Collaboration is a natural part of the college or university experience. Students frequently study together, work together on projects, etc., and some of that is to be expected. But when a student shares certain materials with another student without permission, it can be interpreted by the school as unauthorized sharing of academic materials—a form of academic misconduct that can be met with severe penalties.
The unfortunate thing about this type of academic misconduct is that many students do it without even realizing it's against the rules. If you are accused of unauthorized sharing, you could be facing anything from academic probation to dismissal from the school. Perhaps you didn't understand that the materials you shared with another student were a form of cheating. Maybe you simply didn't think about it. Perhaps you uploaded materials to a study website with the intent of helping other students, not realizing you were helping them cheat. Whatever the case, your academic and professional future now hangs in the balance—possibly over an honest mistake. When you're facing student disciplinary action by the school, getting help from an experienced attorney-advisor can help you obtain a fair outcome and possibly save your career prospects. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information to help you understand more about unauthorized sharing, what it is, what are the possible consequences, and what you need to do if you are accused.
What is Unauthorized Sharing of Academic Materials?
Unauthorized sharing of academic materials is the act of giving out study materials to other students—or receiving such materials—that have not been expressly approved by the instructor. Quite often, these include past or present course materials or assignments that are shared by well-meaning students with other students who have not yet taken the class or covered the material. These prohibited materials might include, but are not limited to, completed assignments, lecture notes, marked-up textbooks, papers, exams, lab notes, etc.
What Are Some Examples of Unauthorized Sharing?
Students often share unauthorized materials with each other without realizing what they are doing. Other times, these materials are shared deliberately for the purpose of giving a student an unfair advantage. Sometimes the materials are even sold for profit. Let's look at a few examples of unauthorized sharing:
- Emailing your notes from a class to another student who is taking the same class.
- Letting another student copy your notes for a class.
- Sharing a paper that you've written with another student who is working on the same assignment.
- Taking a picture of a professor's test and posting it online.
- Uploading completed assignments or textbook answers to prohibited study sites like CourseHero, Chegg, or Slader.
- Purchasing papers from an outside source.
- Recording lectures without authorization and posting them online or emailing them to other students.
Why Is Sharing of Certain Materials Considered Academic Misconduct?
Maintaining an environment of academic honesty is of paramount importance to colleges and universities. The ability to teach and test students fairly is predicated on the assumption that students are all working from a "level playing field" and certain students do not have an academic advantage over others. When students share unauthorized materials, they are disrupting the integrity of the academic environment, which not only prevents students from learning the information for themselves but also hurts the credibility of the school. If colleges and universities do not enforce a fair learning environment, for example, it can ultimately hurt their accreditation.
What Are the Possible Consequences of Unauthorized Sharing?
Schools have very strict rules on this particular form of academic misconduct. Depending on the severity of the offense, disciplinary action can range from a formal reprimand letter to academic probation and even suspension or expulsion.
If you are accused of unauthorized sharing or another form of academic misconduct, the school will generally follow a prescribed disciplinary process in which they will investigate the claims against you and give you an opportunity to share your side of the story. The process takes different forms based on the school's policies and structure, but it usually involves some version of the following:
- Initial complaint: A complaint is filed against you (typically by a professor or a student who observes the misconduct)
- Investigation: The committee responsible for monitoring/enforcing academic integrity will review the evidence, interview you and other witnesses.
- Disciplinary hearing: You will be asked to appear before the committee, the evidence will be presented, and you'll be given an opportunity to defend yourself.
- Final determination: The committee will decide whether you are guilty of the offense and recommend appropriate disciplinary action.
- Appeal: You'll have the opportunity to appeal the decision before it becomes final.
What Should I Do if I Am Accused of Unauthorized Sharing of Academic Materials?
Regardless of your guilt or innocence—or even if you committed the misconduct unintentionally by not understanding the rules—you will be entering the disciplinary process at a disadvantage. Despite any/all claims to be "fair," most schools work on a "preponderance of the evidence" basis, meaning they only have to determine that it is more than 50 percent likely that you committed the act in order to invoke discipline. Since this is not a court of law, you won't be permitted to hire an attorney to represent you officially. However, you are allowed to have an attorney in an advisory role--and an attorney-advisor's help can go a long way toward rescuing your career. Your attorney-advisor can:
- Evaluate the circumstances surrounding the allegations and let you know what's at stake
- Help you understand the school disciplinary process and what your rights are
- Advise you on the best defense you can give that will turn the committee toward leniency or dismissal of the claims
- Gather evidence and witnesses to support your side of the story
- Provide an added layer of accountability to the school to abide by its own policies and protect your rights
- Help you prepare an effective appeal, if necessary
An experienced attorney-advisor is a critical resource to help students and parents navigate the disciplinary process. Those who utilize an attorney-advisor are far more likely to receive a favorable outcome, from lesser penalties to disproving the claims entirely.
When you're accused of academic misconduct, it's more than just your reputation at stake. Being suspended or expelled will appear on your permanent academic record, hurting your chances of completing your education and damaging your credibility when trying to get hired for a job. Don't leave your fate in the hands of a disciplinary committee; take action now to protect yourself. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped countless students nationwide who are accused of academic misconduct. Call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to discuss your options.