College can be one of the most rewarding times in your life. You're establishing your independence, defining your personality, plotting out your future career. A code of conduct charge can put all of that in jeopardy.
If you're facing an accusation, even for a minor policy violation, it's important you take it seriously. Too often, students simply accept their punishment, even if they're innocent, afraid that fighting an allegation will only make things worse. The truth is, even if the school just issues you a written warning, that can cost you scholarships, interfere with internship and graduate school applications, even hurt your chances at getting a good first job.
So, take the time now to learn all you can about your school's misconduct policies, what kinds of sanctions it typically assigns, and how its judicial processes operate. The more you know, the better prepared you'll be to defend yourself. Because there's just too much at stake to leave things up to chance.
Three Types of Misconduct
Every Louisiana college and university has its own misconduct policies, and no two are exactly alike. The only way to know for certain how your school treats violations is to review your student code of conduct carefully. It should explain in detail all the rules and describe what happens if you break them.
Still, there are a number of broad similarities in how schools operate. One thing they all have in common is that they divide misconduct into three categories: academic misconduct, disciplinary misconduct, and sexual misconduct.
In general terms, academic misconduct is defined as any action that gives you an unfair advantage in completing your coursework and getting your degree. Most schools focus on cheating and plagiarism, but any form of classroom dishonesty is likely prohibited.
Typically, instructors have the primary responsibility for identifying and punishing offenders. An instructor will usually call you into their office to discuss any allegations against you and get your side of the story. They'll probably also suggest a punishment. This might be anything from a written warning to a failure in the course.
The good news is that your school almost certainly has some kind of process for appealing your instructor's decisions. Maybe that just means complaining to the department head or submitting your work to a committee for review. Even so, it's an opportunity to salvage your reputation.
You should also be aware that your school probably requires instructors to report all incidents of academic misconduct. That means you could be given additional sanctions for repeat offenses. Often these include more serious punishments like probation, suspension, and expulsion.
“Disciplinary misconduct” covers all those offenses that have nothing to do with coursework. Here again, schools differ in how they define these offenses, but there are some general similarities, especially when it comes to major offenses.
- Underage drinking: If you're under 21, drinking is expressly forbidden at all Louisiana universities. Some schools go further, though. Your school may have rules about how, when, and where you can drink, even if you're of age, and a few actually ban alcohol altogether.
- Drug possession: Drug use and possession are also outlawed at all Louisiana schools. This includes marijuana.
- Hazing: Hazing is prohibited at all Louisiana colleges and universities. It is further subject to state law, and you can be sentenced to up to six months in prison if you're found guilty. If the hazing results in serious bodily injury or death, the sentence could be as much as five years.
- Hate crimes: Committing any crime based on a person's race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry is also against Louisiana state law. Most schools also prohibit all forms of discrimination, harassment, and hate speech, whether or not they are connected to a specific crime.
You should also know that if you live in a dorm or apartment on-campus, you're probably subject to a separate set of residence life policies. These rules govern everything about on-campus living, from how loud you can play your music to whether or not you're allowed to take the screens off your windows. Usually, violations are treated just like other kinds of disciplinary offenses.
Sexual misconduct is a particular form of disciplinary misconduct that all schools treat using separate procedures from their disciplinary policies. This is because the federal government controls how schools respond to these offenses. Title IX, passed by Congress in 1972, limits sexual discrimination and harassment in education programs and includes specific guidelines for how to investigate and adjudicate all allegations. As a result, this is the one type of misconduct that every school in Louisiana treats the same.
- Your college or university has a Title IX Coordinator who deals with all complaints.
- If you've been charged with a Title IX violation, the coordinator must provide you with written notice. That notice must detail the allegations and apprise you of your rights.
- Under current Title IX rules, you are entitled to have an advisor to help you with your case. This advisor may be an attorney.
- A Title IX Investigator will interview both you and the complainant separately. In addition, they will collect any physical evidence and interview witnesses.
- Following the investigation, your school will hold a hearing. Both you and the complainant will have an opportunity to submit evidence and call witnesses. You'll also be able to cross-examine each other and any witnesses against you.
- You are entitled to appeal the outcome of the hearing under very specific circumstances like the discovery of new evidence or the demonstration of mistakes made during the investigation or hearing. The complainant has the same right of appeal.
Finally, you should know that not all sexual misconduct cases are Title IX cases. As the result of changes in the law in 2020, many schools created procedures to deal with so-called “non-Title IX violations,” misconduct no longer covered under Title IX. Because these cases aren't covered under federal law, schools are allowed to create their own investigative procedures. Some use Title IX guidelines for both kinds of cases, but not all.
How Louisiana Colleges Manage Misconduct
When it comes to investigating and adjudicating your case, your school will likely use a four-step process.
- Preliminary meetings: You'll be asked to meet with school officials and given a chance to explain your side of the situation.
- Investigation: Your school will conduct some form of investigation. If you're charged with something like plagiarism, this may be as simple as your instructor collecting examples from your work. In other cases, an investigation can be more formal and last as long as three to four months.
- Hearings: If your case is serious—if you could be sanctioned with suspension or expulsion—you can expect your university will give you a chance to defend yourself at a formal hearing. You'll be able to present evidence and call witnesses on your behalf. However, you may not be entitled to a hearing if the accusation and proposed punishment are more minor.
- Appeals: Whatever the outcome of your hearing, your school will have some process in place for appealing the verdict. At some schools, appeals are heard by a committee. At others, a single administrator determines the outcome.
Handling Meetings and Investigations
Your actions from the very beginning of the case can have an impact on the eventual outcome. Make sure you follow best practices even before the investigation is fully underway.
