Of all the truisms and clichés that speakers and writers trot out from time to time, one of the most undeniable and universal is this one: “to err is human.” (The second part of that old chestnut, of course, is “to forgive is divine,” but today, we will be talking less about forgiveness and more about the potential outcomes that such a human error can lead to.) It's also true that younger adults, in particular, tend to make more mistakes than their elder counterparts—simply because their brains are not yet fully developed. This milestone occurs much later than many people think; it's not until age 25 that a person becomes truly capable of controlling their own impulsive behavior, planning ahead and living according to that plan, and resisting the pull of peer pressure when it comes to making poor decisions.
In fact, according to neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, the chances of a 20-year-old man engaging in risky behavior is a whopping 50% more likely in the company of two friends than on his own. (And, yes, men's brains tend to mature more slowly than women's.)
Compounding the potential problem of bad behavior and dumb decisions is the fact that leaving one's parents' home and setting off for college is, for many students, a radical change in their circumstances. Suddenly the student is saddled with all sorts of responsibilities, from purchasing household supplies to feeding themselves, from budgeting to cleaning the toilet—all this on top of taking classes, studying independently, making friends, and learning, often for the first time, how to combat the challenge of school/life balance.
It's the proverbial perfect storm that can lead a young person to make some—well, let's just call them questionable decisions.
The Specific Circumstances Faced by Accounting Students
Before we go on to discuss the implications of academic misconduct for students who want to earn an accounting degree, let's take a peek at the educational requirements and career path opportunities of accounting.
The field of accounting is much broader than many people think. Some folks associate accountants only with keeping the books at a business or preparing income tax returns for individuals. However, there is a wide array of opportunities out there for someone who has graduated with an accounting degree—and the higher the degree, of course, the more avenues open up for a professional accountant.
At the low end of the spectrum, a student who has an aptitude for numbers and a desire to work in finance can choose to earn a six-month certificate or Associate's degree. More ambitious learners, or those who are interested in eventually teaching at the college level, can set their sights on a Master's degree or Ph.D. Right in the middle is the standard degree that most accounting students strive for: the Bachelor's degree.
A few of the careers that accountants may embark upon are:
- Accounts payable (AP) specialist
- Accounts receivable (AR) specialist
- Staff accountant
- Tax planning professional
- Financial advisor
- Forensic accountant
This is far from an exhaustive list, and there are many more possibilities for someone who holds a degree in accounting.
Once the future accountant has attained a Bachelor's or Master's degree in accounting, finance, or business administration, they can also decide to set out on the path to becoming a certified public accountant or CPA. The minimum requirements that students must meet and demonstrate to be awarded this designation include:
- The aforementioned degree
- The completion of 150 hours' worth of education
- Professional public accounting experience of no less than two years
- A passing grade on the Uniform CPA Exam
The Uniform CPA Exam is notoriously difficult, with pass rates of only around 50%, and requires a great deal of study and preparation. Many of the accountants who have succeeded in this endeavor report that they had to retake the four-part exam several times before receiving a passing grade and earning the title of CPA.
What Careers Can Accounting Students Look Forward To?
Once the accountant has met these criteria, they will be qualified for careers in public accounting, corporate accounting, or even government service, as well as senior- or executive-level versions of the non-CPA careers discussed above.
Some of these professional opportunities include:
- Financial analysis. These professionals analyze and interpret data in order to inform, advise, and guide their company when it comes to all matters involving money
- Internal auditing. Similarly, auditors have their finger on the pulse of a firm's finances. By collating financial figures, risk management issues, control processes, and other data, auditors keep their company's financial records up to date and on the right track
- Information Technology auditing. Ideal for someone who's as interested in technology as they are numbers, an IT auditor is tasked with overseeing the economic security, accuracy, and compliance of their employer.
- Tax accounting. There's more to this career than meets the eye. It's not solely about filling out forms 1040 or 1120; tax accounts stay abreast of the IRS's complicated tax laws and regulations, make informed suggestions regarding tax strategies for their company to take, and maintain all documents and records related to taxation.
- Management accounting. As you may have already guessed, this position is a hybrid of management and accounting that liaises with other departments' management teams. An accounting manager also comes up with budgets, keeps internal accounting matters in check, and advises the firm's principals vis-a-vis their growth opportunities and business decisions.
Regardless of the duration of their schooling and the degree that they earn, where they go to school, what career trajectory they take, and whether or not they go on to become a CPA, accounting students and practicing accountants alike must possess one fundamental trait: integrity. No corporation or individual will want to hire an accountant whose academic or professional record is marred by a youthful indiscretion.
The Very Real Consequences for Accountants of College Code Violations
Mistakes made in college, and the subsequent disciplinary issues that arise for the student who takes those missteps, are almost always going to be problematic. No matter what industry, employers don't look favorably upon transgressions that might indicate a lack of integrity on the part of the jobseeker.
