Case Studies: Private College Student Defense

Graduate Student Avoids Dismissal From Private College for Alleged Computer Misuse

A small private college deep in the American Southwest charged our client, a graduate student in a business program, with misusing or attempting to misuse the college's computer system. The college's information technology office claimed to have detected our client's attempts to hack the college's academic files, potentially including department-maintained exam banks, from the college's computer lab. The college's office further alleged that our client had visited or attempted to visit prohibited pornographic websites from the college's computers in the computer lab, using the student's college computer account. Our client credibly denied all allegations. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, our computer forensics expert requested the college's electronic records purporting to show the computer misuse. The college could not or would not produce the electronic records nor otherwise permit their inspection on site. We were able to show disciplinary officials that the college could not proceed in all fairness, under due process protections promised in the college's policies, without making inculpatory evidence available for inspection both before and at the formal hearing. The disciplinary officials agreed to drop the charges against our client after our client agreed to continue to comply with the college's clarified expectations relative to computer use, which presented no obstacle whatsoever for our client. Our client suffered no interruption or delay in his educational program. The prompt availability of expert computer forensics was the key to obtaining this winning outcome for our client.

Transfer Student Successfully Defends Academic Misconduct Charge at Elite Private University

An elite Eastern Seaboard private college accepted our client, an outstanding student from another elite college, on transfer in the third year. The new school, though, promptly charged our client, the transfer student, with academic misconduct in the student's first semester at the new school. The charges related to an online study service our client had used at his prior school and continued to use at the new school. Disciplinary officials alleged that the use of the online study service, which had an extensive bank of exams and answers from many schools, including the elite college, was cheating in violation of the college's academic integrity code. The college's notice of the charges included a warning that a finding of academic misconduct could result in the student's dismissal, which would have meant the student could not transfer back to his former college or any other equivalent school. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we were able to show the college's disciplinary officials that instructors at our client's former college had no objection to the use of the online study service, with some instructors encouraging its use. Our research further showed that no published rule at the new college expressly prohibited the online service's use and that no instructor had made that prohibition a condition of any coursework. Our communications with disciplinary officials led to a voluntary dismissal of the academic misconduct charges with the involved instructor's agreement. The college also clarified its guidance to instructors to ensure that future students would know what instructors accepted relating to the online service or equivalent online resources.

Student at Private For-Profit College Successfully Appeals Satisfactory Academic Progress Dismissal

A national for-profit online college headquartered in the Upper Midwest dismissed our client, a third-year student in a business marketing program, for unsatisfactory academic progress. Our client had indeed earned lower grades, including failing grades, that had brought our client's grade point average to below the college's minimum standards. But our client had suffered a serious workplace injury that required casting, crutches, and extended physical therapy over the course of several months across a full year of schooling. Our client persisted in the program under substantial physical, financial, and personal distress, all related in some way to his injury. Our client's school advisor had reassured him of the school's willingness and ability to accommodate his situation and had promised academic support and resources. That support and those resources never came. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's SAP appeal team, we prepared an appeal presentation with the required medical documentation and recovery plan. We also helped our client identify online academic support resources available through the school and other providers. These resources became a critical part of our client's recovery plan, along with medical documentation of our client's physical recovery. The school's registrar at first denied our client's appeal, but the school's academic affairs committee approved our client's second-level appeal. Our client won reinstatement without conditions, enabling him to continue his education while earning the higher grades necessary to preserve his enrollment.

Technical School Student Avoids Dismissal for Class Absences and Other Attendance Issues

A private technical school located in the Southwest charged our client, a second-year student in a computer sciences program, with excessive class absences. The charges included allegations that our client had missed mandatory interregnum training and internship orientation, constituting a pattern of attendance issues. The school's student affairs officer had initially warned our client of concerns over our client's absences. But when the student affairs officer served a written notice on our client at one of his classes, our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to challenge the charges. Our client explained to us that he had a part-time contract job that required his periodic travel to work sites across the country. While he wanted and needed the technical training that the school had to offer, he had to prioritize his contract work and travels to pay for school and personal and family obligations. Our client further explained that most of his instructors had no problem with his absences, given the high quality of his work and his significant commitment to his professional training and development. But some instructors were reluctant to give our client what other students felt was special treatment. Our research showed that the school did not have a published attendance policy. While the school permitted instructors to adopt attendance policies, few did so, at least in the writing that the school required. We helped our client prepare a presentation showing that he had violated no school or instructor policy. On the sole basis of our written presentation, the student affairs officer dismissed the charges without further appeals or proceedings. Our client was able to continue his technical education while fulfilling his contract work duties, including continued travels.

