Case Studies: Graduate Student Defense

Doctoral Student Avoids Dismissal for Unsatisfactory Academic Progress After Delaying and Extending Studies in Dissertation Revisions

A major research university located in the Midwest sent a notice of academic probation and warning of academic dismissal for our client's doctoral studies, after our client delayed and extended her doctoral program while revising her dissertation. Our client was only in part responsible for her dissertation revisions and the extra time that they took. Our client's doctoral program supervisor was initially excited about our client's dissertation thesis but took an unexpected early retirement from the university. Our client's replacement supervisor was not approving of the dissertation thesis, requiring its substantial revision. The replacement supervisor was also slow in responding to dissertation drafts and revisions. And when the supervisor did respond, the supervisor's comments were more subjectively critical than objectively constructive, leaving our client with little guidance to make appropriate revisions. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team shortly after receiving the SAP probation notice and dismissal warning, well within the prescribed appeal period. Our SAP appeal team promptly invoked the university's SAP appeal procedures while researching the appeal and documentation requirements and working with our client to prepare and document a compelling appeal. At the same time, we helped our client communicate diplomatically and creatively with her department chair, requesting a review of her supervision. The department chair and supervisor agreed that the supervisor had too many duties to continue with the supervision. The new supervisor whom the department chair assigned promptly approved and advanced our client's dissertation thesis while our client's SAP appeal was still pending. As a consequence, the university granted the appeal, reinstating our client's good standing in her doctoral program.

Physical Therapy Doctoral Student Avoids Dismissal Over Professional Misconduct Charge

A physical therapy program at a public university in a large urban Northeast state charged our client with Title IX sexual misconduct and professional misconduct relating to allegedly inappropriate touching of clinic patients during physical therapy sessions in our client's clinical coursework. Our client promptly retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team as soon as receiving notice of the charges. Our investigation showed that our client had followed her clinical supervisor's instructions to employ manipulation and massage techniques that, once standard, had recently grown controversial because of their questionable therapeutic value and their prospect for confusion over the therapist's potentially sexual intent. Our client, a first-year student in the physical therapy doctoral program, was unaware that the techniques were controversial and had instead relied on her supervisor's instructions. Our defense team was unable to obtain the instructor's statement but obtained the university investigator's interview notes and summaries. Those materials tended to corroborate, in part, our client's account of her instruction. Our research further showed that physical therapy and other programs generally treat a supervisor's instruction as a safe harbor for the student against misconduct charges when a reasonable person could construe the instruction as within the profession's standards. We were able to help our client present this information at an informal conference before the university's formal hearing on the charges, resulting in the university's dismissal of all charges. Our client remained in the doctoral program in good standing and under the clinical supervision of other faculty members and clinical staff. The involved instructor retired after that semester.

Graduate Student Challenged by Surgery and Declining Health Negotiates Incomplete Grades to Preserve Good Academic Standing

Our client had an unexpected medical condition suddenly worsen while she was completing her master's degree at a large public university in the Southern United States. When our client's complicated health condition required emergency surgery, our client was utterly unable to complete her work in several courses in which she was enrolled. Some of her instructors granted extensions and course incompletes, but others did not, despite her efforts to adequately describe and document the impact of her deteriorating health on her master's degree studies. The result was several zero grades on assignments and failing grades in courses when the university should have granted her course incomplete grades. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team when the school reflected those failing grades on her transcript, making clear that school officials would not relent. We promptly gathered, analyzed, and presented the medical and other documentation to convince school officials that our client was acting as earnestly as she possibly could to complete her coursework and avoid failing assignments and courses. Our presentation satisfied school officials that our client had done everything responsibly, indeed everything she possibly could, to both keep her instructors advised and to submit her work as timely as possible. The university finally relented, granting incomplete grades rather than failing grades. Our client then completed all coursework, passed each course, and proceeded with her education, job search, and career just as planned.

MBA Student Reduces Discipline to a Conditional Reprimand After Facing Suspension or Dismissal Over Gambling Charges

A public research university located in the Rocky Mountain region charged our client, a first-year student in the university's Master of Business Administration program, with gambling and misuse of school computers. Our client, a sports enthusiast, had organized a March Madness pool each year while an undergraduate at the same university. No one had complained, and the university had not charged or admonished our client. On the contrary, not just students but also faculty members and staff members had participated in our client's March Madness pools in those prior undergraduate years. Our client was unaware that the business school discouraged MBA students, especially those in finance-related fields, from any form of gambling. The MBA program's student code of conduct also prohibited students from using any program computer or account to facilitate a violation of program rules. A professor who advocated against the ills of gambling addictions reported our client to the program's student dean, who brought the gambling and computer-misuse charges against our client. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we promptly gathered from our client a list of the university faculty members and staff members, including some whom the business school employed, who had participated in one or more of our client's March Madness pools. We helped our client present that long list to the student dean along with our client's offer to cease and desist from conducting future pools while still enrolled at the school. The student dean agreed to dismiss all charges.