But when it comes to applicants for accounting positions—given how closely and directly they work with the company's financials—the vetting process is going to be even more stringent, for obvious reasons: no firm can afford to have an untrustworthy employee, but especially not in their accounting department. Accountants, perhaps more so than many other kinds of white-collar professionals, are held to a high standard of honesty, integrity, and probity.
So, what happens, then, when a future accountant slips up in school? Is all that money spent on tuition and books, all those student loans taken out, just thrown away, never to be recouped?
That's where the services of an experienced attorney-advocate come in. These professionals can quite literally determine what course an accountant's career will take—or, for that matter, if he or she will have a career at all. Let's take a closer look at the type of transgressions that can jeopardize the future of a would-be CPA, as well as the available remedies that a legal advisor can administer.
Code of Conduct Violations
The college or university where you are enrolled, or where you are planning on earning your degree, has set forth in writing a code of conduct. This might be called by different names, but you should be able to find it easily in your student handbook or on the school's website. Since not many people sit down and read their school's entire code of conduct—it can be pretty dry stuff—here's a quick primer to what material is likely to be covered under each of these categories of code of conduct violations:
- Academic Misconduct
- Alcohol and Drug Use
- Domestic Violence and Threatening Behavior
- Rape and Sexual Assault
- Hate Crimes
You can think of academic misconduct as the college and university version of breaking the law. Some types of academic misconduct also violate local, state, and federal laws, while others are specific to the world of academia. Essentially, it is cheating. There is a variety of methods that a student can employ to get ahead, all of which fall roughly under the umbrella term of cheating. Some examples include:
- Plagiarism, or using another person's words, ideas, or other scholarly work in place of your own, or to augment your own.
- Self-plagiarism. Many people don't realize it but reusing your own essays or academic papers is also verboten. You can't take a term paper from last year's course and retool or “spin” it to submit to a current instructor.
- Impersonating another student for the purposes of taking their exam. The reverse is also a form of misconduct: asking someone else to show up to a test or log into the school's online platform, pose as you, and complete the exam.
- Unauthorized collaboration on assignments or projects. Unless you have explicit permission from the instructor granting you the right to collaborate with other students, this action—even if it is accidental or unknowing—can be grounds for sanctions.
- Sabotaging other students in order to get ahead. Sometimes, a desperate student will hide, alter, or even destroy classroom materials or school resources. Their intention is to hinder their fellow scholars from doing well so that they themselves can be chosen for a prestigious scholarship, internship, award, commendation, or any other merit-based opportunity.
- Improperly citing research, findings, or other scholarly materials is also a violation of academic conduct standards. It's also known as accidental plagiarism.
- Bribery. Just as there are corrupt correctional officers who will smuggle drugs into a prison for the right price, there are professors and lecturers who can be “bought” in return for exam answers, a passing course grade, a commendation, or anything else that could help the student get a leg up.
- Blackmail. If a student believes they have some type of incriminating evidence against an instructor or other academic professional, they could use that to force the person into taking a particular action. Extortion is a similar crime and type of misconduct, except that it involves the threat of bodily harm or destruction of property. One important aspect of blackmail to understand is that the information in question does not have to be true. Charges of academic misconduct or even criminal charges can be brought against the student, regardless of their veracity.
Violations Related to Alcohol and Drug Use
Like it or not, alcohol and drug use are a part of college life. Of course, not all students have to participate, but it's not unusual for students to experiment with drinking and perhaps with smoking pot once they arrive on campus and make new friends. All state and federal laws concerning drug use or alcohol consumption by young adults will apply on college campuses, and there may be additional disciplinary measures levied by the school itself if there is evidence that code of conduct restrictions are being flouted.
For example, underage students may face disciplinary hearings if they are caught drinking alcohol. Older students who have provided alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age can also find themselves in trouble. And anyone who uses, possesses, or deals illegal drugs will also be subject to code of conduct investigations.
Threats of Violence, Including Domestic Violence
Domestic violence covers many more situations than simply the stereotypical battered wives or partners. Men can be victims of domestic violence. So, too, can platonic roommates or even family members. There doesn't have to be a romantic connection between the parties. So, if an accounting student threatens their roommate, they may face a disciplinary hearing.
Other threats of violence that don't fall under the title of domestic violence can still be grounds for misconduct, however. Students cannot harm or threaten to harm one another, either physically or otherwise. Universities take these allegations very seriously.
Sexual Assault, Including Rape
Schools of all types, including preparatory schools, technical/vocational programs, colleges, and universities, take reports of rape and other forms of sexual assault very seriously. This means that any non-consensual sexual act or attempted act will be thoroughly investigated by the school's code of conduct board or other authorities.
