As a college student in Indiana, you likely have a lot of expectations for yourself. You want to finish your degree, get an internship or part-time job, participate in extracurricular activities or student clubs, and still have time to socialize. The life of a modern college student is full, and it's not uncommon for students to put too much pressure on themselves to succeed. Sometimes, however, that pressure comes from their universities and the standards of behavior these schools have for their students.
Although you're a busy college student, it's important to take time to read your school's code of conduct. If you are unfamiliar with your university's policies, it's more likely that a simple mistake, misunderstanding, or miscommunication could lead to serious disciplinary action from your school. Your school's code of conduct should tell you what behaviors are prohibited by the university and the procedures the administration takes when it suspects a student has committed one of these behaviors. It also lists your rights and responsibilities as a student.
The code of conduct can be a lengthy and confusing document, and you may not be able to tell what applies to your situation and what doesn't. At the Lento Law Firm, we believe that you should have the knowledge you need to flourish during your time as a student in Indiana. We've compiled this helpful resource page about common code of conduct charges at Indiana schools and what you can expect if you are accused of violating your school's code.
What Types of Misconduct Are Common at Indiana Schools?
Most universities have a code of conduct that classifies misconduct in three main categories: academic dishonesty, sexual misconduct, and general code of conduct violations. Your university may have a different procedure for dealing with these types of misconduct, but each is considered a serious matter.
Academic misconduct happens when students aren't honest about matters related to academic coursework. Examples include plagiarism, cheating on exams, classroom disruption, data fabrication, or unauthorized collaboration. Your Indiana school might have an honor code in supplement to your code of conduct, which provides more information about academic dishonesty and what happens when you are accused of it. Some schools let professors handle academic misconduct directly, others have a formal disciplinary process.
Many schools across the US do not tolerate sexual harassment and misconduct, and Indiana schools are no exception. Any sexual activity engaged in where one participant has not given their consent is considered sexual misconduct. Each university may provide more detailed definitions, but sexual misconduct typically includes sexual harassment, rape, incest, stalking, domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual exploitation.
It's important to note that your school may have a separate sexual misconduct policy, which you should read in addition to the code of conduct. It's also common for universities to have two sexual misconduct policies: one that addresses federal Title IX rules and one that addresses behavior that falls outside the scope of Title IX. If you are accused of sexual misconduct, your school will have to decide whether to pursue your case under the Title IX policy—which usually has more protections for the accused—or the general sexual misconduct policy. Whatever your school's policies are, you should familiarize yourself with them and stay informed. Your school may wish to make an example of your sexual misconduct case to protect its reputation, which could result in poor treatment for you.
General misconduct or code of conduct violations typically refer to all the prohibited behaviors that don't fall under academic dishonesty or sexual misconduct. Naturally, these offenses vary by school, but there are some universal behaviors that most universities prohibit for their students. You should refer to your school's policies for details, but it likely includes some of the following examples as conduct infractions:
- Possession of alcohol or drugs: Most Indiana schools will prohibit underage possession and consumption of alcohol on campus, and some may not allow it all, no matter the age of the student. It's also likely your school prohibits the possession, consumption, or distribution of controlled substances on campus, including (recreational) prescription drugs, steroids, and narcotics.
- Hazing: Schools across North America have taken a firm stance against hazing. Any rituals that prospective members must perform to join a student group or athletic team that is intended to cause embarrassment or pain is hazing. Incidents of hazing have led to injury and death in a few cases, so your school most likely does not allow it.
- Residential misconduct: Many students choose to live in residence halls provided by their universities. For most of these students, it's the first time they are living away from home without their parents, so it takes some adjusting. Living in community settings requires some rules to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all residents, so your university housing may have policies against fighting or personal property destruction. Breaking these rules could result in a ban from living in the college residence halls.
- Hate crimes: If a student is involved in an offense that is related to a victim's sexual orientation, race, age, color, gender, or other protected class, that offense might be considered a hate crime. Having a hate crime on your college record can have implications long after you've finished your degree, as it can damage your reputation.
This list only provides a few examples of general code of conduct violations. You should take the time to read through your school's policies to know exactly which behaviors could land you in trouble with the administration. It's also good to know what happens if you are accused of committing any of these infractions, which we cover in the next section.
The Code of Conduct Process at Your Indiana University
Your school most likely has an adjudication process for suspected code of conduct violations. Once it learns of allegations against it, it will launch this process. The first step is usually sending you formal notification of your charges and letting you know which parts of the code of conduct you have allegedly violated. The notification should also outline the adjudication process.
The next step is an investigation to learn more about the accusation and about you. An investigator assigned to your case will want to speak with you and possibly your friends and instructors to learn about the supposed misconduct.
Before the investigation starts, you should take action. As soon as you learn of the charge against you, you should:
- Find the specific section of the code of conduct that you have supposedly violated and read it thoroughly
- Gather information about what happened and save copies of everything related to the incident that you can think of
- Contact a student defense advisor. It might seem too early to tell if you need a professional advisor, but it's never too soon to consult with an expert. Code of conduct violation cases can spiral out of your control quickly, and these cases are usually lost or won in the investigative phase. Having an experienced advisor by your side early on will ensure you're off to a good start with your case.
The early stages of your case are also a good time to set boundaries. Once you know that you are charged with a code of conduct infraction, you should not speak to anyone about it, except your parents and student defense attorney-advisor. If you speak to anyone associated with your university, including your friends, the information you give could come back to haunt you later. You will have to speak to the investigator and other school administrators during formal meetings and hearings, but your advisor can coach you on these interactions beforehand.
During the investigation, your advisor can work with you to help gather evidence and review a list of witnesses. After the investigative stage ends, your university may schedule a hearing in front of a panel of representatives from your school.
What to Expect at the Disciplinary Hearing
The code of conduct procedures at your school may involve a live hearing, where you go in front of a panel of either students, faculty members, or university staff. Your university should notify you of the date of the hearing in advance, so you have time to prepare.
The hearing is your chance to tell your side of the story. You will be able to present your own evidence in support of your argument and possibly interview witnesses in front of the hearing panel. The panel may also ask questions of the witnesses and of you. Keep in mind that some schools in Indiana do not use a panel to decide cases at hearings but may appoint a sole decision-maker instead.
Some schools allow you to have an external advisor present with you at the hearing, so you have someone to consult with. Other schools may only let you choose an advisor from among the university community. Even if you cannot have an attorney-advisor present with you or they are not allowed to address anyone besides you during the hearing, it's still in your best interest to work with an advisor during the code of conduct disciplinary process because:
- An advisor can coach you prior to the hearing to ensure you're comfortable with the information and evidence you must present, as well as ready to answer questions the panel might ask you.
- An advisor can read through your school's policies and ensure there are no loopholes or peculiarities that could work against you.
- An advisor can help ensure your school protects your rights during the adjudicative or disciplinary process.
If you've hired a professional to work with you on your code of conduct accusation, your school is also more likely to take you seriously. Your advisor can be ready to negotiate lesser sanctions if your school tries to impose a harsh punishment.
Potential Sanctions for Indiana College Students
After the panel or sole decision-maker at your hearing has made a decision, and they decide you are responsible for a code of conduct violation, they will recommend or implement a sanction. Sanctions vary at Indiana schools, but common penalties are probation, formal warning, disciplinary notation on your transcript, loss of scholarships or housing, training related to your offense, suspension, or even expulsion.
Most schools have a list of possible sanctions that range in severity, but the most common sanction for code of conduct violations is suspension. Although a suspension is temporary, it can wreak havoc with your educational progress and hold up your career plans in the future.
A suspension results in a gap on your transcript. If you are suspended for a semester, you will likely not finish your degree on time as planned. You'll also have to explain why your transcript has a gap on it when you apply to internships or graduate schools. You will have to disclose your disciplinary history to the internship committee or graduate program, which could prevent you from landing the opportunity.
It's crucial to avoid having that gap on your transcript. You can work with your student defense advisor to obtain reduced sanctions or pursue other options. We'll discuss those options in the next section.
Filing an Appeal and Other Student Responses to Cond of Conduct Charges
The best practices for making it through a code of conduct adjudication process are staying informed, refraining from speaking to anyone, and hiring an advisor as early as you can. If you've taken these steps but still find yourself at the end of the process facing a sanction you don't agree with, it might be time to file an appeal.
Upon notifying you of a hearing decision and recommended sanctions, your school should also notify you of the appeal procedures. Appeals differ by school, but you can generally expect to take the following steps:
- Determine the basis for the appeal. Most universities won't let you appeal a hearing decision simply because you don't like the outcome. Typically, you must prove that either the school didn't follow its own rules during the process, the imposed sanctions are disproportionate, or that new evidence has come to light since the investigation.
- Submit a written appeal. Most universities give you time to file an appeal after the hearing decision, usually between five to seven days. In that time, you must write an appeal with a persuasive argument and a strong basis.
- Wait for the appeal outcome. Appeals are not new hearings, so you likely won't be able to appear in person in front of the appeal board or decision-maker. They will have only materials from the original hearing and your written appeal statement to go on. Most Indiana universities have one phase of appeals, meaning there isn't another university official you can appeal to if you don't receive a favorable decision.
Although your university considers the appeal decision final, you still have a few options left after the appeal closes. These options include:
- Filing a complaint with the Indiana Department of Education. As a formal governmental body, the Department of Education may be able to put some pressure on your school to reconsider negotiations with you. It's also helpful to have a formal complaint on file if you decide to take legal action later.
- Asking your advisor to meet with the university's general counsel. Having two teams of lawyers discussing a solution that benefits both parties can be an effective tactic if your school has not approved your appeal. It's also a good first step if you decide later to pursue litigation.
- Bring a lawsuit against your university. If filing a complaint with the Indiana Department of Education or having your advisor meet with your university's general counsel doesn't work, it may be time to pursue litigation. This option will likely permanently sever your relationship with your school, however.
Lento Law Firm Can Help You Defend Your Case at Your Indiana School
From the start, your Indiana school's code of conduct process can be overwhelming. What you may have thought was a simple misunderstanding could turn out to be a serious matter that negatively impacts your future.
In this situation, you shouldn't have to figure things out for yourself. If you've never negotiated sanctions or participated in a disciplinary hearing in a university setting before, you may not know how to proceed. To ensure that your interactions with your school's administration work toward a favorable outcome for you, you need an expert.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is an experienced legal advisor who helps students handle code of conduct charges from their universities. By assisting with hundreds of cases across the country, he's seen many students out of tough situations. Whatever part of the process you need help with—appeals, litigation, negotiations, and more—Joseph D. Lento has the expertise to guide you through it. He can assist with gathering evidence to support your arguments, comb through your school's policies, and coach you for difficult hearings.
Don't try to handle your code of conduct accusation alone. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.