Case Studies: Academic Misconduct

Three Undergraduate Students Avoid Discipline for Failure to Report in Widespread Cheating Scandal

A prominent private university in the Southeastern United States charged all but a handful of students in an undergraduate course with cheating. The university's academic misconduct charges maintained that a student in the course had obtained the final exam and secretly offered it to students in the course due to what the student maintained was very poor instruction from the eccentric course adjunct instructor. The charges against some students were that they had accepted the student's offer and obtained the final exam in advance. The charges against other students were that they were aware of the offer but did not come forward to report the student, thus violating the university's honor code duty to report. Only the few students who did report the student avoided academic misconduct charges. When three students who received notice of the university's charges against them retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, our interviews of our clients and the reporting students showed that our clients had relied on the reporting students to satisfy their own duties to report. Our investigation further showed other instances when the university had not charged students who likewise relied on other students to report. That precedent, the clarity of our presentation, and the documentation our investigation was able to supply were the keys to our negotiating a dismissal of the charges against all three of our clients. The university later dismissed the student who had obtained and shared the final exam and suspended, reprimanded, or otherwise disciplined the other students who had failed to report. Our clients continued in school with clean academic records.

Master's Degree Candidate Avoids Dismissal on Plagiarism Charges in Dispute Over Proper Draft Attribution

A public university in the Northwestern United States charged our client, a master's degree candidate in the history field, with plagiarism in drafts of the master's thesis. Our client was teaching history in a public school and needed a master's degree to advance in his teaching career. Plagiarism findings could have not only cost our client those advancement opportunities but also resulted in his loss of the teaching job he already held. When he retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we promptly communicated with both the university disciplinary officials and our client's employer's human resources representative, whom our client had already told about the plagiarism charges. We were able to show the employer representative that our client had retained us to diligently defend the exaggerated and arguably false plagiarism charges so that our client was able to keep his job while contesting the charges. Our investigation showed that our client had not submitted the allegedly plagiarized thesis draft as a final work but only for thesis supervisor review and comment. Our client credibly maintained that both he and his thesis supervisor knew that his draft was an incomplete work that included material the citations for which he had not yet completed. The university initially maintained that our client's submission was not a draft and later maintained that even if a draft, the submission constituted plagiarism. Our research and documentation convinced the university's academic misconduct hearing panel to dismiss the charges, after the supervisor softened his stance under questioning at the hearing. Our client continued in the master's program without any remaining record of charges or discipline.

Doctoral Research Candidate Successfully Defends Charges of Falsified Research Results

A public research university along the Pacific Coast charged our client, a doctoral candidate in a medical sciences field, with falsifying research results. The notice of the charges threatened our client's dismissal from the program. Our client acknowledged that she would likely never again work effectively and productively in his chosen career field if the university's charges resulted in a finding of academic misconduct. The allegedly falsified research results involved a technical interpretation of voluminous data. Our client maintained that she would never have falsified any results and instead that the alleged falsification was an interpretive issue. Our client further maintained that an interpersonal disagreement with the faculty researcher who had accused her of academic misconduct had contributed to the trumped-up charges. Our client couldn't pinpoint the source of that unusual disagreement, believing it to possibly be over the researcher's hidden romantic interest or psychological issues. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we obtained a technical review of our client's research results supporting our client's position that her work was interpretive, not falsified, within accepted research standards. We were able to guide our client into documenting and presenting a fact-based defense that avoided personal attacks and conjecture. At the same time, we helped our client challenge the qualifications and personal relationships of two hearing panel members, to ensure a disinterested and technically qualified panel. The hearing panel accepted our client's position and recommended a dismissal of all charges, which the university's dean accepted. Our client continued in her research work without any record of having been charged with research misconduct.

