Every institution of higher education in Virginia and elsewhere will have an official code of conduct that governs student life, academic progress, and how the school handles misconduct. Typically, students are lectured on locating code of conduct information during matriculation where they can find prohibited items, expected behavior, and specific guidelines that must be followed, including the sanctions that may be handed down if a student is found responsible.
Between you and your diploma lies several years of grueling academic experiences and making the transition into adulthood. While working towards good grades, making friends, and preparing for life after graduating, students sometimes make mistakes. No one goes to college just to have their opportunities for education taken from them, but it does happen.
Therefore, it's imperative that you are equipped with the information you need to succeed on campus. Understanding the expectations outlined in your school's code of conduct is a large part of this. Ignorance isn't a defense strategy when you are alleged to have committed misconduct.
Virginia Code of Conduct Issues: What Types of Misconduct Are There?
While your school's code of conduct may organize things differently, generally, there are three types of misconduct:
- Academic misconduct
- Non-academic misconduct
- Title IX and sexual misconduct
Academic Misconduct: Virginia colleges and universities have specific guidelines and policies governing students' academic progress related to their financial aid eligibility. “Satisfactory academic progress” (SAP) will include specific criteria students must meet during certain timeframes while enrolled. The University of Virginia has in its SAP components a maximum timeframe in which a student must graduate, minimum credit hour completion rate, minimum grade point average (GPA), and an evaluation process that will take into account both quantitative and qualitative standards.
When students don't meet these requirements, they may be placed on academic probation and must meet with an academic dean to create an academic plan that demonstrates how the student will complete the SAP requirements by a specific point in time with realistic and attainable goals. Further academic misconduct may mean the student will lose eligibility for financial aid or risk a disciplinary hearing that will leave them separated from their studies via a suspension or expulsion.
Academic code of conduct violations also includes plagiarism and cheating. Students generally believe plagiarism is only copying someone's work without attribution. However, utilizing writing support programs, automated article generators, and other online tools can very well be grounds for a code of conduct violation. Students must also be aware that some professors may prohibit group studying, also known as unauthorized collaboration. Therefore, you must understand how the rules in your classroom work by reading your school's code of conduct.
Non-academic misconduct: College life includes many more facets than its academic requirements. With students joining clubs, athletic teams, engaging in Greek life, and events occurring on and off-campus, the code of conduct will apply to all of these and provide guidelines for proper behavior and violations in these domains.
One of the most common code of conduct violations is underage alcohol possession. Most institutions of higher education have specific rules regarding alcohol possession, especially on school property, whether you are of legal drinking age or not.
Currently, Virginia law restricts the use of medical cannabis to patients registered by the Commonwealth's Board of Pharmacy; however, drug policies like those of George Mason University prohibit use on school property regardless of intent. Furthermore, the school does recognize federal law—Controlled Substances Act and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act—which prohibits possession and consumption.
For many young students, the dorm room will be the first place they have lived independently. Although this can cultivate a great sense of freedom for a student, it's essential to know how the code of conduct applies to school housing. For example, Virginia Commonwealth University‘s code of conduct includes housing guidelines that detail rules and regulations regarding things like:
- Alterations of campus housing appearance, construction, and furniture
- Unauthorized appliances
- Property abandoned at the end of the semester
- Prohibited residence hall activities
- Storage and usage of bicycles, skateboards, motorcycles, and automobiles
- Dormitory decorations
- Guest policies
- Violations of restricted areas like roofs, balconies, window ledges, and mechanical rooms
- Smoking of traditional tobacco products and electronic nicotine delivery systems
- Pets and service animals
Sexual Misconduct and Title IX violations: Title IX is a federal law that guarantees equal access to higher education for people of different genders and sexual orientations without discrimination. Consequently, institutions are required by their federal funding guidelines to act swiftly and stringently when a student is alleged to have committed a Title IX violation. All Virginia colleges and universities have very similar Title IX policies as they are federal guidelines carried out by the school.
