As a college student in Missouri, you may lead a busy life. Between classes, extracurricular activities, searching for internships, working a part-time job, and trying to socialize with friends, you don't have time for much else. Accomplishing all these things during your time in college can be a hectic albeit rewarding experience. You wouldn't want a small mistake or misunderstanding to derail all that progress.
In addition to all the activities you engage in as a college student, your university also expects you to meet certain standards of behavior. If you don't, or if your school thinks you don't, you could end up facing harsh disciplinary action. In order to know what your university can bring disciplinary charges against you for, you must read your school's code of conduct.
The code of conduct is typically a long, complicated document that lists prohibited behavior for students at your school. It most likely also covers the process for dealing with students believed to have violated the code of conduct. It's important to read and understand this document before you start taking classes at your university, but you would be forgiven if you don't fully comprehend all the procedures involved in a code of conduct violation case.
If you are accused by your school of violating the code of conduct, it can be hard to know which sections apply to you. At the Lento Law Firm, we want to equip you with the knowledge you need to succeed at your Missouri University. This includes knowing your rights and responsibilities and what to expect should your school bring a code of conduct charge against you. We've made this helpful resource page about code of conduct issues in Missouri to cover what common code of conduct charges are and how you may be able to defend against them.
What Types of Misconduct Are There at Missouri Universities?
Every school's code of conduct may differ, but there tend to be three categories of misconduct at most universities: Academic dishonesty, sexual misconduct, and general code of conduct violations. Many schools have a separate process for dealing with each type of infraction, but the potential consequences are equally severe for all three. Let's look at these types of misconduct individually.
When a student attempts to gain an unfair advantage over others on coursework, such as exams, term papers, lab reports, or other academic exercises, it is considered academic dishonesty. Most schools either have an honor code that prohibits academic misconduct or a separate section in the code of conduct covering these violations. Common examples of academic dishonesty are plagiarism, cheating, classroom disruption, data fabrication, improper use of electronic devices or campus computers, and unauthorized collaboration. The sanctions for academic misconduct range from a lowered or failing grade on an exam or assignment to academic probation or even expulsion.
Sexual misconduct occurs when there is sexual activity between two or more persons, and one of the persons involved does not give their full consent to the activity. Your school has most likely stated and defined examples of sexual misconduct, but common behaviors in this category are sexual harassment, rape, stalking, domestic violence, dating violence, incest, fondling, statutory rape, and sexual exploitation.
Keep in mind that your Missouri university may have a separate policy that deals exclusively with sexual misconduct. In fact, your school may have two policies to handle this issue. Universities that want federal funding must follow federal Title IX rules, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, among other things. It's possible your school has a Title IX policy to address federal rules as well as a general sexual misconduct policy that covers behavior that falls outside the scope of Title IX. In some cases, Title IX may offer more protections to accused students than a school's non-Title IX sexual misconduct policy. You should read and understand all the policies related to sexual misconduct at your Missouri school, so you have an idea of what to expect if you do get accused.
General misconduct usually refers to code of conduct violations that do not fall within the academic dishonesty or sexual misconduct categories. Each school in Missouri can define what general misconduct is, but there are typically universal behaviors that many schools tend to punish. You should read your school's code of conduct to know exactly what is prohibited at your university, but you can expect some of the following examples to be present:
- Possession of alcohol or drugs: Consuming alcohol under the age of 21 is illegal in Missouri, and most university campuses comply with this law. Some schools may even prohibit the possession and consumption of alcohol for all students on campus, regardless of their age. You can also expect your school to prohibit the use of controlled substances such as recreational prescription drugs, steroids, and narcotics.
- Hazing: Hazing is when a student group or team requires prospective members to complete rituals or activities intended to cause embarrassment or pain. Schools across the country are taking a stance on hazing, as it has resulted in injury and even death in some cases. You are very likely to find a prohibition on hazing in your Missouri school's code of conduct.
- Residential misconduct: Many college students live on their own for the first time when they head off to school and choose to live in university-provided housing. There are many benefits to communal living, but there are also rules everyone must follow to ensure a safe, comfortable environment. These rules might prohibit fighting in the residence halls or stealing another's personal property. Breaking residence hall rules can potentially get you kicked out of university housing.
- Hate crimes: If a student is involved in an incident that causes embarrassment or painful offense to a victim in relation to their sexual orientation, race, age, color, or gender, a university may treat the infraction as a hate crime. Students associated with hate crimes may suffer long-term reputational damage, even after college is over.
This list only provides a few common examples and is by no means exhaustive. You should still familiarize yourself with your school's code of conduct, so you know which behaviors might land you in trouble and how your school handles it. We'll cover code of conduct adjudication procedures in the next section.
The Code of Conduct Process at Your Missouri School
Once your Missouri university learns of a potential code of conduct violation by you, it will start the investigative and adjudication process. You will know if your school formally charges you for violating the code of conduct because you will receive written notification from your university. The notification should describe what you are charged with, cite the relevant section of the code of conduct, and explain the upcoming procedures.
As soon as you receive this notification, you should take the following actions:
- Read the section of the code of conduct your school references in your notification.
- Start gathering information about the incident in question. Save text messages, photos, emails, social media posts, and try to make an outline of what happened. Write everything down and make copies.