Public University Nursing Student Gains Reinstatement After Dismissal for Honor Code Violation

Our client, a nursing student at a mid-sized public university in the South, needed to complete only one more clinical rotation to graduate, when disciplinary officials accused her of falsifying clinical hours. Our client had accurately recorded her meetings with the preceptor at the clinic site as counting toward her required clinical hours. Disciplinary officials maintained, though, that nursing program rules did not permit preceptor meeting hours to count toward the minimum hours requirement, even though, in this case, the preceptor had told our client to count those hours. The school would not relent through the first of two disciplinary appeals, leaving the nursing student facing dismissal with only one clinical rotation to go. The Lento Law Firm's student defense team pursued a third appeal through special university channels, resulting in a complete reversal of the academic misconduct finding. Our appeal showed not only that the preceptor expected our client to record meeting hours but also that our client had acted responsibly, in good faith, without any intent to violate any published rule or unwritten practice within the nursing program. Our appeal showed that our client made a reasonable interpretation of the policy in the context of her supervising preceptor's explicit direction. Ultimately, the program reinstated our client after the third appeal, and our client was able to complete her final clinical rotation, graduate, and enter nursing practice. The key to winning was persevering through multiple levels of appeal and pursuing all available channels.

Disabled Student Successfully Defends Two Successive Academic Misconduct Charges in One Year

Disciplinary officials at a small Southeastern college suspended our client for academic misconduct late in our client's second-to-last semester before graduation. Our client had not yet retained representation until after suffering suspension on the academic misconduct charge. Once suspended, though, our client promptly retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, after the suspension but before the semester ended. While the school had already found our client responsible for academic misconduct, to which our client had already admitted, we were able to show the school officials that our client's disability had played a significant role in the matter. The suspension wasn't warranted under the full circumstances. Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and related federal and state law, the school should have accommodated our client's disability. If the school had done so, our client would not have been involved in academic misconduct. The school accordingly reduced our client's sanction, allowing him to complete the semester. When the school again charged our client with academic misconduct the following semester, his last semester at the school, we were once again able to show the school that our client's ADA-protected disability was the alleged violation's root cause. The school ultimately found that our client was not responsible for this second academic misconduct charge, enabling our client to graduate on time with his classmates and saving our client's substantial investment in his entire college education.

Senior Public University Student Defends Multiple Academic Misconduct Charges, Avoiding Long-Term Suspension

Disciplinary officials at a small public research university in the West had already twice found our client responsible for academic misconduct. Those officials brought a third charge against our client as he was about to enter his senior year. Discipline for a third offense would have meant at least a one-year suspension, requiring the student to relinquish university housing and lose university healthcare and transportation. The school notified our client that his suspension would begin immediately with the next semester. But the Lento Law Firm's student defense team showed the disciplinary officials that they hadn't followed the school's own mandated procedures. As a result, the school could not suspend the student until after the student had completed an appeal of the academic misconduct charges. After skilled research into the applicable codes and procedures, the Lento Law Firm promptly prepared the student's appeal of the academic misconduct finding, showing that the conduct the school alleged didn't violate the school's student code of conduct. The appeal also proved that the school had violated our client's due process rights, depriving him of a fair opportunity to contest the charges. As a result of the Lento Law Firm's winning appeal, the school not only reversed our client's misconduct finding and dismissed all charges but also removed all negative information from our client's academic record. Our client suffered no delay whatsoever in his education, instead completing his education on time with his entering peers.

Nursing School Study Partners Gain Prompt Reinstatement After Unfair Dismissal for Alleged Exam Cheating

Disciplinary officials overseeing a nursing program at a small Midwestern university accused our clients of cheating as study partners. Our clients had studied together for most of nursing school up to that point. Our clients maintained that they were not unusual in that respect. They said that the nursing school had encouraged students to work collaboratively in their studies, including when preparing for exams. But when one of the two study partners took an exam early to relieve a conflict in exams, and the two study partners continued to study other materials together, the nursing program accused both students of cheating relating to the subject exam. Our clients adamantly maintained that they had not discussed the exam and had only studied other subjects in their usual manner. The instructor granting the early exam had not placed any condition on the student's continued studying, including studying with her usual partner. Our clients maintained that just because one student takes an exam early doesn't mean that the students must not study together, as long as they don't share exam questions or information. Yet acting swiftly without adequate investigation or a formal hearing, the course instructor gave both students a zero for the exam in question while reporting the students to the disciplinary board. Again, acting without adequate investigation or hearing, disciplinary officials failed both students in the course and then dismissed both students from the nursing program. The student's nursing programs were over, and their nursing careers in jeopardy. Our swift appeal of the dismissal to the program's review board resulted in our client's prompt reinstatement.