Hazing and rituals that involve embarrassment, harm, or risk for initiation into a group or club can be considered Title IX violations as they are discriminatory. Bullying is also considered to fall under federal Title IX purview. Nevertheless, Title IX generally revolves around sexual misconduct and, according to guidelines from the University of Richmond, include:
- Sexual harassment
- Sexual violence such as assault/battery, rape, domestic violence, and sexual coercion
- Unwelcome sexual advances like requests for sexual favors and physical, verbal, and non-verbal code of conduct violations of a sexual nature
- Determinations based on a student's sex or gender identification
- Retaliation against students of a “protected status”
Violations of this nature are likely seen in news headlines in Virginia and across the U.S. because of their severity. Even the allegation of sexual misconduct or Title IX violation can follow a student long past their college years.
Your Virginia School's Code of Conduct Processes
Suppose a student is alleged to have committed a form of misconduct outlined in the school's code of conduct. In that case, the institution will begin its adjudicative processes once its “actual knowledge” is obtained, meaning once all members of the college or university's disciplinary bodies have been informed. First, the school will ascertain whether it's necessary to initiate an investigation. The student will receive a notice of violation or disciplinary action if the school moves forward with an investigation. This notice is a formal letter from the school administration, but the student may also receive a copy in their student email inbox. It will detail the type of allegation, the time and date of a disciplinary hearing, and if the student can or cannot involve outside representation at the upcoming hearing.
At this point, a student may believe they can handle the process themselves, or they may even think that not responding to the notice means the allegations will go away. However, this is a misconception. If a student doesn't take the allegations seriously and fails to respond, the college or university will likely assume that action as the student accepting the terms.
If you haven't already, once you receive that notification, it will be a good time to:
- Open the code of conduct or look at an online copy found on the school's website
- Research the specific section of the type code of conduct violation and how the school will proceed in their grievance process
- Gather evidence (papers, emails, texts) and as much information you can about what occurred
- Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or schedule a confidential consultation online
It may seem like “jumping the gun” to hire a student defense advisor so early in the process, but any misconduct violation can quickly take a turn for the worse. While students may think that schools seek to protect their interests in code of conduct cases, it's crucial to understand that schools aren't there to protect you or even the accusing party in a disciplinary hearing—they are there to protect the institution. Moreover, cases like these are more than likely won or lost in the investigative stage of the process. Therefore, you will want a professional on your side.
Your Virginia School's Disciplinary Hearing: What to Expect
Apart from your parents and student defense advisor, you shouldn't discuss the allegations with anyone while you progress through the adjudicative processes. The hearing guidelines will be strict and often complex. Depending on the charges, different procedures may be used. This information will be in the school's code of conduct.
For example, at Longwood University, a disciplinary hearing proceeds in the following manner:
- The accuser (complainant) and the accused (respondent) will state any questions concerning rights or procedures
- Charges will be presented
- The respondent will enter a plea of “Responsible,” “Not Responsible,” or “No Plea”
- Information gathered by the investigator will be presented
- The school administration official presiding over the hearing will coordinate dialogue between the complainant, respondent, any witnesses if applicable, and other members of the disciplinary committee
- Both parties will present any concluding remarks
- The committee will then deliberate any information introduced during the hearing until a determination of “responsible” or “not responsible” is made
- The committee head can choose to recall the respondent to discuss possible sanctions or send a formal notice of sanctions to the student
Depending on the type of misconduct that initiated the hearing, your school may or may not allow you to bring your student defense advisor into the hearing with you. If not, retaining professional help will still benefit you for these important reasons:
- A student defense advisor can coach you to be comfortable in making a cohesive and coherent argument with the information in the case
- A student defense advisor can research your school's code of conduct to ensure that you are aware of any precedents in the matter or loopholes in the institution's regulations
- A student defense advisor can make sure that your school's disciplinary body respects your rights during the entire process
Additionally, the school will likely take you much more seriously if you have hired a professional to help you with your case. If your school decides to slap you with harsh sanctions, your advisor will already be there to help you negotiate a reduced punishment.
