We all make mistakes, but we probably make more of them in college than at any other time in our lives. College is the first time most of us are truly on our own. On the one hand, we're anxious to try absolutely everything we can. On the other, we suddenly don't have any responsible adults around to make sure we don't screw up. Inevitably, we screw up. We have to. We need to.
In fact, the goal isn't so much to avoid making mistakes. That might actually inhibit growth and the development of independence. The goal is to minimize the damage, to make sure we don't make mistakes we can't recover from.
If you're a student at a South Carolina college or university, that means knowing what your school expects from you. Will you always live up to those expectations? No, but you'll have a better shot at it. More importantly, you'll know what to do when you don't.
Three Types of Misconduct
Every college takes its own individual approach to matters of discipline. If you want to know how your school deals with a particular offense, your best bet is to look at your Student Code of Conduct.
That said, there are some broad similarities between all the schools in South Carolina. One of these is that they generally divide student misconduct into three categories: academic, disciplinary, and sexual.
Universities take academics pretty seriously, and you can understand why. No school can last long if it develops a reputation for cheating. So, they all
maintain strict rules about cheating, plagiarism, and general classroom dishonesty.
Instructors often have almost total authority when it comes to identifying and punishing instances of academic misconduct. They may be required to meet with you to discuss the allegation, but ultimately, they can lower your grade on an assignment or even fail you in the course.
The good news is that schools typically have some means of appealing your instructor's decision, though this doesn't always mean you'll get an official hearing. Often the appeals process involves an administrative review or a committee looking over your work.
In addition, you should know that your instructors are probably required to report all instances of academic misconduct so the school can add additional punishments for repeat offenses, including probation, suspension, and expulsion.
The second general category of misconduct is “disciplinary misconduct.” These rules usually have to do with your personal behaviors and your interaction with others on campus. Offenses can include everything from trespassing to assault. Again, disciplinary policies differ from school to school, but most schools agree when it comes to what qualifies as a major violation.
- Underage drinking: Underage drinking is illegal in South Carolina, so it's not surprising that it is strictly forbidden on South Carolina college campuses.
- Drug possession: Likewise, all South Carolina schools forbid the possession or distribution of controlled substances. This includes marijuana possession.
- Hazing: Hazing has been outlawed under South Carolina law, Sec. 16-3-510. This applies to any activity that puts a person at risk of physical or emotional harm, including basic ridicule and harassment.
- Hate crimes: Finally, hate crimes are illegal under federal law. Most schools go further and prohibit all forms of harassment based on a person's gender, race, age, religion, or disability status.
If you live on campus, you're probably also subject to additional residence life rules. These can involve anything from noise restrictions to visitation policies.
Sexual misconduct is a form of general disciplinary misconduct, but it is usually treated as its own category of offense. That's because sexual misconduct isn't just a violation of school policy. Instead, it is covered by federal law under Title IX. Title IX, which was originally passed in 1972, outlawed sexual discrimination and harassment on all college campuses. It also set up rigid guidelines for how schools should investigate and adjudicate such offenses.
- Your university must have a designated Title IX Coordinator who oversees all aspects of your school's anti-discrimination policy. Among many other responsibilities, this person receives all complaints of sexual misconduct.
- When an official complaint has been lodged against you, you are entitled to written notice of the charge. This notice must include details of the accusation as well as information about your rights under Title IX.
- Among your rights, you are entitled to choose an advisor to help you with your case. This advisor may be an attorney.
- The Coordinator must appoint an Investigator to collect evidence and interview witnesses. At the end of the investigation, this person submits a written report of their findings. You have the right to review this document and suggest revisions.
- You are also entitled to defend yourself at a live hearing. You may present evidence and call witnesses. You may also cross-examine the complainant and any witnesses against you. The complainant, of course, has the same rights.
- Finally, Title IX requires your school to provide you with an appeals process. However, appeals are usually only granted for very specific circumstances, such as the discovery of new evidence or an accusation of procedural misconduct.
You should know that many schools now have two separate processes for dealing with sexual misconduct. As a result of changes to the law in 2020, Title IX no longer covers certain kinds of offenses, such as misconduct that occurs off-campus. Most colleges and universities have enacted new policies for dealing with these “non-Title IX” offenses. Some schools use the same procedures in both types of cases. However, because non-Title IX offenses aren't subject to federal law, schools are entitled to use other procedures. Under these procedures, they are under no special obligation to protect students' due process rights.
How South Carolina Colleges Manage Misconduct
Colleges and universities in South Carolina generally follow a four-part process for dealing with all misconduct violations. Of course, the particulars of this process can vary depending on the school and the specifics of the accusation.
- Preliminary meetings: First, your school will meet with you to discuss the misconduct and get your side of the story. You may or may not be allowed to bring an advisor with you, and this advisor may or may not be allowed to speak on your behalf.
- Investigation: Next, your school will likely conduct an investigation, especially if you deny the accusation. This investigation may be formal, as in sexual misconduct cases. If you've been accused of plagiarism, though, the “investigation” may be as simple as your professor turning your coursework over to an administrator.
- Hearings: Most schools allow you to defend yourself at a formal hearing if you face suspension or expulsion. Some provide hearings for lesser offenses as well. Others allow a single administrator or a committee to decide the case.