Religious College Student Avoids Dismissal Over Alcohol Possession Charges

A large religious college in the South Central United States charged our client with alcohol possession and the intent to distribute to minors. Our client was a senior student in a teaching program at the college. He was of legal age to purchase and consume alcohol, although the state's law prohibited individuals from providing minors with alcohol for their consumption. Some of our client's student social acquaintances, including two roommates in his near-campus housing, were still minors under the state's alcohol laws. Local authorities did not charge our client with providing alcohol to minors. But when a minor student appeared intoxicated and smelled of alcohol on campus, an instructor inquired, learned from the student that he had gotten alcohol from our client, and reported our client to the school's disciplinary officials. Notice of the charges threatened our client's dismissal. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, our investigator promptly took statements from several of our client's student social acquaintances, including his roommates. The statements all reflected that although our client had brought beer to the residence on several occasions, our client had warned that the alcohol was solely for his consumption. Our team also analyzed the college's alcohol policies, confirming that the policy did not prevent lawful off-campus alcohol consumption by adult students. Our client used our statements and presentation at the disciplinary official's informal resolution conference to obtain dismissal of all charges. The keys to our winning defense were swift investigation and statements of involved students and research and analysis of school policies for informal presentation.

Sorority Student at Southern Private College Avoids Dismissal After Theft Charges

A small private college in the Deep South charged our client with theft, threatening our client's dismissal from the college. Our client was a new sorority sister in a prominent sorority at the college. Our client was having relationship issues with the senior sorority sisters over unreasonable requests and demands the seniors were making of her and other new pledges. When our client and some of the other new pledges objected to their mistreatment, including conduct that could have violated the college's anti-hazing policy and state law, the senior sorority sisters retaliated with new bullying and demands. When our client reported the senior sorority sisters to the college's disciplinary officials, the senior sorority sisters falsely alleged that our client had stolen food, clothing, cosmetics, and other items from the senior sorority sisters. The college's chief disciplinary official charged the senior sisters with hazing violations but also charged our client with theft violations. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to attend and advise her at the formal hearing on all charges and countercharges. We helped our client identify and prepare the other new pledges as supporting witnesses to attend and testify at the hearing. We also helped our client prepare written questions for the hearing officer to ask in both direct examination of our client's witnesses and cross-examination of our client's accusers. The hearing officer found in our client's favor on all charges, dismissing the theft allegations while holding the senior sisters responsible for hazing.

Sophomore Student at Private College Defeats Charges of Falsifying Admissions Application

A prominent private college in a Rocky Mountain state, known for preparing students for graduate and professional school, charged our client with falsifying her admissions application. Our client was a sophomore at the college at the time of the charges. Our client had faced high school disciplinary charges when a male high school student whom she reported for unwelcome sexual advances falsely alleged that she had solicited the male student and offered him drugs. Our client had successfully defended those charges, resulting in their dismissal. The high school had also expunged our client's file of all disciplinary allegations and records after finding that the male student's allegations were retaliatory. When the college's admissions officer learned from our client's college friends of our client's high school disciplinary proceeding, the admissions officer charged our client with concealing the information and falsely denying prior disciplinary proceedings on her college application. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we researched the applicable state and federal laws, rules, and regulations protecting students from retaliation for complaining of Title IX sexual misconduct. Our research included a detailed analysis of our client's right under those laws not to disclose the prior disciplinary proceeding. Our communication and presentation of that law and analysis to the college's general counsel resulted in the college dismissing the admissions officer's charges. The college also expunged the charge from its files and records relating to our client.