Graduate Student Negotiates Withdrawal After Academic Probation Over Unsatisfactory Academic Progress

A school of public administration at a Northeastern United States public university notified our client that he had fallen onto academic probation for unsatisfactory academic progress. Our client was pursuing a master's degree in public administration relating to plans for a career in politics, lobbying, or other government service. But our client was already serving as a legislative chief of staff in a full-time role, while also helping his legislator with campaign work. Our client also had a growing family with one child and a second child on the way. Professional and family obligations had reduced our client's available study time, resulting in much lower grades than our client was otherwise capable of earning. Our client also withdrew from some courses, left other courses incomplete, and failed one course in his master's program. Although our client had invested a full year in his master's degree studies, he determined that he would be in a better position to start fresh from the beginning at another school that offered a more-flexible program, after a pause to recover. But our client could not withdraw while on academic probation without facing program dismissal and hurting his chances of starting the new program later. Our client thus retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to convince university officials to give him that opportunity for withdrawal in good standing. Our SAP appeal team completed an appeal showing the exigent circumstances for our client's substandard performance and our client's plan to withdraw and start over at another school as an achievable alternative. The university's SAP committee granted our client's appeal. Our client withdrew in good standing with the plan to gain admission to the new school.

Graduate Student in Computer Sciences Successfully Defends Exam Software Cheating Charges

A leading private university in the Southwest charged our client, a graduate student in the university's computer sciences program, with academic misconduct. The university based its charges on allegations that our client had accessed unauthorized materials while taking an exam on our client's laptop computer. The university's exam software installed on our client's laptop computer purported to show that our client had left the exam software during the exam period to access other materials from the laptop computer. Exam instructions clearly prohibited students from leaving the exam software for the duration of the exam period. The university routinely treated the violation as a presumptive ground for a one-term suspension unless the accused student could show a justifying anomaly, which the university's rules did not specify. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, our computer forensics consultant drew on his substantial experience with the involved exam software to help our student identify the responsible anomaly. Our student had embedded simple formatting macros in his computer's keyboard that the exam software mistook for software interruptions. We then helped our client present the diagnosis and report of our computer forensics consultant as part of our client's answer to the university's misconduct charges. The disciplinary officials initially questioned the report until sharing it with their information technology team. The university subsequently dismissed the charges while instituting new exam software updates and procedures. The key to our team's winning defense was bringing the right expertise to bear on the right technical issue.

Graduate Student in Statistics Beats Academic Misconduct Charges of Falsifying Data in Course Reports

A graduate statistics program at a major research university in a Central Atlantic state charged our client, a first-year international student, with falsifying data in an analytical report the student submitted for coursework. Our client's submission was admittedly unlike any other report other students had submitted that term or in the past on the same problem. The distinct differences in our client's submission led the instructor to argue with our client over how our client had generated the submission, scaring and confusing our client in a way that led the instructor to mistakenly conclude that our client had admitted cheating. Our client faced significant language barriers as an English second language student, despite being adept at statistical analysis. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team when the university served its notice of charges threatening dismissal. Our consulting statistical expert met and conferred with our client, documenting the sound and insightful approach our client had taken and the unique mathematical formula our client had used to produce the report's different results. The method did not meet accepted statistical standards, and the results may not have been reproducible as those standards required. But our client had not cheated and had instead taken an original and arguably sound strategic approach that the instructor could well have rewarded rather than doubted and reported as academic misconduct. We were also able to show the university's disciplinary committee that our client's international undergraduate training, different from much of the training of the course's domestic students, had led her to adopt those different approaches. With the involved instructor's agreement, the committee recommended dismissal of all charges, which the dean accepted. Our client continued in the graduate program in good standing. The key to victory was once again employing the relevant technical expertise rather than relying on subjective arguments.

Graduate Student Successfully Defends Misconduct Charges Involving Unmet Financial Obligations

A small private college in a Central Plains state charged our client, a graduate student in the college's petroleum engineering program, with behavioral misconduct related to various unmet financial obligations. The charge notice threatened suspension from the school until our client satisfied the obligations and dismissal from the school in the event that our client did not do so. The charges alleged that our client had received dozens of parking tickets for street parking at meters without paying the meter charges. The charges also alleged that our student had incurred smaller unpaid fines and charges in the college's cafeteria, library, bookstore, and computer lab. Our client would have simply paid the charges if our client had owed the charges. But our client claimed, to no avail, not to have had anything to do with the alleged charges. When the college failed or refused to produce any substantial documentation supporting the charges, presuming instead that our client owed them, our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team. Our investigation promptly showed that our client had suffered identity theft and that another person, presumably another college student, had been using our client's identity to gain various college privileges at our client's cost. Our investigator obtained surveillance video and other documentation tending to support our client's professed innocence. The college dismissed the charges just before the formal hearing we had invoked for our client when the college apprehended a suspect who had just incurred additional tickets and charges using our client's license plate and college identification.

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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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