Students at colleges and universities are expected to follow codes of conduct that the schools have established in order to adhere to local, state, and federal laws, as well as the schools' own standards. Unfortunately, many students every year find themselves accused of violations of these codes. If you or a loved one are attending a college or university in Connecticut, it is crucial to understand the complex matters involved in such serious accusations. Charges could jeopardize your academic standing and your future career.
If you are currently a student or if you have applied to a college or university, it is a good idea to read, understand, and remember the codes of conduct for your particular school. These codes are typically posted on the school's website, and they generally include the school's expectations for student behavior and the consequences for misbehavior. You could also usually obtain a printed copy of the codes from the school's Department of Student Affairs.
As a Connecticut student, the following text should help you understand the main issues regarding code of conduct violations and ways to protect your rights should you be accused of such a violation.
Connecticut Code of Conduct Issues
The details of codes of conduct may vary from one school to the next. Nevertheless, the codes generally are associated with academic misconduct, sexual misconduct, stalking, threatening behavior, alcohol and drug violations, hazing, residential misconduct, and hate crimes.
Academic misconduct entails issues of dishonesty—such as cheating, plagiarism, forgery, fabricating data, and bribery—as well as such matters as destruction of school property, disrupting the classroom, and unauthorized collaboration. Penalties for some of these violations may involve a failing grade on a test or paper or failing the class. In other cases, the penalty may be harsher, such as suspension or expulsion from the school. Some schools pursue allegations of academic misconduct according to an “honor code” rather than a code of conduct. Furthermore, certain actions, such as property destruction, violate criminal codes, exposing the individual to possible criminal charges.
Sexual Misconduct, Stalking, Title IX
Sexual misconduct generally involves any sexual activity that occurs without the freely given consent of both individuals. This includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking. Definitions of stalking may vary according to school. However, it is typically considered to be behavior, such as repeatedly physically following a person or repeatedly phoning or texting the person, that could cause a reasonable person to have safety concerns or emotional trauma. In some cases, allegations of sexual misconduct fall under Title IX rules.
Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, is a federal law designed to prevent gender discrimination in college admissions, sports, employment, and financial aid. Sexual misconduct allegations, associated disciplinary procedures, and due process rights for the accused are also covered by Title IX.
When a school is made aware of a possible Title IX violation, it is required to investigate the allegation, address the consequences of any sexual violence, protect the alleged victim and complainant, and provide grievance procedures. If the accused is determined to have committed the violation, a range of disciplinary actions is possible, from verbal reprimands to mandated counseling to suspension or expulsion. In most cases of sexual misconduct, students are expelled.
Besides stalking, any other types of threatening behavior might be violations of the college codes of conduct. Threats are generally defined as words or actions that a reasonable person might interpret as serious expressions of intent to inflict bodily harm or property damage. Threats may also be mentally abusive, such as repeated online harassment.
Alcohol and Drug Violations
Violations of alcohol and drug codes of conduct are common on college campuses, where many students have not yet reached the legal alcohol consumption age of 21. Providing alcohol to underage drinkers on campus is taken just as seriously by colleges as possessing alcohol yourself. Both activities expose the student to discipline.
The possession or distribution of illegal drugs is prohibited by most college codes or conduct. The codes of some colleges also prohibit legal drugs, such as cannabis, on campus. The legal age for possessing and consuming cannabis in Connecticut is 21.
Hazing rituals for new members of college fraternities, sororities, sports teams, and other student organizations may run afoul of codes of conduct if they endanger a student's physical or mental health, degrade or humiliate the student, or damage or remove property. An individual engaging in some of these hazing rituals may face both school disciplinary actions and criminal charges.
Many students living in on-campus residential halls find themselves in a shared community away from home for the first time in their lives. This newfound freedom seems to invite rule-breaking among some individuals. Theft, trespassing, and other violations of codes of conduct in residential halls could lead to disciplinary procedures.
Hate crimes are criminal offenses that could lead to serious consequences for offenders. They are crimes committed against people primarily because of their race, religion, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, age, or other personal characteristics.
The above brief review of college codes of conduct should make it clear that you will need an experienced student defense advisor if you are accused of violations. The potential for serious college disciplinary actions as well as criminal charges means that the best defense advisor for you would be an attorney who has expertise in handling matters of student discipline.
How Connecticut Colleges and Universities Handle Code of Conduct Issues
Connecticut colleges and universities have established disciplinary procedures to handle violations of codes of conduct, Title IX, and other academic infractions. The typical procedure includes the following steps:
- A preliminary or formal investigation
- A disciplinary hearing
- A decision and recommendation for sanctions
- A process to appeal
Prior to the investigation, the school must inform you of the allegations and then interview you and the other individuals involved. If you choose to have the hearing on the charges, you may be allowed an advisor or lawyer to accompany you, question witnesses, and examine evidence.
Most colleges and universities will start the disciplinary procedure by launching an investigation into the allegations. The smoother the investigation goes, the better. Thus, your cooperation is essential. The only people you should speak to about the case are the investigator and your student defense advisor. Do not discuss the case with friends, professors, or anyone else (other than supportive family members), because that might compromise your defense strategy.
Confide in your defense advisor. Be honest about your concerns, and ask any questions that you have. The two of you should work together to collect evidence, find any witnesses that could be helpful to your position, and prepare for your meetings with the investigator. After the investigation, the school should inform you of the time and place of your hearing.
The hearing is held to determine whether you are responsible for the alleged infraction. Some hearings also include recommendations for disciplinary action. You may waive your right to a hearing.
