Degree-seeking students don't expect to endure an arduous disciplinary process while working on their academic careers. Nevertheless, if you attend a Utah college or university, you may want to understand what can happen if the situation arises. Misconduct allegations can jeopardize your academic experience and even future job opportunities.
Every institution of higher education in Utah and elsewhere will have an official code of conduct that governs student life, academic progress, and how the school handles misconduct. Typically, students are lectured on locating code of conduct information during matriculation.
Understanding the expectations outlined in your school's code of conduct is a large part of the college experience. Ignorance will not be a defense strategy if the school or someone else accuses you of misconduct.
Utah Code of Conduct Issues: What Types of Misconduct Are There?
While your school's code of conduct may organize things differently, generally, there are three types of misconduct:
- Academic misconduct
- Non-academic misconduct
- Title IX and sexual misconduct
Academic Misconduct: Utah colleges and universities have specific guidelines and policies governing students' academic progress related to their financial aid eligibility. "Satisfactory academic progress" (SAP) will include specific criteria students must meet during certain timeframes while enrolled. When students don't meet these requirements, they may be placed on academic probation and must meet with an academic dean to create a plan that demonstrates how the student will complete the SAP requirements by a specific point in time with realistic and attainable goals. Further academic misconduct may mean the student will lose eligibility for financial aid or risk a disciplinary hearing that will leave them separated from their studies via a suspension or expulsion.
Academic code of conduct violations also includes plagiarism and cheating. Students generally believe plagiarism is only copying someone's work without attribution. However, utilizing writing support programs and other online tools can be grounds for a code of conduct violation. Students must also be aware that some professors may prohibit group studying, also known as unauthorized collaboration.
Non-academic misconduct: College life includes many more facets than its academic requirements. One of the most common code of conduct violations is underage alcohol possession. Most institutions of higher education have specific rules regarding alcohol possession, especially on school property, whether you are of legal drinking age or not. The code of conduct will also list all prohibited items on campus like drugs, firearms, etc.
It's also essential to know how the code of conduct applies to school housing. For example, Brigham Young University's code of conduct includes housing guidelines that detail rules and regulations regarding things like:
- Community development meetings
- Disruptive behavior
- Campus housing guidelines and care
- Quiet hours
- Parking and transportation
- Pets and service animals
Sexual Misconduct and Title IX violations: Title IX is a federal law that guarantees equal access to higher education for people of different genders and sexual orientations without discrimination. Consequently, federal funding guidelines require institutions to act swiftly and stringently when a student is alleged to have committed a Title IX violation. All Utah colleges and universities have very similar Title IX policies as they are federal guidelines carried out by the school.
Hazing and rituals that involve embarrassment, harm, or risk for initiation into a group or club can be considered Title IX violations as they are discriminatory. Bullying also falls under federal Title IX purview. Nevertheless, Title IX generally revolves around sexual misconduct and, according to guidelines from the Southern Utah University, includes:
- Dating violence
- Discrimination based on a student's race, sex, or gender identification
- Retaliation against protected-status students
- Sexual harassment or violence
Violations of this nature are likely seen in news headlines in Utah and across the U.S. because of their severity. Even the allegation of sexual misconduct or Title IX violation can follow a student long past their college years.
How Utah Colleges and Universities Handle Code of Conduct Allegations
If you are alleged to have violated your school's code of conduct, it will trigger the grievance process to investigate and, if necessary, provide punishments for the infractions. Most Utah schools have a formal process for handling allegations of misconduct involving an investigation, hearing, and sanctions.
First, the school will ascertain whether it is necessary to initiate an investigation. The student will receive a notice of violation or disciplinary action if the school moves forward with an investigation. This notice is a formal letter from the school administration, but the student may also receive a copy in their student email inbox. It will detail the type of allegation, the time and date of a disciplinary hearing, and if outside representation may accompany the student at the hearing.
At this point, a student may believe they can handle the process themselves, or they may even think that not responding to the notice means the allegations will go away. However, this is a misconception. If a student does not take the allegations seriously and fails to respond, the college or university will likely assume that action as the student accepting the terms.
If you haven't already, once you receive that notification, it will be a good time to:
- Open the code of conduct or look at an online copy found on the school's website
- Research the specific section of the type code of conduct violation and how the school will proceed in the process
- Gather evidence (papers, emails, texts, etc.) and as much information you can about what occurred
- Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or schedule a confidential consultation online
It may seem like "jumping the gun" to hire a student defense advisor so early in the process, but any misconduct violation can quickly take a turn for the worse. While students may think that schools seek to protect their interests in code of conduct cases, it's crucial to understand that schools aren't there to protect you or even the accusing party in a disciplinary hearing—they are there to protect the institution. Moreover, cases like these are more than likely won or lost in the investigative stage of the process. Therefore, you will want a professional on your side.
Your Utah School's Disciplinary Hearing: What to Expect
Apart from your parents and student defense advisor, it would be best if you didn't discuss the allegations with anyone while you progress through the adjudicative processes. The hearing guidelines will be strict and often complex. Depending on the charges, different procedures may be used. This information will be in the school's code of conduct handbook.
For example, at Weber State University, a disciplinary hearing proceeds in the following manner:
- The meeting will be called to order by the Faculty Board of Review chairperson, who states the formal charge considered, the roles of the participants, and the due process procedure.
- The complainant will give an opening statement specifying the grounds and available evidence upon which the charge is based.
- The respondent will cross-examine witnesses and evidence supporting the charges.
- The respondent will give a statement, and present evidence, testimony, or witnesses supporting their position in the matter.
- Members of the Faculty Board of Review will cross-examine the respondent and the witnesses after their testimony.