Student Organization Leader Defeats Hate Speech Charges at Private Liberal Arts College

A liberal arts college in the Northwestern United States charged our client with violating the college's hate speech policy. In her second year at the college, our client had formed and led a religious student organization despite student resistance to the organization's traditional morals. Our client had formed the organization to find other students of faith who would support her rather than withdraw from the college and transfer. Our client successfully avoided substantial student conflict over the organization's traditional values for the organization's first year. But in the organization's second year, a student infiltrated an organization meeting at which our client had led a study of scriptures that the student contended constituted hate speech. When the college accepted the student's complaint, issuing a notice of hate speech charges to our client, our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to advise her on school procedures and First Amendment law to defend and defeat the charges. Our team notified the college's outside retained counsel of the Firm's appearance on our client's behalf. We further provided outside retained counsel with an analysis of the applicable First Amendment case law confirming our client's religious and free speech rights. We also demonstrated that our client had followed the school's procedures for forming student organizations and conducting their affairs. Under student and community pressure, college disciplinary officials were initially reluctant to accept the outside retained counsel's recommendation to dismiss the charges. But our team helped our client prepare for and attend an informal resolution conference at which the chief disciplinary official reached a consensus for a negotiated resolution. Our client continued to lead the organization with no restraint on its meeting contents. The college dismissed all charges, enabling our client to continue her education toward graduation and professional school.

Private College Student Avoids Dismissal Despite Multiple Delays in Academic Progress

A small premier private college in a large urban center in the Northeastern United States charged our client with the failure to academically progress. Our client, a brilliant son of university professors, had excellent grades and strong faculty relationships at the college. Our client had been a teaching assistant and research assistant for several faculty members and was respected and trusted by the dean, staff members, and just about everyone else at the college. The college registrar, though, notified our client that he was on academic probation and at risk of dismissal for exceeding the time allowed for graduation. Our client had indeed switched majors, taken extra courses, and taken semesters off for research projects and international travel. His entering classmates had all graduated. While the college valued his presence and assistant services, the registrar maintained in meetings with our client that she had to apply the college's satisfactory academic progress standard or risk regulatory non-compliance. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team when the registrar refused to accommodate our client's plans to graduate after two more semesters, adding a minor to his already completed major studies. Our SAP appeal team analyzed the college's SAP policy and our client's transcript. Our analysis showed that our client could still meet the college's policy under one interpretation that the registrar had apparently not considered. We advised our client how to advocate and negotiate with the registrar for that interpretation rather than seek relief from the SAP policy for exigent circumstances, which our client might not be able to prove. The registrar accepted our client's interpretation and assurances of graduation in two more semesters, enabling our client to continue with his premier private college education.

Private College Student Avoids Dismissal Over Undisclosed Prior Criminal Conviction

A small private college in a rural location in a Central Midwest state threatened to dismiss our client over criminal charges for marijuana possession that our client had failed to disclose on his admissions application. The college's admissions application expressly required applicants to disclose not only criminal convictions but also criminal charges of any kind. Authorities in another state in which our client had lived with his family while growing up had indeed charged our client with marijuana possession. The criminal charge had resulted in a plea of responsibility but under a state statute that expunged the conviction after the youthful detainee met statutory conditions. Our client had qualified for expungement, and so he had not disclosed either the conviction or charge on his college application. When the college's disciplinary official refused to accept our client's explanation, our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to invoke the college's appeal procedures or pursue regulatory or civil court relief. Our team's research of the other state's expungement laws tended to show that they applied to all prior records of the expunged conviction, including arrest and charge records. While the law was different in the college's Central Midwest state, our client had no knowledge of those different laws and had reasonably relied on his own state's law and the counsel he had received at the time of the expungement of his conviction. We helped our client appeal to the college's admissions committee, including preparing a detailed appeal brief with statutory and case law analysis. The admissions committee agreed with our analysis, dismissing the misconduct charge. Our client continued in his education at the private college without a record of the charge.

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