In the hearing, a panel of faculty members, administrators, and sometimes other students listens to your arguments, asks you questions, and examines your evidence. There will also be representatives of the school at the hearing. Those representatives will be arguing that you are responsible for the alleged violations.
Not all schools allow the student to have an advisor or lawyer at the hearing. If that is the case at your school, you should still try to work with an advisor throughout the disciplinary process. If your advisor is an attorney, your legal rights, as spelled out by the law and the school's regulations, are more likely to be fully protected. The presence of an attorney may also tend to make the school consider your position more seriously.
The hearing panel will recommend sanctions against you in writing, should it determine that you are responsible for the alleged violations of the codes of conduct. The panel may further refer your case to a disciplinary board, which will either agree with the panel's recommended sanctions or set different sanctions. Among the possible sanctions that a student could face in Connecticut are the following:
- A ban on participation in sports and other extracurricular activities
- The loss of a scholarship
- Removal from student housing
- Academic or disciplinary probation
- Suspension from school
- Expulsion from school
- Loss of a degree
Although these sanctions vary in severity, they may all lead to serious consequences, ranging from missing out on your favorite activities or social functions to stalling or ending your academic progress. The most serious consequences, of course, result from suspension or expulsion. A suspension produces a gap in your college transcripts, which means that you will have to explain the reasons for that gap to any future employers, internship managers, graduate schools, or anyone else who reviews your college records. When you explain your code of conduct violation, it may adversely affect their decisions regarding hiring you or admitting you into their program.
Fortunately, if you have an experienced student discipline attorney at your side, you could have a good chance of negotiating a sanction of minimal severity.
After you receive your sanction from the disciplinary board, you will have an opportunity to appeal. However, this opportunity typically lasts only five to ten days, so you and your advisor/attorney will have to move fast, and you will have to carefully follow the instructions for appeal that the college provides you.
The appeal process usually involves completing paperwork that the school gives you. You will have to explain your grounds for the appeal, including as many facts as possible to support your case. Most schools require you to stick to the facts that were presented in the hearing, clearly explaining why those facts support your appeal. You will submit your appeal to the dean of students, the president of the university, or some other designated authority.
The authority will consider your appeal and make a decision. In most cases, the authority rejects the appeal. In some cases, however, the authority may modify or overturn the decision of the disciplinary board or grant you a new hearing—but with no additional rights to appeal.
How You Should Handle the Investigation, Hearing, and Appeal
As previously mentioned, you should not discuss your ongoing code of conduct case with anyone except the investigator and your student defense advisor. This point needs to be reiterated and emphasized, especially in our era of social media, when everyone seems to post every little detail about their personal lives online. Avoid that temptation, or else you could totally sink your case!
You will be able to handle your investigation, hearing, and appeal in the optimal, wisest manner if you have a student discipline attorney who is highly knowledgeable and experienced with code of conduct cases and the ways in which colleges and universities operate. With such an attorney, you can be assured that your rights will be maximally protected.
Handling the Investigation and Hearing
Keep in mind that, before your hearing, the school has to provide you with the details of the allegations made against you, including exactly what you allegedly did and when and where you allegedly did it. You are entitled to that information. Then, using the information, you and your lawyer can develop a clear strategy for your defense. That strategy will include the arguments that you will present at your hearing, the questions that you will ask of witnesses, and the names of the witnesses that you will present on your behalf.
Handling the Appeal
If the hearing results in a disciplinary board decision that you are responsible for the code of conduct violation, you and your attorney need to review your rights to appeal as provided by the school. The details of the appeals process will vary depending on the particular school in Connecticut. Because you have only a short time to prepare your appeal, as previously noted, you cannot afford to waste time trying to figure out the complex process yourself or by relying on inadequate advice. You need a strong attorney to make sure that the process is handled correctly and effectively.
Your attorney will help you prepare the best possible argument to support your appeal. These arguments may include explaining the relevant facts of the case thoroughly and pointing out if the school denied you any aspects of your due process rights. Although the school authority may not consider new evidence presented in an appeal, an experienced attorney has the best chance of arguing the merits of any new evidence that may have come to light since the disciplinary board's decision.
After the Appeal
If you have a strong attorney, your options may not yet be exhausted should you lose your appeal. The attorney can choose to file a complaint with the Connecticut Office of Higher Education, an institution that “advance[s] the promise of postsecondary education for all state residents, and . . . advocate[s] on behalf of students, taxpayers, and the postsecondary schools and colleges which fall under its purview.”
During the post-appeal process, your attorney may also choose to file a lawsuit against the school. Such a step should always be your last resort. Nevertheless, threatening this step may allow your attorney to negotiate a decision with the school that is more just for you. The school may choose to reach such a decision to avoid litigation in court.
You Need the Expertise and Experience of the Lento Law Firm
Attorney Joseph Lento and his colleagues at the Lento Law Firm have the expertise and experience you need to deal with any accusations of code of conduct violations, academic integrity violations, or Title IX violations, as well as any other disciplinary matters.
The lawyers of the Lento Law Firm have successfully helped hundreds of students in Connecticut and across the country handle discipline matters and code of conduct issues. Attorney Lento and his team will take the most robust approach for you and your case—from representation to negotiation to, if necessary, litigation. The lawyers of the Lento Law Firm believe that one mistake should not destroy your academic experience or future career, and they will relentlessly protect your rights and reputation.
To gain the best possible protection against unfair treatment in the daunting 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.