College is supposed to be an exciting time in a young person's life. It's during these years that most people learn how to be adults, make lifelong friends, expand the horizons of their knowledge, and take their first steps toward their future careers. Most people expect college to be a generally positive experience—they don't anticipate getting into trouble with the school's disciplinary code.
Running afoul of your school's conduct rules can impact your college experience for the worse. It can happen to anyone, too, as a simple mistake or misunderstanding can lead to a formal charge of violating the rules. Fortunately, your school has resources to help you understand the rules and what happens if you are accused of breaking them. One important document is your school's code of conduct. This policy should include all the behaviors that are prohibited for students at your school, as well as the procedures for suspected code violations. It should also list your rights as a student.
As a current or prospective university student, it's essential that you read and understand your school's code of conduct. It should be freely accessible on the university website, or there should be copies in the office of student affairs. Claiming you “didn't know” something was against the rules isn't sufficient defense if you are accused of misconduct. As an enrolled student, you are expected to know these conduct rules.
At the Lento Law Firm, we want to equip you with all the tools you need to succeed at your college or university. That's why we put together this guide to student disciplinary procedures for North Dakota schools.
North Dakota Code of Conduct Issues
Most schools have three types of misconduct: academic dishonesty, sexual misconduct, and general code of conduct violations. Your school most likely differentiates between these three categories and may even have a separate policy for each.
Academic misconduct occurs when one or more students try to gain an unfair advantage in the classroom. It typically includes cheating, plagiarism, fabricating data, unauthorized collaboration, classroom disruption, or damaging library materials. Often, schools let instructors handle academic misconduct directly and allow them to impose sanctions on students who they find responsible for academic dishonesty. These sanctions could range from having to redo the assignment to a failing grade in the course. For more serious or repeat offenses, students may have a hearing and face harsher punishments, such as suspension or expulsion.
Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Violations
Sexual misconduct is any sexual conduct that happens without the freely given consent of both or all parties involved. Examples could be rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual harassment. It's highly likely that your school prohibits sexual misconduct in the code of conduct. It may even have a separate policy that addresses sexual misconduct only or a third policy for Title IX violations.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that aims to prevent gender- and sex-based discrimination in educational institutions. It applies to schools at all levels, from kindergarten up to graduate programs. At colleges and universities, Title IX can touch on admissions, sports, employment, financial aid decisions, and much more. Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment fall under the Title IX definition of sexual misconduct. The law also includes a disciplinary process for schools to follow if they suspect a Title IX violation has occurred.
If your North Dakota school learns about a potential Title IX violation, it has an obligation to investigate. These obligations include:
- Thoroughly investigating the matter
- Ending any sexual violence and preventing it from happening again
- Dealing with the consequences of sexual violence
- Offering protection to the alleged victim and the person filing the complaint
- Providing a grievance process for dealing with the formal complaint
Colleges and universities have strict obligations under Title IX, so penalties for sexual misconduct can be harsh. For this reason, you must take an allegation of sexual misconduct or violating Title IX seriously, as there could be a lot at stake for you.
General Code of Conduct Violations
All conduct violations that don't fall under academic integrity or sexual misconduct are usually considered general code of conduct infractions. Your school should provide a list of these behaviors in your code of conduct, and some schools may differ slightly on what they allow or do not allow. Almost all schools in North Dakota will at least prohibit the following:
- Underage drinking: In North Dakota, like in all US states, alcohol consumption under the age of 21 is illegal. North Dakota college campuses typically comply with this law and prohibit students under 21 from consuming alcohol on campus. Some schools even prohibit alcohol consumption and possession on campus for all students, no matter their age.
- Illegal drug possession: Most codes of conduct do not allow the possession, distribution, sale, or use of illegal drugs on campus. Some schools may also regulate prescription drugs such as Adderall.
- Hazing: Rituals or behaviors for prospective members of student organizations, fraternities, sororities, or sports teams that are intended to be humiliating are known as hazing. Hazing can often involve dangerous behavior such as underage or binge drinking and has even resulted in injury and death. As schools across the country clamp down on hazing, it's highly likely your North Dakota university will also have rules against it.
- Campus housing violations: Many students choose to live in housing provided by the university, and it's typically their first time living away from home. This can be a big adjustment, and communal living requires standards of behavior that some students may not be accustomed to. Rules against theft, fighting, trespassing, or even making noise at certain hours help keep everyone living in university housing safe. Breaking these rules can lead to sanctions or get you kicked out of school dormitories.
- Hate crimes: A hate crime is an offense committed against someone because of their religion, race, gender, disability, or age. Most schools consider a hate crime a serious offense, and if you are accused of committing one, you could face harsh consequences.
Keep in mind that for most schools, the list of behaviors in the code of conduct isn't exhaustive. There could be other things that land you in trouble with your college or university, such as facing criminal charges outside of school. Whatever your situation, it's important to have a specialized student defense attorney who defends your rights.