Sanctions Virginia Students Can Face
Depending on the severity of the code of conduct charge, a student can face a lengthy set of punishments. Many colleges and universities in Virginia and elsewhere work off similar sets of sanctions. At Liberty University, some of the sanctions that may be handed down to students found responsible for misconduct include:
- Written warning
- Academic/General probation
- Community service
- Written apologies
- Counseling and other rehabilitative programs
- Student housing bans
- Dismissal from academic departments or extracurricular programs
- Loss of access to internships, research programs, and other school activities
- Suspension for one or more semesters
- Expulsion from the school with a permanent notation of disciplinary expulsion on the student's transcript
- Degree or certificate revocation
Even though these sanctions may be on the table, the most common sanction for misconduct violations by far is suspension. Unfortunately, this is far from a minor deal. You need to take the possibility of a suspension very seriously.
If a student is separated from their studies, they will lose their eligibility for financial aid. There will also be a gap in the student's official transcript. That may seem insignificant for a young college student. However, when you are applying for graduate school, internships, professional licenses, and beginning careers, it will hinder your ability to achieve any of those goals.
For instance, if a student has their eyes set on becoming a teacher in Virginia, a misconduct allegation could derail your chances. Virginia's Department of Education requires applicants to detail any review, inquiry, investigation, or appeal of alleged misconduct to obtain a license.
Consequently, it's crucial to ensure that you take action now to ensure this does not happen to you later. Even if you have been handed down punishment from the school's disciplinary body, you and your student defense advisor will have options.
Appeals Process Used by Virginia Schools: How Students Can Respond to Code of Conduct Charges
If a student is found responsible for misconduct, there will be a short period during which they can appeal the decision, which a student defense advisor may recommend. However, most institutions of higher education in Virginia and elsewhere detail in their code of conduct that appeals may be filed for just a few specific reasons. According to guidelines from Virginia Tech, a student can file an appeal if:
- Substantial new and relevant evidence not available at the time of the original hearing emerges
- Procedural bias or other irregularities
- Sanction(s) are inconsistent with one's conduct or case precedent
- Finding(s) of responsibility inconsistent with the facts presented during the hearing
Students aren't versed in college administrative guidelines, and if they haven't retained a professional student defense advisor, they may not understand when to act on one of these stipulations. Moreover, there are typically ten days to file an appeal, and once your school responds to your request, their decision will be considered final. This is another reason why it is so important to be working with a student defense advisor from the very beginning.
Hiring Joseph D. Lento to Represent You in Your Virginia School Code of Conduct Case
Students may believe it's an excellent decision to hire a local attorney who claims they know the school administration and will provide the best outcome. They might explain how their success in criminal and civil court cases shows they are the best for the job. However, don't be fooled by this misconception.
While many lawyers claim to be mavericks in a courtroom, those skills don't translate into proven tactics used in disciplinary hearings. Few lawyers have demonstrated themselves to be successful student defense advisors with the finesse required to negotiate relief from a school's sanctioning bodies.
Many times, attorneys begin by threatening lawsuits at Virginia colleges and universities. While a “scorched earth” strategy may sound nice, it's counterintuitive in defending students and their academic careers. Formal suits are a possible strategy, but in many instances, Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have settled in favor of the student with the school's Office of General Counsel (OGC).
Lento and his team have formed beneficial relationships with many OGC officials throughout Virginia and across the U.S. The advantage Joseph D. Lento can provide to a student is that he and his team can get school administration officials to see more favorable options that serve both the student and the institution far better than suspension or expulsion.
With your academic and professional future at stake, you deserve a student defense advisor who will fight for your future. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have successfully defended thousands of students across the nation who have faced code of conduct allegations that are teamed with harsh punishments. His paramount knowledge and experience with college and university judicial proceedings can help you mount a robust defense, resolving your case and keeping you in the school where you belong. To schedule a confidential consultation with Joseph D. Lento, call (888) 535-3686 or contact the Lento Law Firm online.