- Don't speak with your instructor or any other school official until you have talked with an attorney. Just as in a real investigation, your words can and will be used against you.
- Don't discuss your case on social media. You may want to plead your case in public, but you can never be sure whether what you say will help or hurt your cause. Your public statements can be used against you.
- Don't contact your accuser. It's tempting to believe you can solve the whole problem just by sitting down and explaining yourself. That almost never works. Worse, it could be construed as harassment, leading to additional charges.
- Gather your evidence. Take time as soon as you are accused to write down your version of events. Collect any physical evidence and make a list of potential witnesses. Keep detailed records of any contact you have with school officials. All of this material will be vital to helping to prove your case.
- Take care of yourself. An investigation, even into a minor accusation, is a stressful experience. You can't help your defense, though, if you allow this stress to overwhelm you. Do what you can to keep your life normal. Go to classes, for instance, and exercise every day. You may also want to consider visiting a therapist, someone who can help you deal with the emotions that come up during the investigation.
- Hire an attorney. Never try to take on your school alone. In some cases, an attorney can actually do the talking for you. Even when they can't, however, they can help you formulate your answers to investigative questions and practice with you to make sure you give those answers clearly and confidently.
Dealing with Disciplinary Hearings and Appeals
Likewise, there are important things to remember as you prepare for the second half of your case—the hearing and appeals processes.
- You will likely have at least a week to ten days to review the school's evidence against you and prepare your case. Use this time wisely to construct a strategy for how you will present your arguments.
- You may be allowed to bring a support person to the hearing with you. If possible, choose a lawyer to fill this role. Even if this person isn't allowed to address hearing officials directly, they'll be able to give you advice throughout the proceedings, and the better the advice, the better your chances.
- Keep in mind that while you will have an opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses, your accuser will have the same opportunity. Consider how they may organize their case and how you might respond to their arguments.
Decision-makers will likely decide your case by using something known as the “preponderance of evidence” standard. You are probably familiar with the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. “Preponderance of evidence” is far less strict. Essentially, you can be found “responsible” if decision-makers believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed the offense.
Possible Louisiana College Sanctions
You'll find a full list of possible sanctions in your student code of conduct. These will probably include at least some of the following:
- A formal written warning placed in your file
- Loss of on-campus housing
- Loss of other privileges such as extracurricular activities
- Course scheduling changes
- No contact orders
- Financial restitution
- Mandated counseling
- Loss of scholarships or other financial aid
All sanctions, even warnings, can have long-lasting impacts. Obviously, suspension and expulsion can disrupt or even put an end to your academic career. However, any sanction that is noted in your file or on your transcript serves as a black mark on your reputation as a student. This can hurt your chances of getting scholarships and internships. It can prevent you from getting into a good graduate school, and it can be a problem when it comes time for job interviews.
Responding to Allegations
If you've been accused of misconduct, your future is at stake. The judicial process at most colleges and universities can be difficult to navigate. Make sure you know what to expect, right from the beginning. In addition, make sure you choose an experienced advisor to help you build your case.
Dealing with the Accusation and Investigation
Why should you “remain silent” until you've talked to an attorney? The beginning of the case is when students make the most mistakes. Being accused can be an emotional experience. You may be angry or even hurt that someone would level an allegation at you. You may be frightened of the consequences you're facing. It's easy in such circumstances to say or do things that you will later regret.
Lawyers They're also trained to help clients through investigative meetings, to negotiate, to manage the optics of tricky situations. The right attorney can make sure you put your best face forward, that your side of the story is clear and easy to follow, that you don't forget to bring up any important facts, and that you don't say anything that could wind up hurting you later.aren't just trained to argue cases in court.
During the Hearing
Defending yourself at a hearing isn't as simple as giving your side of events and presenting some evidence. Winning a case involves carefully organizing your evidence, deciding exactly how to present it and when. You must call the right witnesses and know exactly the right questions to ask them. You must have the right answers prepared for the questions you'll be asked. You need a strategy, one that's designed for the specifics of your particular case.
An attorney with experience in student conduct hearings will know exactly how the entire process will unfold. They'll be experts at helping you decide on the right approach to your case and in helping you execute it. Even if your advisor can't actually address the hearing officers, they can prepare you, they can advise you, and they can sit by your side throughout the whole process.
Students—even innocent students—can and do lose hearings. When the standard of responsibility is “preponderance of evidence,” it can be difficult to find justice. Fortunately, you'll most likely have one more opportunity to make your case through an appeal. However, an appeal isn't like a hearing. You won't get to make your case directly to decision-makers. Instead, you'll be asked to submit written documents in support of your arguments, and a committee or a single administrator will make their decision based on these.
Here again, then, an attorney can be invaluable. Attorneys are experts at crafting written arguments. A lawyer with experience in misconduct cases will know how to make a strong case that you deserve an appeal, and they'll know the best arguments to convince the decision-maker to overturn your verdict.
Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Advisor
Student misconduct cases don't work the way court cases on TV work. You don't face a seasoned judge sitting behind a bench in an oak-paneled room. Your case isn't decided by a jury of your peers. You're more likely to find yourself in a dingy seminar room in the basement of the student union trying to convince a physics professor, an English teaching assistant, and a third-year paleontology student of your innocence.
You don't need the typical defense attorney to serve as your advisor. You need an attorney who understands how college and university cases work.
Joseph D. Lento built his career helping students defend themselves from student misconduct charges. Joseph D. Lento has courtroom experience, but far more importantly, he has experience dealing with school faculty and administrators. He knows how your school's judicial processes operate. If you're serious about reclaiming your future, don't trust anyone else as your advisor.
Contact Joseph D. Lento today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.