These alleged acts of misconduct are cause for especially thorough investigations. They may also require a hearing before they can be resolved. That's because they belong to a category of offenses that fall under the purview of Title IX. This wide-reaching civil rights law, passed in 1972, is best known as a ban on gender-dependent discrimination, but it covers several other offenses or instances of sexual misconduct.
Hate crimes are those classified as arising not because of the victim's identity but about any perception on the part of the perpetrator about that identity. Protected attributes under hate crime statutes include color, race, ancestry, national origin, religion, gender identity, sexual identity, age, or disability.
The act of hazing presents specific and unique challenges to the officials who enforce codes of conduct, as well as law enforcement officials. There's no doubt about it, certain behaviors that take place during the process of initiation into a fraternity or other exclusive club or group are crimes. These include destruction of property, theft, physical assault, kidnapping, forced ingestion of drugs or alcohol, and many others. The cult of secrecy that often surrounds these groups, and the atmosphere of coercion that dictates the terms of their hazing rituals, however, can lend an added element of wrongdoing on top of the crimes themselves. No matter what behavior is involved, hazing doesn't reflect well on an institute of higher learning, and therefore schools are cracking down on it, hard.
Every Student Begins with the Best Intentions
Before a young adult steps foot on campus, when their whole future is spread out in front of them like a glorious buffet that's there for the taking, it is easy to make pledges to themselves, their parents, and their friends. They promise not to binge drink or experiment with drugs. The soon-to-be-student swears that they'd never pursue a sexual act without consent from the other party; they are determined never to walk home alone late at night, accept a car ride from someone they've just met, go home with a stranger, or let an intoxicated roommate leave the bar to drive home.
Yet circumstances have a way of spiraling out of control, particularly after alcohol or other intoxicating substances enter the picture. So many of the promises made in theory become difficult to uphold in practice. Nearly every adult has a story—some more tragic or life-altering than others—about finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, forced to choose what felt like the lesser of two evils at the time, but which turned out to be a catastrophic decision. No one has impeccable judgment all the time. Misunderstandings happen. Mistakes are inevitably made.
Disciplinary Hearings Can Be Devastating
A student who finds themselves in dire straits, facing the consequences of academic misconduct or a violation of their school's code of conduct, is thoroughly unequipped to defend themselves before a disciplinary board. An advocate-attorney, on the other hand, has attended many such disciplinary hearings. These professionals are experienced and skilled at defending accounting students whose poor decisions are threatening to derail a promising academic and professional career.
The nuts and bolts of how a particular school handles code of conduct violations can vary widely. Usually, there's a disciplinary board that can comprise three or more people. These folks are usually a mix of faculty members and administrative employees. Often, one or more student representatives are also present. Once the board has convened to look over an alleged code of conduct violation, they will conduct a thorough investigation by examining the evidence, reading statements from those involved or questioning them on camera, and asking the accused student to provide their side of the story. Their goal is to determine whether or not this person committed the misdeed and to mete out punishment if the answer is yes.
Students and parents who expect to attend a hearing and be treated fairly, with due process, are in for a rude awakening. You see, college code of conduct boards are not necessarily going to be impartial or give defendants the benefit of the doubt. Defendants in these proceedings are not innocent until proven guilty; in fact, these hearings can be a far cry from what happens in a court of law.
It's a difficult pill to swallow, but code of conduct hearings affords students less protection than the judicial system.
The Many Advantages of An Attorney
Not all hope is lost, however. With the help of an attorney who specializes in academic misconduct and other violations of university or college codes of conduct, a potential accountant who must undergo a disciplinary hearing can mount a strong defense, so their future success can be secured.
Standing up before a panel of people empowered to hand down a decision regarding your fate as a scholar is a nerve-wracking experience. An anxious student who isn't used to advocating for themselves is likely to say too much, say the wrong thing, or simply have a nervous demeanor that makes them seem guilty. All in all, the chances are slim that they'll be able to put together an effective defense strategy.
Do you really want to throw away years' worth of rigorous study, waste tens of thousands of dollars (if not hundreds of thousands) in tuition, books, room, and board, or jeopardize the rewarding and lucrative accounting career you've been dreaming of and working toward? Of course not!
With so much at stake, you need the best possible legal assistance. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of accounting students across the United States overcome the challenges that can arise on the path to an accounting career. Attorney Lento and his team fight for a fair process and the best possible outcome, while working to avoid harsh disciplinary sanctions after an accounting student has been accused of college code violation allegations, professionalism concerns, or other forms of misconduct. The Lento Law Firm can help in your case, too. Call 888-535-3686 or contact us online, so that we can fight for your rights, negotiate on your behalf, and help your accounting career dreams come true.