Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are a valuable part of the allied healthcare network, serving as complementary caregivers to those who may have trouble speaking. SLPs work to prevent, diagnose, and treat speech, language, and social, cognitive, and physical communication disorders in children and adults. Because of the high demand for SLPs, they are often employed in many areas, including hospitals, private clinics, home healthcare outlets, community organizations, educational programs, daycares, and nursing homes.
Most career opportunities for SLPs require a master's degree, and the admissions process is a highly-competitive undertaking. Many colleges and universities expect students to have an undergraduate degree in speech and hearing sciences or communication disorders. Master's degrees are often $50,000 or more per year and commonly place the expense of the degree well into the six-figure range. Moreover, SLPs spend hundreds of dollars a year maintaining licensing and certifications.
With such a large sum of money and time put into becoming a fully-licensed SLP, the cost of a mistake cannot be higher. During their tenure, students must adhere to an institution's strict guidelines on academic progression, campus behavior, and developing a respectable, ethical identity that represents the program and the profession.
If you're accused of misconduct while studying and training to become a licensed SLP, don't handle it alone. Discipline and remediation requirements can quickly derail your future career. Instead, retain student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law. They have the experience and empathy required to handle these stressful situations and protect you as an integral part of the medical community.
SLP Education and Training Challenges
Individuals striving to become SLPs face demanding situations with patients and victims, but also a wide-ranging set of rules governing their degree program to remain in good standing. Typically, students will be instructed on locating information regarding proper conduct and subsequent disciplinary action as a part of matriculation. Although schools may define misconduct differently, there are three general types:
- Academic misconduct
- Behavioral and professional misconduct
- Title IX and sexual misconduct
Like in educational programs, academic misconduct is a concern for SLP students. While SLP training is focused on communication disorders, developmental delays, learning disabilities, emotional problems, and severe injuries, there is still traditional classwork that must be accomplished. Therefore, the rules of conventional academics apply.
For example, at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, their Academic Integrity Policy prohibits dishonesty. The following are not permitted:
- Cheating: Misrepresenting academic work, including using another's work as your own, submitting a paper or assignment bought or taken from a website, unauthorized collaboration, stealing an examination from an instructor, looking at another student's exam, sharing case scenarios, notes, or exam questions with other students.
- Fabrication: The forgery or creation of information or citations in an academic exercise. This might include using false research results, fabricating resources, or using results from unauthorized sources.
- Facilitating dishonesty: Assisting someone else to commit academic dishonesty. This includes the misuse of an exam proctor, taking someone else's exam, and having someone else conduct research on your behalf.
- Plagiarism: Knowingly using another author's words, ideas, or language without giving credit to the work. For example, failure to credit an individual or source or the theft of intellectual creation.
Institutions with SLP master's degrees will also have policies to ensure student academic progress at a pre-determined rate. At North Carolina Central University, students must maintain satisfactory academic progress (SAP) throughout their journey toward graduation. Moreover, students are required to have a minimum number of credit hours depending on their degree year, including alternative measures for those without an undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. As well, SLP students must have official documentation of approved clinical hours.
If students fail to meet any of these standards, they risk probation, suspension, or expulsion. Yet, before disciplinary action is levied, students will encounter enforced steps to mitigate their academic decline.
Academic progression issues are commonly met with remediation. Each school or program has different policies regarding how remedial courses or clinical hours are monitored. Still, it's typical for students to be mandated to pass retaken classes while engaged in their current work. With the fast-paced programs SLP students must endure, remediation can quickly turn from a positive-minded solution to the reason for a separation from studies.
SLP programs also mandate that students follow strict behavioral codes that ensure they are trustworthy healthcare professionals that will serve the public with distinction and promote the school's reputation. Consequently, institutional rules will govern life outside campus and clinical training.
For instance, if you're enrolled in the SLP program at Brigham Young University, you must abide by behavioral standards. Therefore, the following behaviors are prohibited:
- Breaches of patient confidentiality
- Chronic tardiness to class or clinical work
- Disruptive behavior
- Excessive absences
- Failure to protect proprietary information
- Incivility toward faculty, staff, advisors, receptionists, or fellow students
- Using school facilities for personal, commercial, or political use
- Violating non-disclosure agreements
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct
SLP students are trained on the proper techniques used in clinical settings through demonstrations in the classroom regarding appropriate physical touch. While healthcare organizations caution patients and victims that may misconstrue care with unwanted sexual advances, sexual misconduct can occur. Institutions have strict rules and regulations on physical touch, and since many are funded through the federal government, they must also abide by Title IX guidelines.
According to the Title IX policy at Kansas State University, the following practices are forbidden:
- Dating and domestic violence
- False Title IX reporting
- Sexual assault, discrimination, and exploitation
- Withholding Title IX evidence or information
Title IX allegations can quickly derail your career and reputation. States often require violations and even investigations of dismissed cases to be public records. Therefore, accusations can stick with you long after obtaining your SLP degree and harm potential employment.