- Appeals: Your school will also probably have some appeals process in place that will allow you to raise questions about the hearing outcome.
Handling Meetings and Investigations
Most students don't think they'll ever have to deal with a misconduct case, but each year hundreds of South Carolina students do. It makes sense, then, to make a plan before something goes wrong rather than wait until it does.
In fact, your actions from the moment you are accused can have an enormous impact on how your case eventually develops.
- Don't answer any questions from school officials until you have talked with an attorney. An attorney may or may not be able to accompany you to meetings, but in any case, they can help you formulate your responses, so they are clear and put you in the best light.
- Don't post anything about your case on social media, and don't talk to the press. It's easy for statements to be taken out of context, and you don't want to prejudice investigators before the case even begins.
- Don't try to meet with your accuser. Your school may very well issue a no-contact order, but even if they don't, keep your distance. Don't call or text. You may think you can solve the problem by talking it through. More often, though, you'll end up making things worse. In fact, you could even wind up being charged with additional violations such as harassment.
- Gather evidence. At the beginning of the investigation, while the facts are still clear in your memory, write down your version of events. Hold on to any relevant evidence. Make lists of potential witnesses. Keep a record of every contact you have with school officials. All of this material will serve as vital resources for your advisor.
- Take care of yourself. You can't be an effective participant in your case if you allow yourself to be overwhelmed by what you're facing. Try to keep your routine as normal as possible: continue going to class, hanging out with friends, exercise. Give yourself lots of mental breaks. And consider seeing a counselor who can offer useful strategies for dealing with your stress.
- Hire an attorney. You should never try to take on your school alone. The judicial procedures are too complex, and there's too much at stake. The moment you're accused, contact an attorney who has expertise with student conduct cases. They'll know how to defend your reputation and get you the justice you deserve.
Dealing with Disciplinary Hearings and Appeals
Most university hearings follow the same basic outline.
- You'll be given access to all the evidence against you well before your hearing takes place. Use your time wisely to carefully prepare your case.
- Your school will allow you to be accompanied by some type of support person. In many cases, this can be an advisor, and that advisor can be an attorney.
- You will have an opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses. The other side in the case will have the same opportunity.
- University cases are typically decided using a legal standard known as “preponderance of evidence.” Far less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “preponderance of evidence” requires decision-makers to find you responsible if they believe you are “more than likely” to have committed a violation.
Other elements of a hearing may depend on the nature of your offense or on your particular school's policies. For instance, your advisor may be allowed to speak on your behalf. However, their role may also be limited to private conversations with you. You may be able to ask questions of witnesses directly, but you may also be required to submit all questions to hearing officials who actually do the asking.
Remember: whether or not an advisor can be an official advocate for you during hearings and appeals, they can help you prepare your case and coach you in how to present it.
Possible South Carolina College Sanctions
Your school probably lists several different kinds of sanctions in the Student Code of Conduct. These might include,
- 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
It is important to remember that all sanctions—even those that may seem minor—can have long-last repercussions. You might think that you've gotten off easy if your only punishment is a written warning in your file. Information like that, though, can damage your ability to apply for scholarships. It can prevent you from getting the right internship or from getting into the best graduate schools. It could even play a role in your first job applications. More serious penalties like probation or expulsion can do even more damage to your academic and professional reputation. Whatever penalty your school proposes, don't just blindly accept it.
Responding to Allegations
If you've been accused of misconduct, your future is at stake, and the judicial process can be difficult to navigate. Know what to expect right from the beginning, and make sure you have someone on your side who can give you good, solid advice.
Dealing with the Accusation and Investigation
You can make a lot of mistakes at the beginning of a case before you've even had a chance to absorb what's happening to you. Your emotions will likely
run high, and you may be tempted to say or do things that will ultimately hurt your case. This is another good reason not to talk to anyone until you've consulted an attorney.
Lawyers aren't just trained to argue. They're also trained to negotiate, to help clients through investigative meetings, to handle the optics of 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, and that you don't forget to bring up any important facts.
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 what evidence you present and when. You must call the right witnesses and know exactly the right questions to ask. In short, 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 expert 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, and they can advise you through the whole process.
Students—even innocent students do lose hearings. Remember: most hearings are decided using the “preponderance of evidence” standard, and that leads to a lot of mistakes. Luckily, hearings are not quite the last word on your case. Your school will have some appeals process in place that allows you to question that verdict.
Unlike a hearing, though, an appeal is conducted almost entirely on paper. You don't get to speak directly to decision-makers. This is yet another reason why it is so important to hire an attorney. When it comes to this aspect of the case, your attorney will have experience crafting judicial documents.
They'll know exactly what kinds of arguments are likely to get you an appeal and what kind won't.
Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Advisor
You probably already know this, there are lots and lots of attorneys out there. However, not all attorneys are created equal. If you're looking to finalize your will or deal with a DUI, a local or family attorney will be your best option. If you're dealing with a student misconduct accusation, though, you need someone with knowledge and experience with student misconduct cases.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who specializes in handling student judicial matters. He built his career representing students just like you in all types of misconduct cases, from simple allegations of cheating to accusations of assault and rape. Over the years, he's helped hundreds of students fight false charges and unfair sanctions. Whatever your particular situation, Joseph D. Lento is here to help.
If you or your child has been accused of any kind of misconduct, don't wait to act. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.