When you go off to college, you expect to learn new things, make new friends, get involved in new activities, and ultimately set the course for the rest of your adult life. You may have big expectations for yourself—for most students, that doesn't include running into disciplinary trouble with your college or university. Running afoul of your school's rules and policies can impact your entire college experience. It can even affect your future career.
Fortunately, you're not completely in the dark as a student when it comes to discipline. Your school should have ample resources to help you know what is and what is not permitted. The primary document you should consult is your school's code of conduct. It will contain all the rules you must follow, your rights as a student, and what happens if your school believes you have broken a rule.
If you haven't already, you should find and read your school's code of conduct in its entirety. Most schools make it publicly available on their websites. It's your responsibility not only to read it but also to understand the rules. Ignorance of the code of conduct is not a sufficient defense should you be accused of a conduct violation. It's also good to know what to expect if you ever do face a charge of misconduct by your school.
At Lento Law Firm, we believe one simple mistake shouldn't ruin your college experience. That's why we put together this guide to conduct disciplinary procedures at Rhode Island colleges and universities. As a student, you should be as well-informed as possible.
Code of Conduct Issues in Rhode Island: Academic Dishonesty, Sexual Misconduct, and General Disciplinary Charges
The code of conduct at your school should list and define all the behaviors that are prohibited for students. Your school may divide these behaviors into categories, such as academic dishonesty, sexual misconduct, and general code of conduct violations.
Most schools define academic misconduct as a student attempting to seek an unfair advantage in an academic setting. Examples can include plagiarism, cheating, fabricating data, unauthorized collaboration, disturbing the classroom, or destruction of university property. Often, the academic misconduct process is handled by instructors, who can accuse, confront, and impose sanctions on students if they find them responsible for academic dishonesty. Possible penalties for an academic integrity violation are a lowered or failing grade on an assignment or exam or a failing grade in the course. For more serious academic misconduct matters, you may end up facing suspension or expulsion.
Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Violations
Sexual misconduct occurs when any sexual conduct happens without the freely given consent of both or all parties involved. It may include rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, or sex- and gender-based harassment. It's more than likely that your Rhode Island school prohibits sexual misconduct in the code of conduct, but there may also be a separate policy dealing exclusively with sexual misconduct matters. Your school may even have a third policy to address Title IX violations.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that aims to prevent gender discrimination in educational institutions in the US. It touches on all aspects of university operation, including admissions, sports, employment, and financial aid decisions, among many others. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual misconduct. The rules in Title IX govern the disciplinary process for potential violations as well.
When your Rhode Island school learns about a suspected Title IX violation, it has an obligation to investigate and remediate the situation. Colleges and universities end up taking a broad judiciary and investigative role in Title IX cases, with the following responsibilities:
- Conducting a thorough investigation
- Ending any sexual violence and preventing it from happening again
- Addressing the consequences of any sexual violence
- Protecting the alleged victim and complainant
- Providing grievance procedures
Federal Title IX rules also make punishments for violations quite harsh. For this reason, you should have an experienced student defense attorney by your side if accused of a Title IX violation.
General Code of Conduct Violations
If an infraction doesn't fall under the academic dishonesty or sexual misconduct categories, it is likely a general code of conduct violation. These types of prohibited behaviors vary between schools, but you can expect to find some of the following conduct in your school's code of conduct:
- Underage drinking: Drinking alcohol under the age of 21 is illegal in Rhode Island, as in all states. Most schools abide by this law and make underage drinking or possession of alcohol on campus a code of conduct violation. Some schools go as far as prohibiting alcohol on campus for any student, no matter if they are of legal drinking age or not.
- Drug possession: Most Rhode Island schools prohibit the use and possession of illegal drugs on campus. It's even possible that they prohibit the use and possession of legal drugs.
- Hazing: Hazing consists of rituals for prospective members of student organizations such as fraternities, sororities, or sports teams that are intended to humiliate or even cause harm. Hazing often involves dangerous and coercive behavior such as underage drinking, and serious injuries and even death have resulted from some hazing incidents. Most schools try to crack down on hazing for this reason.
- Campus housing misconduct: For many students, college is the first time living away from home. Some Rhode Island universities provide communal housing facilities for students to help them engage in campus life. Living in shared spaces comes with rules, however, to protect everyone's safety and privacy. These rules may prohibit theft, trespassing, making too much noise after certain hours, or fighting among residents. Breaking these rules could get you kicked out of campus housing or worse.
- Hate crimes: A hate crime is an offense committed against someone else because of their religion, race, gender, disability, or age. Most colleges and universities consider it a serious matter, and if you are accused of a hate crime, it could have lasting repercussions on your education and reputation.
The above examples are by no means an exhaustive list of possible code of conduct violations. Your school's code likely has several more actions that are considered infractions. It's important to read the code of conduct for your school, so you know exactly what these violations are.
The Process for Code of Conduct Violations at Rhode Island Schools
In addition to a list of behaviors that are prohibited by students, your Rhode Island school also most likely has a process for dealing with suspected violations. Although the process may vary slightly by school, in general, you can expect it to follow these steps:
- A preliminary or formal investigation
- A disciplinary hearing
- A decision and recommendation for sanctions
- An appeal process
Your school will notify you formally if there are allegations against you. Then, an administrator may interview you and anyone else involved. At the hearing, you may be allowed to have a legal representative with you to speak on your behalf. If you disagree with the hearing outcome or sanctions imposed, your school may also have an appeals process.