- The complainant and respondent may provide a summary or closing statement.
- The Faculty Board of Review will meet in a closed session to deliberate the findings of the hearing and the determination of responsibility regarding the allegations.
- The board's decision, including its reasoning, determining responsibility, and recommendations for punitive measures, will be given to the complainant, respondent, and president of the school.
Depending on the type of misconduct that initiated the hearing, your school may or may not allow you to bring your student defense advisor into the hearing with you. If not, retaining professional help will still benefit you for these important reasons:
- A student defense advisor can coach you to be comfortable in making a cohesive and coherent argument with the information in the case
- A student defense advisor can research your school's code of conduct to ensure that you are aware of any precedents in the matter or loopholes in the institution's regulations
- A student defense advisor can make sure that your school's disciplinary body respects your rights during the entire process
Additionally, the school will likely take you much more seriously if you have hired a professional to help you with your case. If your school decides to slap you with harsh sanctions, your advisor will already be there to help you negotiate a reduced punishment.
Sanctions Utah Students Can Face
Punishments handed down to a student found responsible for misconduct will be effective immediately. What kinds of sanctions can Utah college students face for code of conduct infractions?
- Prohibiting participation in extracurricular activities
- Loss of student housing privileges
- Academic or disciplinary probation
- Degree withholding
Although some of these sanctions seem less intimidating, punishments are often detailed on a student's official transcript. The admissions process at some graduate schools and the applications for certain professional licenses may require you to explain previous disciplinary action carried out against you. A suspension will produce a gap on your college transcript, which you must explain to future employers, internship managers, and graduate schools. This may cause concern from prospective employers, possibly preventing you from landing your dream job.
For this reason, you must build a strong defense early in the process. You may be able to negotiate a reduced sanction to keep your record as clean as possible.
Best Practices for Responding to Utah College Code of Conduct Charges
If you're facing student disciplinary charges, there are some things you can do to ensure you protect your rights throughout the process.
After the Accusation
It can be tempting to want to defend yourself against code of conduct charges, even trying to hide it from your parents. You need to resist these initial feelings.
- Don't disregard any correspondence from your school
- Don't discuss the allegations with friends
- Don't contact your accuser
- Don't post anything on social media
The only people you should discuss the matter with are your parents or supportive family members and your student defense advisor. You should not hire the local town lawyer that claims they know the players in the game. You need an attorney well versed in student defense matters and who knows how to proceed and protect your rights from the very beginning.
Before and During Your Hearing
Prior to the hearing, your Utah school should inform you of the allegations against you through a letter in your student mailbox or an email in your student inbox. You should also receive specifics of the evidence against you and any anticipated witnesses. After receiving this information, you and your student defense advisor can develop a strategy, preparing you for your arguments during the hearing and questioning witnesses.
The disciplinary board will discuss the matter and issue a written decision after the deliberation period, including recommended sanctions. If you are found not responsible for the allegations, they should also give a report explaining their decision.
Filing an Appeal
The appeals process at each Utah college and university will vary. You and your lawyer should review your school's specific rights and procedures to ensure you don't waive your right to appeal. Typically, you will only have five to ten days from the date the school serves you with their decision to appeal formally. According to guidelines from Snow College, a student can file an appeal if:
- A procedural error (substantiated bias, deviation procedures, etc.) occurred that significantly impacted the outcome of the hearing
- New evidence emerges that was unavailable during the original hearing that could substantially impact the findings or subsequent sanctions
- Sanctions imposed are substantially disproportionate to the severity of the violation
After your college authority reviews your appeal, the designated official will decide the outcome of your request. They may affirm or overturn the disciplinary board's decision, grant you a new hearing, or affirm the board's decision but modify or overturn the recommended sanctions. This decision is final, with no additional chance to appeal.
Hire a Proven Student Defense Advisor for Your Appeal
Considering you only have one chance at appealing the disciplinary board's decision, you need to make your best possible argument. An attorney can help develop the most effective appeal. They will know:
- How to prove procedural errors occurred during the hearing process
- What constitutes novel evidence that was not available during the grievance process
- If the sanctions levied against you are disproportionately severe
If the school denies your appeal, your options include:
- Filing a complaint with the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE). A student enrolled in a USHE institution may submit a complaint alleging a policy of the institution directly affects one or more of the student's civil liberties.
- An attorney can negotiate with your school's Office of General Counsel (OGC). If you've filed a complaint, it may be good to have your lawyer discuss the matter with your college's counsel. The college may be willing to listen to avoid litigation in court.
- You and your attorney can consider litigation against your school. A lawsuit should be your last resort. However, it will get your university's attention, and it may force them to the bargaining table.
You Need the Expertise of Student Defense Advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm
If you face a code of conduct violation, you need skilled legal guidance. Your Utah college or university will have a complex set of procedures and policies that will govern your rights, due process, hearings, and appeals in the student discipline process. Navigating this system can be intimidating. Don't attempt to handle the situation on your own. The risk to your academic career is too significant.
Student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team of experienced lawyers at the Lento Law Firm have handled student discipline matters, negotiations with administrators, and court litigation involving hundreds of colleges and universities in Utah and across the country. They believe that one infraction shouldn't derail your academic and professional future.
Lento and his team have formed valuable relationships with many representatives in Utah schools' internal OGC and those representing the school retained from outside law firms. He and his team know how to help college and university officials see positive options that serve both the student and the institution far better than suspension, expulsion, or other severe punitive measures.
For expert advice from a proven national academic attorney defending students in Utah and throughout the U.S., call 888-535-3686 to discuss how Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can protect you or use the online consultation form. Your reputation depends on it.