There are local, state, and federal laws, as well as school codes of conduct that students at colleges and universities are expected to follow. Each year, many students get accused of violating these codes or laws, leading to serious disciplinary actions and even criminal prosecutions. Being found responsible for such a violation could jeopardize your academic standing and your future career. If you or a loved one are attending a college or university in Arkansas, you need to understand the many complex matters involved in code of conduct violations.
Even if you are currently applying to a college or university, you would benefit from reading, understanding, and remembering the codes of conduct for your school of interest. The codes, which are usually available on the school's website and by contacting the school's Department of Student Affairs, vary a bit from one institution to another. Generally, however, codes of conduct include the school's expectations for student behavior and the consequences for misbehavior.
As a student or potential student in Arkansas, this web page will help you understand the main issues regarding code of conduct violations. This page will also help you know how to protect your rights if you are ever accused of such a violation.
Arkansas Code of Conduct Issues
Each college or university has developed its own code of conduct. Although the codes may vary from one school to another, they all typically address issues of academic misconduct, sexual misconduct, stalking, threatening behavior, alcohol and drug violations, hazing, residential misconduct, and hate crimes.
Codes covering academic misconduct address such issues of student dishonesty as cheating, plagiarism, forgery, fabricating data, and bribery. The codes also address certain other matters, such as destruction of school property, disrupting the classroom, and unauthorized collaboration. A student who is found to be responsible for one of these violations might receive a failing grade on a test, or the student might fail the whole class. In the most serious cases, the student might get suspended or expelled from the school. Some academic misconduct allegations, such as those involving property destruction, enter into the realm of criminal code violations, leaving the accused student open to criminal charges.
Sexual Misconduct, Stalking, Title IX
Violations of sexual misconduct codes imply sexual activity that occurred without the freely given consent of both of the involved individuals. Such activities could include rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking. The codes of each school define stalking in their own way, but the definition generally refers to behavior that could cause a reasonable person to feel safety concerns or emotional trauma. Examples of stalking include repeatedly following a person around and repeatedly making unwanted phone calls or text messages to a person. Certain allegations of sexual misconduct are covered by the rules of Title IX.
Title IX is a U.S. law that was introduced in the Education Amendments of 1972, which were designed to prevent gender discrimination in college admissions, sports, employment, and financial aid. The due process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct are also covered by Title IX provisions.
When school authorities learn of a possible Title IX violation, the law requires them to investigate the allegation, address the consequences of any sexual violence, protect the alleged victim and complainant, and provide grievance procedures. The law lists a number of possible disciplinary actions against students who are determined to have committed Title IX violations, including verbal reprimands, mandated counseling, suspension, and expulsion. In most cases, the penalty is expulsion from school.
Stalking is certainly a threatening behavior, but there are additional types of threatening behaviors covered by college codes of conduct. Generally speaking, such behaviors are considered to be any words or actions that a reasonable person might interpret as serious expressions of intent to inflict bodily harm or property damage. Threatening behaviors may also be mentally abusive actions, such as repeated online harassment.
Alcohol and Drug Violations
Codes of conduct addressing alcohol and drug use may be especially relevant on college campuses, considering that many students are younger than the legal alcohol consumption age of 21. The codes address the possession and consumption of alcohol, the provision of alcohol to underage drinkers, and the possession or distribution of illegal drugs. The codes of conduct at some colleges also prohibit the use of certain legal drugs. For example, colleges in some states prohibit the use of legal, recreational marijuana on campus. In Arkansas, it should be kept in mind that recreational marijuana remains illegal as of mid-2022.
Codes of conduct regarding hazing rituals apply to new members of college fraternities, sororities, sports teams, and other student organizations. Rituals that endanger a student's physical or mental health, degrade or humiliate the student, or damage or remove property will be in violation of the codes—and possibly in violation of laws. Thus, accused individuals could be subject to both school disciplinary actions and criminal charges.
Compared to living at home, many students feel a sense of freedom living in on-campus residential halls. But residential halls have rules, and those rules need to be respected and obeyed. Students who break the rules could be in violation of the school's codes of conduct, leading to serious disciplinary actions. Moreover, certain violations of codes of conduct in residential halls, such as theft and trespassing, could result in criminal prosecution.
A student could also face criminal prosecution as a result of committing a hate crime. Hate crimes are criminal offenses that are committed against people primarily because of their personal characteristics, such as their race or gender or their religious or political beliefs. The governor of Arkansas signed the state's first hate crimes law into effect in April 2021.
After reading the above review of college codes of conduct, you may realize the importance of having an experienced student defense advisor by your side if you are accused of violations. The very real possibility that you could face severe college disciplinary actions, as well as criminal charges, means that your best defense advisor would be an attorney with expertise in protecting the rights of students in such stressful and confusing situations.
How Arkansas Colleges and Universities Handle Code of Conduct Issues
Colleges and universities in Arkansas have each established disciplinary procedures to handle violations of their codes of conduct, including Title IX violations and other academic infractions. The typical process involves the following steps:
- A preliminary or formal investigation
- A disciplinary hearing
- A decision and recommendation for sanctions
- A process to appeal
Before the school's investigation begins, school officials must inform you of the allegations made against you. They must then interview you and the other individuals involved in the alleged incident. In the hearing to follow—should you not waive your right to the hearing, which you are entitled to do—you may be allowed to have an advisor or attorney accompany you. This advisor/attorney will develop a defense strategy with you, question witnesses, examine evidence, and help you in other ways.
1) The Investigation
It is important that you fully cooperate with the school's investigation into the allegations against you. Part of this cooperation includes refraining from speaking about the matter to anyone except the investigator and your student defense advisor. Do not discuss the case with friends, professors, or anyone else, with the possible exception of your parents or other supportive family members. Blabbing about the case, especially online, could easily harm your defense strategy.
Be open and honest with your defense advisor. Freely express any concerns and ask any questions that you may have. You and your advisor need to work together to collect evidence, find witnesses to support your position, and prepare for your meetings with the investigator. After the investigation, it will be time to focus on your hearing.
2) The Hearing
During your hearing, a panel of faculty members, administrators, and sometimes other students will decide whether you are responsible for the alleged violations of the school codes of conduct. In some hearings, if the panel finds you responsible for the violations, it may also decide on recommendations for disciplinary action against you.
Keep in mind that as you present your arguments, evidence, and witnesses in the hearing to defend yourself, the school will be presenting its arguments, evidence, and witnesses to show that you are responsible for the alleged violations. You want to win this argument, and your advisor/attorney should do his or her best to help you win it.
Unfortunately, some schools do not permit the student to have an advisor present at the hearing. In such circumstances, you still need to work with the advisor throughout the disciplinary process. If your advisor is an attorney, your legal rights as a student are more likely to be fully respected and protected.
3) The Sanctions
If the hearing panel determines that you are responsible for the alleged violations and if it recommends particular sanctions against you, you will be informed of those recommendations via writing. In addition, the panel may choose to refer your case to a disciplinary board. That board might agree with the recommended sanctions, or it might impose other sanctions. Possible sanctions that a student could face in Arkansas include the following:
- Prohibition on participation in sports and other extracurricular activities
- Loss of a scholarship
- Removal from student housing
- Academic or disciplinary probation
- Suspension from school
- Expulsion from school
- Loss of a degree
These sanctions vary in severity, though all are painful, upsetting, and disruptive to your academic and personal life. The most disruptive sanctions would be a suspension or an expulsion. A suspension will leave an embarrassing gap in your college transcripts, and you will have to explain the reasons for that gap to future employers, graduate schools, and anyone else who reviews your college records. Besides being embarrassing, a code of conduct violation could damage your chances of landing that desired job or getting into that desired graduate program.
An experienced student discipline attorney will boost your chances of negotiating a sanction of minimal consequences to your education and career.
4) The Appeal
You will have an opportunity to appeal the sanctions handed down to you by the disciplinary board. However, you usually have only five to ten days to file the appeal, and you have to carefully follow the instructions that the college provides you. You will need to complete paperwork explaining your reasons for the appeal, including as many facts as possible to support your case. You may be required to limit your arguments to the facts that were already presented in the hearing. When you finish the paperwork for your appeal, you will submit it to the dean of students, the president of the university, or another designated authority.
Be forewarned that the authority usually rejects a student's appeal. In some cases, however, the authority may modify or overturn the sanctions of the disciplinary board or grant you a new hearing.
How You Should Handle the Investigation, Hearing, and Appeal
Dealing with an investigation and hearing into your alleged violations of codes of conduct—as well as a possible appeal—could easily overwhelm you. How can you know the best things to do at each stage along the way? You will be able to handle this complicated situation in the wisest way if you have an expert student discipline attorney by your side. If you have an attorney who knows the ins and outs about how colleges and universities operate in code of conduct cases, you can feel confident that your rights will be fully protected throughout the process. A few basic guidelines regarding things you should do during the process are highlighted below.
Handling the Investigation and Hearing
Remember that the school needs to provide you with precise information about the allegations made against you, including exactly what you allegedly did and when and where you allegedly did it. In turn, you need to cooperate with the investigator regarding any information that he or she may request. You and your lawyer will work together to develop the most effective strategy for your defense at the hearing. Your lawyer, with your input, will develop the arguments that you will present at your hearing, the questions that you will ask of witnesses, and the names of the witnesses who will appear on your behalf.
Handling the Appeal
If the disciplinary board determines that you are responsible for the code of conduct violation, you and your attorney will then review your rights to appeal. Different colleges and universities in Arkansas handle the appeals process in their own ways, but the school must let you know how its particular process works. Considering that you will probably have only a short time to prepare your appeal, you and your lawyer should not waste any time.
You will work with your lawyer to prepare convincing arguments to support your appeal. Possible approaches include clarifying the most important facts of the case and noting if any of your due process rights were violated during the investigation, hearing, or sanctioning. In some cases, you might be able to present new favorable evidence that you have uncovered since the disciplinary board's decision.
After the Appeal
If you lose your appeal, you may still have options. You and your attorney can file a complaint with the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which has the legal responsibility “to coordinate higher education in Arkansas and to assure an orderly and effective development of each of the publicly supported institutions of higher education.”
Another option is filing a lawsuit against the school—but that should be your last resort. In some cases, the threat of a lawsuit may prompt the school to offer you a more favorable outcome in negotiations with your lawyer in order to avoid litigation in court.
You Need the Expertise and Experience of the Lento Law Firm
The lawyers of the Lento Law Firm have the expertise and experience you need to tackle any accusations of code of conduct violations, academic integrity violations, or Title IX violations, as well as any other disciplinary matters.
Attorney Joseph Lento and his colleagues have won successful outcomes for hundreds of students in Arkansas and across the country in disciplinary matters and code of conduct cases. They will help you along each phase of the process—from representation to negotiation to, if necessary, litigation. The Lento Law Firm believes that a mistake you might have made in college should not destroy your academic standing or your professional career, so the firm will work hard to protect your rights and preserve your reputation.
For the best possible protection against unfair treatment in the difficult disciplinary process, students and parents can contact Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm team today at 888-535-3686. The Lento Law Firm can also be contacted via its online form.