Engineering Students Win Successful Appeal from Unauthorized Collaboration Charges

An engineering program at a well-known Midwest public research university charged our two clients with unauthorized collaboration on a senior year engineering project. Ignoring university procedures, the program presumptively dismissed the students while notifying them of their right to appeal. Fortunately, the two students promptly retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to appeal their dismissal and seek prompt reinstatement before delaying their academic progress, graduation, and post-graduation plans. The Lento Law Firm's student defense team promptly helped both students prepare the appeal briefs, letters, and supporting materials, after appropriate investigation. We were able to show from various syllabi, course descriptions, and other course materials that the engineering school had encouraged students to work collaboratively, including on projects like the one in question. We also helped our clients document in a clear and convincing fashion that they had not violated any express instruction from their course professor when collaborating on the project. Our winning appeal took just under one month. The program reversed the finding and dismissal of both of our clients, gave them the grades that each of them had earned, and revised their transcripts to reflect that they had earned full course credit. The Lento Law Firm's student defense team also saw to it that the university removed any record of misconduct allegations so that both of our clients could proceed in their schooling and career with a clean academic record. The entire matter took just about one month, enabling both students to proceed without significant delay or interruption.

Graduate Student at Research University Avoids Deportation by Defending Plagiarism Charges

Disciplinary officials at a small public research university in the Western United States charged our client, a graduate student seeking both a master's degree and doctoral degree, with both plagiarism and self-plagiarism. The plagiarism charges alleged that our client had not given proper credit to another author in a research paper our client had submitted for academic credit in her graduate program. The school's self-plagiarism charges alleged that our client had submitted the same research paper or parts of the same research work for academic credit in two courses without disclosing the dual submissions. The school, at the same time, alleged that our client had falsified her academic standing and credentials in social media posts. Because our client had two prior academic misconduct charges, our client faced not only dismissal from the research university but also the termination of her student visa and deportation to her home country. Our client, in other words, faced the ruin of her education, career, and relationships, all due, she firmly maintained, to her misunderstanding of the academic expectations and the school's misunderstanding of her professors' instructions and approvals. Our client's initial explanations had no effect on the school's stance. The school initially remained firm in its conviction to pursue our client's suspension and dismissal, the result of which would be our client's deportation. But when the Lento Law Firm's defense team undertook our client's defense, our communications quickly led to an informal resolution in which the school dismissed all charges. Our team's perseverance in showing the full context of our client's misunderstanding while negotiating a win-win resolution was key to this victory.

Remedial Training Helps Resolve Plagiarism Dispute in Undergraduate Student's Favor

A prominent public research university, the flagship institution for the state's public schools, charged our client with plagiarism in a third-year final course paper. Although a junior student in the university's undergraduate psychology program, our client had not yet submitted any other research paper. Although a naturalized citizen, our client was also an English second language learner. This case did not resolve quickly, meaning that we had extra work to do to preserve our client's satisfactory academic progress. But over the course of about six months, the Lento Law Firm's student defense team was ultimately able to show school officials how our client's language barrier as an ESL student had played into the plagiarism charges. Our communications, presentations, and appeals to school disciplinary officials also showed that our client had not previously written any papers following the citation conventions used at the university. We negotiated a positive, compromise resolution that enabled our client to work with members of a school disciplinary committee to ensure that our client had the citation instruction necessary to avoid future plagiarism issues. Our client's positive commitment to remedial instruction became a key in the case's resolution. Our winning negotiation enabled our client to remain in school in good standing during her appeal, preserve her enrollment in step with her entering peers, and ultimately proceed in her undergraduate program, having successfully defended and defeated all charges.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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