How to Handle Your University's Investigation
After receiving notification that you are charged with violating the code of conduct, your school will most likely start an investigation of the matter. They will want to speak with you, the party that complained against you, or any possible witnesses.
During the investigation, keep these tips in mind:
- Don't talk about the accusation. Avoid speaking to anyone from the university about the charge, even your friends or professors. Your words can later be used against you.
- Don't post about the accusation on social media. Again, nobody who is affiliated with the university should hear about your accusation outside of the formal disciplinary process.
- Be wary of your college or university. Your school will want you to believe it's on your side and has your best interests in mind. That's not always the case, as the school also has a reputation to uphold. Assume that you will have to defend your own rights.
- Seek advice from a student discipline attorney. A lawyer with experience in student defense matters can guide you.
Once the investigation is over, your school may schedule a hearing if the matter goes further. The investigation may be the end of the case, however, if your school decides that there is not enough evidence to find you responsible for a code of conduct violation.
The Disciplinary Hearing
At the hearing, you may go before a single decision-maker or a panel of people. The panel will likely consist of faculty and staff members but may also include students.
Before the hearing starts, your school should let you know who is on the panel, the allegations against you, and any evidence or witnesses against you that has been prepared. During the hearing, you will probably have the chance to present your own evidence, call witnesses, and question the other side's witnesses. The panel is usually also allowed to ask you questions.
Some schools allow students to bring external advisors with them to hearings and speak on their behalf. Other schools may only allow the advisor but only confer with the student, and others may not allow external advisors at all. Even if your school does not allow you to have an attorney at your hearing with you, you should still work with one on your code of conduct violation case. They can still help you prepare for the hearing, gather evidence to present, and make a list of questions for you to ask witnesses.
An attorney can also help with procedural or due process issues. They can hold your school to account to ensure it follows its own procedures correctly and grants you your due process rights. Simply having an attorney to work with on your accusation signals to your college or university that you take the matter seriously, and so it should too.
Potential Sanctions for Code of Conduct Violations
The consequences for a code of conduct violation vary at each Rhode Island school. Some sanctions may be minor, but others are severe. Typically, sanctions include:
- Written reprimand that goes in your school file
- Prohibition on participation in sports or extracurricular activities
- Loss of scholarship
- Removal from student housing
- Academic probation
- Disciplinary probation
- Degree revocation
Some sanctions may seem like no big deal, but even minor sanctions can have a lasting impact on your academic and future career. With a notation of an academic integrity, sexual misconduct, or code of conduct violation on your transcript, you will have to explain to graduate programs and internship directors the reason for the notation. It's essential that you defend yourself when accused of such a violation to prevent such consequences from hindering progress in your career.
The Best Way to Respond to Rhode Island Code of Conduct Charges
If you are accused of violating the code of conduct, you should know how to conduct yourself throughout the disciplinary process.
The Misconduct Charge
After receiving notice that you've been accused, you may be tempted to clear your name right away. You should avoid doing so, however, and speak only to your parents and attorney about the allegation. Only speak to university administrators about the charge at formal meetings and hearings.
It helps to have an attorney with experience in student defense matters as well. Not all lawyers will understand the disciplinary process in place at colleges and universities, and a specialized attorney will be able to provide the help you need.
Before the hearing starts, you should receive a list of the evidence and witnesses that will be used to argue against you. When you do, your attorney and you can start crafting a defense strategy, helping you prepare your arguments for your hearing and questions to ask your witnesses.
When the hearing takes place, you should remain calm and respectful toward everyone present. Try to give your arguments and answer questions exactly as your attorney counseled you to.
Filing an Appeal
If you don't agree with the decision resulting from the hearing, your school may have an appeal process that you can initiate to have your case reviewed. Not all schools allow appeals, however, so it's important that you check before the disciplinary process starts.
Colleges and universities that do allow appeals usually give students five to 10 days to submit a written request for appeal. There is usually specific paperwork to fill out or instructions to follow as well. In most cases, you must have the proper basis for appeal as well. You typically cannot ask for an appeal simply because you don't like the outcome. An attorney can help you work on your appeal so that it's more likely to be accepted by your school.
How an Attorney Can Help With Your Appeal
If your school accepts your appeal but does not overturn the decision, you still have a few options left:
- File a complaint with the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner.
- Have your lawyer negotiate with your school's legal team for a settlement.
- File a lawsuit against your university, which would ultimately sever your ties with the institution.
Work With the Student Defense Experts From Lento Law Firm
An accusation of academic misconduct, sexual misconduct, or a general code of conduct violation is a serious matter. With the formal disciplinary procedures your Rhode Island school has in place, you could easily feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to turn for help. You need skilled legal guidance to help you understand your rights, due process, hearings, and appeals involved in this process. An attorney with experience in student discipline matters will help you navigate and advise you at each step along the way. You shouldn't try to handle this issue on your own, and at the Lento Law Firm, we want to help.
Joseph D. Lento and his team at Lento Law Firm have handled many student discipline matters, including negotiations with administrators and court litigation with colleges and universities across the country. One small mistake or misunderstanding shouldn't ruin your college career or damage your future prospects. We can help you with all aspects of your misconduct charge, from investigation and development of a defense strategy to representing you in the hearing and taking matters to court if necessary. Joseph D. Lento and the attorneys at Lento Law Firm will fight for your rights and to protect your reputation.
To find out how we can help you, call our firm today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.