Although individual schools and clinical programs will have guidelines on how SLP students must behave as a community member, a nationwide code of conduct is also dedicated to upholding ethical practice. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) maintains a formalized framework of four common principles and standards of ethical practice, including:
- Achieving and maintaining the highest level of professional competence and performance.
- Advocating for the unmet communication and swallowing needs of the public and providing accurate information involving any aspect of the profession.
- Honoring the responsibility to hold the welfare of patients, participants, and anyone else involved in their research or healthcare practice.
- Upholding the dignity and autonomy of the professions, keeping collaborative and harmonious interprofessional relationships, and accepting the professions' self-imposed criteria.
Academic and Behavioral Misconduct Disciplinary Hearings
If you are enrolled in one of the nation's many SLP programs and are alleged to have committed misconduct, you will begin one of the most stressful points in your academic career. Not only is the grievance process daunting, but each school or program handles the process slightly differently.
At Western Michigan University, academic misconduct and other minor infractions are handled as follows:
The Office of Student Conduct (OSC) will contact the student and schedule a meeting to discuss the allegations. If the student admits responsibility, the OSC will—in cases of academic misconduct or other classroom infractions—contact the instructor and arrange an appointment between the parties.
Instructors may impose academic penalties up to the failure of the course. The OSC may levy non-grade-related sanctions ranging from verbal or written reprimands to dismissal. The Professional Concerns Committee (PCC) shall also function as an oversight committee for reviewing and monitoring all university policies and procedures dealing with academic conduct, including academic dishonesty, grade appeal, remediation, and program dismissal issues.
If the student denies responsibility or the allegations are for serious code of conduct violations—repeated plagiarism, physical violence, theft—formal proceedings will be used.
- The Academic Integrity Committee (AIC), at the direction of the OSC, will set a date for a formal hearing, giving students time to review all evidence collected by the investigator.
- The accused (respondent) may make an opening statement to the AIC.
- The AIC will hear the accuser's (complainant) testimony regarding the misconduct.
- The AIC will render a determination of responsibility.
Pending the finalization of the case, the school will institute a "disciplinary hold," thus preventing the student from dropping, adding, or registering in additional classes.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Disciplinary Hearings
If a student is alleged to have committed misconduct in a sexual or discriminatory manner, the process to handle the violation uses another distinct set of procedures. For example, the Title IX grievance process at Rhode Island College will proceed as follows:
- The hearing officer will conduct a pre-hearing conference with the parties and their advisors to discuss the procedures and resolve any other matters, including aspects of conflict of interest, before the hearing.
- The complainant and respondent will have the opportunity to make an opening statement.
- The hearing officer will permit each party or advisor to cross-examine the other party and witnesses.
- A series of questioning may be initiated by the hearing officer.
- The complainant and respondent make closing remarks.
Directly after the end of the hearing, the hearing officer will base their determination of responsibility on the "preponderance of the evidence" standard, meaning they are greater than 50 percent convinced the respondent committed the misconduct.
If you're subject to severe sanctions for alleged misconduct, you must exhaust every outlet to redress the situation. You've spent years of your time and tens, possibly even hundreds of thousands of dollars training to become a licensed SLP. Schools will give students the opportunity to appeal the disciplinary board's decision. However, appeals are usually heard only due to a few extenuating circumstances. For instance, at George Washington University, they include:
- Procedural deviations affected the outcome of the case
- New evidence emerges
- Sanctions were disproportionate to the conduct
- The hearing officials had a conflict of interest or bias
This issue is that SLP students are working to become healthcare professionals versed in the proper procedures to assist those with communication problems. College bylaws and regulations are typically not part of their forte. Moreover, the time for appeals is short—generally seven days or less. Therefore, unless you want your career as a fully-licensed SLP to slip away, hire a professional student defense advisor to keep you intact with your degree.
How Joseph D. Lento Can Defend You
SLP degrees, licensing fees, and continuing education are expensive. There's no reason to throw a fortune of time and money down the drain because you didn't act quickly when your school accused you of a violation. You need professional assistance if you are alleged to have committed misconduct or have issues with progression in your SLP program degree. Fortunately, student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have handled disciplinary matters involving code of conduct violations in hundreds of schools and programs across the U.S.
While you may believe a local lawyer is your best option for relief, courtroom competency doesn't often translate into the negotiation tactics needed to handle school administration officials or disciplinary board members. Joseph D. Lento and his team know how to help sanctioning bodies see positive options serving the student and the school or program far better than suspension or expulsion. With their countless relationships formed with representatives of schools' internal Office of General Counsel (OGC), they can broker beneficial resolutions on behalf of their student clients outside of demanding formal proceedings. For expert advice, call 888-535-3686 to discuss how your defense can begin or use the online consultation form.