How Colleges and Universities Manage Code of Conduct Issues in North Dakota
In addition to a list of behaviors that are prohibited for students, your school's code of conduct should also contain procedures for how to deal with suspected violations. The process usually resembles the following:
- An investigation
- A disciplinary hearing
- A decision and sanction recommendation
- A process for appealing the decision
After your school notifies you of a charge against you via official channels (usually your university email), they may set up an interview with you and other involved parties. Then, administrators typically set a date for a hearing, at which you can present evidence and witnesses. After the hearing, there will be a decision.
During the investigation, it's important to conduct yourself appropriately. Follow these guidelines to ensure you don't compromise your case:
- Don't speak to anyone at your school about the allegation. If you talk to anyone other than your parents or attorney about the case, you may incriminate yourself or have someone misinterpret your words.
- Don't post on social media about the accusation. You don't want to make the issue public for now, and posting on social media is another opportunity to potentially incriminate yourself.
- Don't trust your school. Your college or university may tell you they have your best interests in mind, but in reality, the administrators handling your case have to do what's best for the institution. Be wary of your school, and don't assume they are on your side.
- Get advice from an experienced attorney. During this process, it helps to have guidance from someone who specializes in student defense.
Once the investigation is over, your school may dismiss your case. If they do not, it will proceed to the next step, which is a disciplinary hearing. You'll receive notice of a date and time for the hearing.
At the hearing, you and the accusing party (which could be another person or simply a representative from your school) will go before either a single decision-maker or a panel to argue your cases. The panel could be made up of faculty, staff, or other students.
At most schools, you will be able to know about any evidence or witness testimony that will be used against you ahead of time. You should also have the opportunity to present your evidence and witnesses during the hearing. Both you and the other party will be able to do so.
Some schools allow the parties at a hearing to have an external advisor or attorney present with them. Many schools do not, however. Even if your school does not allow it, working with a student defense advisor during the disciplinary process can be beneficial to you. They can help you gather evidence, track down witnesses, and coach you on how to answer questions that the hearing panel will pose to you.
An attorney is also useful for procedural issues. A lawyer with the right training will be able to ensure your school upholds your due process rights throughout the entire disciplinary process. They can hold your school to account. By hiring an attorney, you also demonstrate to your school that you take the matter seriously.
Potential Sanctions for Code of Conduct Violations
If you are found responsible for a code of conduct violation by the hearing panel, you may face sanctions. Although these penalties differ slightly by school, for the most part, they include:
- Written reprimand that goes in your school file
- Prohibition on participating in extracurricular activities
- Loss of scholarship
- Removal from student housing
- Academic probation
- Disciplinary probation
- Degree revocation
Some of these sanctions seem minor, but they can have lasting effects on your future. Even a written reprimand or notation on your transcript can be enough to dissuade a graduate program from accepting you or an internship director from hiring you. With so much at stake, it's vital that you defend yourself adequately from a code of conduct accusation. Working with an experienced lawyer can improve your chances of a favorable outcome.
How to Respond to Code of Conduct Charges in North Dakota
If you are accused of a code of conduct violation, you should conduct yourself properly during the disciplinary process if you want to increase the likelihood that you are not found responsible for an infraction. Keep these tips and best practices in mind at each stage of the process.
After learning about the accusation, you may want to defend your good name to anyone who will listen. You should avoid speaking about the charge to anyone other than your parents and attorney, though. Clearing your name will take a strategic approach that your attorney works on with you, not you lashing out to defend yourself right away.
Before and During the Hearing
You should know the full allegations against you before the hearing starts. Use this information to prepare your defense with your attorney. They'll help you develop a strategy for questioning witnesses as well as coach you on how to present your argument.
During the hearing, be respectful to everyone present and don't let yourself get emotional, frustrated, or excited. If you are allowed to have your attorney present with you, confer with them before speaking. Once the hearing is over, the panel will make a decision about your allegation. If the panel finds you responsible, it will also recommend a sanction.
Filing a Disciplinary Appeal
Most North Dakota colleges and universities have an appeals process. If you disagree with the decision the panel makes, you may be able to file an appeal. Your school should provide instructions for how to file an appeal if it's allowed, and you must follow these guidelines carefully.
Typically, you have five to ten days from the date of the decision to write and submit a formal appeal. The appeal usually goes to an administrator who must accept or reject it first before it can be reviewed. If your appeal is not based on the right criteria, your school may not even consider it. The most common reasons appeals are rejected are:
- The appeal introduces facts you didn't introduce during the hearing
- The appeal's arguments impugn someone's character
- You simply argue that the decision was wrong
After an administrator or appeals board reviews your appeal, they will make a final decision on your case. Although it's “final” there are still a few more steps you can take.
Why You May Need a Lawyer for Your Appeal
You only have one chance to appeal your university's decision about your code of conduct violation, so having an experienced attorney to help can make the appeal more effective. An attorney can also help if you decide to pursue options beyond the appeal, such as: