College Code of Conduct Student Defense Advisor – Tennessee

Students at the University of Texas's main campus in Knoxville, like those enrolled in any other post-secondary institution, have a myriad of options available to them when signing up for classes. Since 2017, however, UT scholars have been able to register for one particular course that makes them the envy of many other students around the world—one that's all about Dolly Parton.

“Dolly Parton's America: From Sevierville to the World” looks at history, music, television, feminism, classism, and socioeconomics through the lens of the award-winning living legend. Although it's an elective, don't be fooled into thinking it's a cakewalk; the instructor, associate professor Lynn Sacco, takes a rigorous academic approach to the iconic entertainer's life and legacy and challenges her students to examine the lessons it can impart.

Of course, college is about much more than straightforward “book learning.” It can also teach or reinforce important qualities such as self-discipline, perseverance, honesty, integrity, an appreciation of diversity, responsibility, and respect, among many others. Playing a crucial role in defining and upholding these values is the school's code of conduct. But what happens when a student is accused of violating that code? Read on for an overview of the impact that academic misconduct can have on campus, in the community, and on a student's future.

Tennessee's Private Colleges and Universities

For a relatively small state, Tennessee offers an impressive number and variety of private schools. From prestigious Vanderbilt University, ranked by U.S. News and World Report as #14 in Best National Universities, as well as the 8th Best Value Schools, all the way to tiny Daymar College in Nashville, with an enrollment of just over 100 students, the Volunteer State really has a post-secondary option for everyone.

  • Baptist College of Health Sciences
  • Belhaven University
  • Belmont University
  • Bethel University (Tennessee)
  • Blair School of Music
  • Bryan College
  • Carson-Newman University
  • Cumberland University
  • Daymar College
  • Delta Career Education Corporation
  • Fisk University
  • Freed–Hardeman University
  • Huntington University of Health Sciences
  • John A. Gupton College
  • Johnson University
  • King University
  • Knoxville College
  • Lane College
  • Lee University
  • LeMoyne-Owen College
  • Lincoln Tech
  • Lincoln Memorial University
  • Lipscomb University
  • Maryville College
  • Meharry Medical College
  • Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia
  • Milligan University
  • Nashville School of Law
  • O'More College of Design
  • Rhodes College
  • Richmont Graduate University
  • Ross Medical Education Center
  • Sewanee: The University of the South
  • South College
  • Southern Adventist University
  • Southern College of Optometry
  • Tennessee Wesleyan University
  • The Art Institute of Tennessee – Nashville
  • Trevecca Nazarene University
  • Tusculum University
  • Union University
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Welch College
  • Williamson College

Public Universities and Colleges in Tennessee

Founded in 1794, the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is one of the nation's oldest schools. Today, the combined UT system boasts nearly 50,000 students and over 320,000 living alumni. Here is a full list of the state's 22 public college and university offerings:

  • Austin Peay State University
  • Chattanooga State Community College
  • Cleveland State Community College
  • Columbia State Community College
  • Dyersburg State Community College
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Jackson State Community College
  • Middle Tennessee State University
  • Motlow State Community College
  • Nashville State Community College
  • Northeast State Community College
● Pellissippi State Community College
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Roane State Community College
  • Southwest Tennessee Community College
  • Tennessee State University
  • Tennessee Technological University
  • The University of Tennessee
  • The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
  • The University of Tennessee Martin
  • University of Memphis
  • Volunteer State Community College
  • Walters State Community College

The Function of a Code of Conduct

Every institute of higher education has its own policy setting forth the expected standards of behavior for students as well as outlining the procedures that must be followed when a violation of those standards has been reported. While there are some differences in the details, the substance of these documents—variously called codes of conduct, student conduct codes, honor codes, codes of integrity, and so on—is essentially the same.

Breaking Down Misconduct by Subcategory

There are two main types of misconduct, as well as a third category that encompasses a number of other misdeeds.

Academic Dishonesty

Academic dishonesty involves any form of cheating to gain an advantage in your college career. Plagiarism or “spinning” content to make it work for two different assignments, having someone else take an online test for you, or looking up answers when you're not supposed to use outside materials are all common examples of academic dishonesty.

There's also “contract cheating,” which occurs when you pay another person to do your coursework. This most often takes the form of buying an essay, a term paper, or even a whole doctoral dissertation. There are unscrupulous companies that offer custom content written to the student's specifications in terms of subject matter, research sources, word count, number of citations, and turnaround time. Others, called “essay banks,” provide the student with their choice of pre-written papers to select and submit as though it were their own.

Sexual Misconduct/Title IX Violations

Another broad category under which a number of offenses fall is sexual misconduct. Especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, colleges and universities are cracking down on allegations of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, revenge porn, dating violence or domestic violence, stalking, and the like.

And then there's Title IX legislation, which provides protection from discrimination based on sex or gender. Under this law, which has been on the books for 50 years, almost all schools in the United States have a responsibility to investigate claims of sexual abuse and harassment. Additionally, they must do so relatively quickly. Failure to follow through on claims of sexual misconduct may result in that institution losing its federal funding.

The political landscape that surrounds federal law has a significant effect on the interpretation of Title IX, as well. Depending on reform and overhauls authorized by the White House, the accuser's rights may be more stringently protected; at other times, the accused may get the benefit of the doubt. If your case hinges on this aspect of the law, it's in your best interest to get legal assistance. An attorney-advisor can help you understand the charges against you and will also work with you to formulate the best possible plan for your defense.

The school-specific definition of (and punishment for) sexual misconduct may be treated separately from Title IX cases, so read through your college's code of conduct handbook or website to understand the differences. In many cases, the first step for administrators investigating an alleged misconduct offense is to determine whether the case should be considered a Title IX violation or viewed only as a breach of the university's conduct code.

General Violations of Codes of Conduct

Just because a transgression can't be classified as either academic or sexual misconduct doesn't necessarily mean it is less serious. Some examples of general misconduct include:

  • Trespassing
  • Theft or burglary
  • Vandalism or destruction of property
  • Assault
  • Hazing as part of a fraternity initiation
  • Underage drinking
  • Illicit drug use, or the possession or distribution of illegal drugs
  • Hate crimes, defined as any crime that targets another based on a real or presumed quality, such as race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, gender, etc.

One of the major problems with any type of student misconduct infraction is that there's a strong element of ambiguity involved. These cases can hang on opinion and interpretation; passersby who witness what looks like an argument might not know, for example, that the participants are rehearsing a scene for drama class. An administrator at your school could make an error, leading to a false accusation against an innocent student. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. False allegations are more common than you'd think. A student with a valid medical marijuana card in Alabama or Missouri does not realize that she can't legally smoke in Tennessee.

Additionally, most student conduct code documents are extremely lengthy, not to mention on the dry side when it comes to sitting down and reading through them. The fact of the matter is that all too many Tennessee students simply aren't educated about what constitutes misconduct. And while ignorance is no excuse, it's easy to see how even well-meaning, upstanding young people can screw up and find themselves on the wrong side of a misconduct investigation.

The Timeline of a Misconduct Case

What are the stages of a student misconduct case? How are they played out? Here's what you can expect after you have been accused of committing one of the misdeeds outlined earlier or any infraction that can be characterized as misconduct:

  • Notification. You'll receive notification in writing from your school's conduct committee, disciplinary board, or other appropriate agency that someone has made a complaint about your behavior. If the violation involves Title IX, the notice will be from the college's dedicated Title IX administrator.
  • Investigation. Naturally, the person or people tasked with adjudicating your case will want to meet with you to conduct an interview. They'll also be speaking to your classmates, dorm mates, instructors, and anyone else who may have knowledge of what happened. Any evidence will be gathered at this time as well. Evidence could include pictures, videos, text messages, social media posts, letters or notes, and damaged property.
  • A hearing. If the evidence is adequate, the board of conduct will schedule a formal hearing. The hearing will typically involve witness testimony or statements, presentation of evidence, and questioning of the alleged perpetrator. In that sense, it's not remarkably different from a criminal trial—but there are some key differences, which we'll discuss below.
  • The findings. After the hearing, the conduct committee will inform you, again in writing, of its findings. If they have found you culpable of whatever misconduct you were accused of, they will also let you know what sanctions will be imposed upon you.
  • An appeal. Appeals in cases of college-level misconduct are a very different affair than the kind you see on true crime TV shows. Usually, students get only one shot at this type of appeal. Moreover, it's probably not going to get the decision reversed or result in a new “trial.” Instead, you and your attorney-advisor will work together in an effort to have your punishment lessened or lowered.
  • Negotiation. Even if you lose the appeal, there are still a few options that can be exercised. The attorney-advisor can contact your school's Office of General Counsel—their lawyers, in other words—and invite them to the bargaining table. They may be able to work out a solution to the conflict that benefits everyone. Again, this is not going to be an option for a student working alone or with only the support of his family. Here's where you'll really rely on your lawyer—and their professional connections.
  • Filing a grievance with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
  • A lawsuit. As a last resort, there is the possibility of filing a suit against the university. And even if you do file, that doesn't necessarily have to mean a trial. Just the demonstration that you're serious about pursuing justice may be enough to force the school to seek a simpler, less costly solution.

Crucial Aspects of Misconduct Cases to Remember

As we alluded to above, there are some significant differences between facing a trial on criminal charges and going before a university's disciplinary board. Let's take a closer look.

First, not all post-secondary schools are obligated to provide students with “due process.” There's much less emphasis in an academic setting on the notion of fairness. Misconduct investigations tend to move swiftly—quite the opposite, often, of the U.S. judicial system—because schools want to get them tied up and out of the public's mind as quickly as possible.

Sometimes students are given very little advance notice that a preliminary meeting or even their hearing has been scheduled. This leaves them little or no time to gather their documents and other evidence, let alone prepare themselves mentally and emotionally.

During the proceedings, time-honored concepts such as the accused being innocent until proven guilty or being owed due process may go directly out the window. Students might be denied the opportunity to bring their own witnesses or even make a statement themselves. The school might not permit them to have legal counsel or other supporters by their side as interviews and hearings play out.

Possible Disciplinary Sanctions

That brings us to the next question you might be asking: What are the outcomes of being found in violation of your school's academic honor code?

As you might imagine, the actual punishment is going to depend on many factors:

  • The nature of the misconduct
  • How serious a transgression it was
  • Who else was affected by your wrongdoing, and to what extent
  • Whether you have a history of behavioral issues, or if your deed was a one-off born of desperate circumstances
  • Where you are in your academic career
  • Whether criminal charges are also filed

It's important to understand that the misconduct panel or board has a great deal of discretion when it comes to imposing sanctions. Unlike criminal sentences, which are dictated by statute, colleges and universities are free—or at least freer—to set their own standards for behavior and the commensurate punishment.

That said, you may be facing the following disciplinary actions:

  • Lowered grades and/or a failing mark for the semester or the entire course
  • A written statement or note in your academic file
  • Suspension
  • Loss of a scholarship or financial aid
  • Loss of on-campus housing
  • Ineligibility to participate in athletics or extracurricular activities
  • Community service
  • Enrollment in a mandatory educational program or counseling
  • Expulsion
  • Being banned from all campus property

These are the official, on-paper punishments, but what many students don't realize is that a black mark in your file can go on to haunt you in plenty of unofficial, unexpected ways, too. For example, a suspension will indicate a gap in your educational trajectory, which must be explained to other schools' admissions departments and to potential employers. Admissions boards ask applicants if they've ever had any behavioral issues or sanctions, and they won't look kindly on those who lie to get around admitting guilt.

Your ability to graduate, to transfer, to enroll in a graduate program, and even to get a job could be compromised. It's not hyperbole to say that a finding of misconduct could change the entire course of your life.

The Attorney-Advisor Advantage

The preceding doom-and-gloom language isn't meant to scare you. You don't have to spend every spare moment and Saturday night at the library, never socializing or even studying with a fellow student in an attempt to avoid any possible infraction. It's simply intended to open your eyes to the realities of academic misconduct and to arm you with knowledge. In the event that you ever need to fight back against unfair charges or want to lessen the impact of a youthful indiscretion, you will know how important it is to call an experienced attorney-advisor immediately.

Don't let one moment's worth of really dumb decision-making stand in the way of your future success. Contact The Lento Law Firm; we'll answer your questions, discuss your situation, and stand by you every step of the way.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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