the Lento Law Firm today.
Call 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.