- Hire a student defense advisor. It seems early to bring in an expert on a code of conduct accusation, but the sooner you work with a professional, the better off you'll be. You'll realize that these types of cases can spiral out of your control quickly, and the investigative phase is usually the most important.
- Refrain from speaking about your accusation to anyone associated with the university. You may want to confide in friends or a trusted professor, but any information you give them could be used against you later. Only speak to your parents and student defense advisor about the accusation. You will have to talk to university administrators at formal meetings and hearings, but your advisor can prepare you for those conversations in advance.
After receiving notification of the code of conduct charge against you, you can expect your school to start an investigation to ascertain what happened. The investigator will want to speak with you, any potential witnesses, as well as your friends and instructors. They may also go through your social media accounts to gather more information about you. Your advisor can prepare you for a meeting with the investigator or their team.
Once the investigation is over, your university will most likely schedule a hearing.
What to Expect at Your Missouri University's Code of Conduct Hearing
At the formal disciplinary hearing, you will go before either a panel of representatives from your school or a single decision-maker. The panel may include faculty, staff, or fellow students.
The hearing is your chance to offer your side of the story. As you will most likely know about the hearing advance, you will have time to gather evidence you can present during the hearing. You may also be able to ask witnesses to appear at your hearing, so you can question them. The panel can also ask questions of your witnesses and of you during the hearing. At the end of the hearing, the panel or decision-maker will determine if you are responsible for the code of conduct violation you are accused of and, if you are, recommend a sanction.
Some Missouri schools allow accused students to have an external advisor present during the hearing. Others do not. Even if your student defense legal advisor is not permitted to accompany you to your hearing, you should still work with one throughout the code of conduct process for a few reasons:
- A defense advisor can coach you before the hearing, so you know what kinds of questions to expect from the panel and how to answer them.
- A defense advisor can read through your school's policies to ensure you're aware of niche precedents or loopholes in your school's regulations.
- A defense advisor can help you stand up for your rights when dealing with your university's disciplinary process.
- A defense advisor will likely make your school take you more seriously, as you've hired a professional to help with your case.
- A defense advisor can help negotiate a reduced punishment if your university does decide to impose harsh sanctions.
Sanctions for Missouri University Students
If the hearing panel determines you are responsible for a code of conduct violation, it will recommend sanctions. The punishments you could face for such an infraction vary in severity from probation or community service to loss of scholarship or even expulsion.
Although your school's code of conduct may list less severe sanctions as potential punishments, the most common sanction in these types of cases is suspension. A suspension is temporary, yes, but it can have long-lasting impacts on your education and your future. You shouldn't take it lightly.
A suspension creates a gap in your transcript. When you apply for internships or graduate school, you will have to explain that gap, which may require you to divulge your disciplinary history. Once the internship manager or application committee learns about that, your chances of being selected aren't as good. It's crucial to take action now, so you don't end up in this situation later.
If you don't want to have to carry out the suspension or other sanction your school has imposed, you have options. We'll cover these options in the next section.
Your Options for Responding to a Code of Conduct Charge
If you've worked from the start with an attorney-advisor and refrained from speaking to anyone else about your case, you've already put yourself in a good position. If you've reached the end of the code of conduct process and the sanction awaiting you is suspension, however, you still have a few steps you can take to avoid carrying out this or more severe punishment.
The first of these steps is an appeal. To file an appeal at your Missouri university, you generally must:
- Determine the basis for your appeal to make your argument as strong as possible. You typically must demonstrate that the school didn't follow its own rules, the sanctions are disproportionate with the offense, or that new evidence has come to light.
- Submit your appeal to the proper administrator, usually the Dean of Students, within five to seven days of the hearing decision.
- Wait for the appeal decision. In most cases, the appeal decision is final, and you won't have the opportunity to go before the appeal board or Dean of Students to make your case (again). Your written appeal statement, therefore, must be solid when you submit it.
If the appeal is unsuccessful, you still have three options to pursue:
- Contact the Missouri Department of Education to submit a formal complaint. Pressure from a governmental body may convince your school to reopen negotiations with you.
- Have your student defense attorney speak with the university's legal counsel to work out a solution both sides can agree with. If your advisor makes it clear that your university might face a lawsuit from you, your school might be more willing to work with you.
- Bring a lawsuit against your university. Suing your school will probably terminate your relationship with it, so you and your advisor must weigh this option carefully before deciding to pursue it.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help You Defend Your Code of Conduct Charge
When your school starts a code of conduct process against you, you may not feel overwhelmed—at first. After all, if you got charged with a code of conduct violation for a simple misunderstanding, why should you need a legal advisor's help? You can quickly lose control in this type of case, however, and will wish you had someone to advise you on what to do next.
You shouldn't have to figure everything out by yourself. It takes seasoned negotiating skills to work with your school on lowering sanctions or ensuring the investigation unfolds how you want it to. You have to be certain that each interaction you have with your university administration works toward a successful outcome for you.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento can provide the support you need during your code of conduct process, from the time you receive notification of the charges through to the appeal and possible litigation. Joseph D. Lento is a student defense attorney who's worked with university students on their code of conduct violation cases for years. He understands how universities tend to handle these cases and will know what to expect as you navigate your school's process. As your defense advisor, he can also help you gather evidence, comb through your school's policies, and coach you for meetings and hearings with university administrators.
You shouldn't try to handle this alone. Call Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Fi