As a college or university student, you agree to abide by the school's rules when you enroll. This means that alleged violations are often handled internally by colleges or universities. If you or a loved one has been accused of unauthorized assistance or collaboration, you must read through your school's handbook so that you have a sense of what the process will look like. Most schools do not generally allow respondents to have an attorney to engage in the hearing directly, however many do allow you to bring an advisor.
What is unauthorized collaboration?
Unauthorized collaboration involves working with someone on an assignment without receiving the professor or TA's explicit permission. Or perhaps, while working on a group project, a student is included in the list of authors, despite not contributing to the work.
What is unauthorized assistance or aid?
Unauthorized assistance is a serious offense when you are a student at a university or college. Sometimes a school recommends that it be handled at the professor level, however, in other instances, it bubbles up to a disciplinary proceeding or hearing. For many schools, unauthorized assistance falls under the umbrella of “cheating” in their code of conduct. It could include actions such as:
- Providing unauthorized aid to another student with tests, quizzes, exams, or assignments.
- Receiving unauthorized assistance from another student on any material that is turned in to a professor
- Using an unauthorized aid to complete an assignment, quiz, test, project, or exam.
What is an example of unauthorized assistance or collaboration?
Sometimes, an innocent action might fall into the category of unauthorized assistance or collaboration. For example, imagine you are taking a final for History 101. When you enter the room, you're told that all unauthorized items need to be left with your bags at the front of the room. You are only allowed to have a writing utensil at your desk. There are posters around the room that remind students that calculators, cell phones, Apple Watches or Fitbits, and other unauthorized aides are not permitted.
Your phone is on silent or do not disturb and in the back pocket of your jeans. You'd turned it on to silent before you came into the classroom, and because it's in your back pocket, you figure it's okay. Or maybe you even forgot that it was there. Midway through the exam, you ask to use the bathroom, and a TA comes with you. They see the phone in your back pocket and confiscate it.
Although you were not using your phone at all, your university or college's Code of Conduct might state that any student found in possession of any unauthorized assistance violates the rules.
What steps can you take to protect yourself?
If you've been accused of unauthorized assistance or unauthorized collaboration, it's important that you act immediately to try and lessen the negative impact on your academic career. There are several steps that you can take in order to accomplish this mitigation. Although the below list isn't exhaustive, it is a great place to begin.
Review the Code of Conduct
You should become very familiar with the relevant sections of your college or university's Code of Conduct or Student Handbook. Although you might not have read through the material when you first began the semester or year, you should take a look now. Most schools have information on their website now, which makes finding the relevant portions much easier. If you pull up the page and then use Command+F (on a Mac) or Control+F (on a PC), you can search for “unauthorized assistance” or “unauthorized collaboration” and save some time. This material will outline your school's process, the potential consequences, and the appeals process, if necessary.
Speak with an attorney-advisor who's familiar with academic misconduct violations
An experienced attorney-advisor will understand how universities and college proceedings tend to unfold and will be able to use your school's particular process to advise you on the best possible strategy. They can help you prepare to rebut your professor's evidence and argue for your case. Although the proceedings at most schools require students to speak on their own behalf, an attorney-advisor can ensure that you have a strong defense presentation so that you can receive the best possible outcome.
Document everything about the incident
You should gather everything that you have related to the alleged incident. Sit down at your desk or outside and recollect and record all of the details about the incident. Your notes should include potential witnesses, relevant communication such as text messages or emails or DMs, the date and time of the alleged incident.
Don't discuss the circumstances with anyone
Although you might want to make your case to your friends or your teacher, you shouldn't discuss the incident with anyone on campus. An investigation for academic integrity is a very serious offense and so you should only speak about the matter with an experienced attorney-advisor. If your professor calls you into the office to discuss an alleged offense, don't jump to defend yourself. Instead, wait until you've had some time and some space to provide a statement. It might seem counter-intuitive, but that way, you can ensure that you are well-prepared.
An Experienced Academic Misconduct Attorney-Advisor
If you've been accused of academic misconduct, you don't want to waste time while the school gathers their own evidence for the disciplinary hearing. Allegations of unauthorized collaboration or assistance can severely impact not only your college career, but also your future grad school applications and also internship and employment opportunities. You want an experienced attorney-advisor who can assist you in gathering a strong defense. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have many years of experience and expertise when it comes to academic misconduct and fighting successfully on students' behalf. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or contact us online to discuss your circumstances.