College Code of Conduct Student Defense Attorney-Advisor: Vermont

There aren't many times in your life as special as the years you spend in college. It's not just about getting a degree. College is when you establish your independence for the first time and figure out who you really are. You make lifelong friends and have experiences you'll never forget.

If you find yourself facing a misconduct charge, though, all of that is in jeopardy.

If you're a Vermont student, it's important to know how schools in your state deal with different types of misconduct. Only when you understand how the system works can you hope to defend yourself. Just as important, though, you need to know who you can turn to for help. Because if you're taking on your school, you don't want to do it alone. You want the best advisor you can find.

Three Types of Conduct Issues

Every school treats student misconduct differently. Some put a heavy emphasis on honesty and integrity, for example. Others focus on commitment to community. If you want to know exactly how your school deals with misconduct, you'll need to track down a copy of your Student Code of Conduct. This contains all the rules and an explanation of how they are enforced. Most schools publish this document in print and online.

One thing you can count on, though: your school divides misconduct into three specific categories: academic misconduct, disciplinary misconduct, and sexual misconduct.

Academic Misconduct

As you might expect, academic misconduct has to do with violating classroom standards. Your school wants to make sure no one has an unfair advantage in completing coursework or getting a degree, so they have policies against things like cheating, plagiarism, and misrepresentation.

Your instructors are probably tasked with setting the rules, investigating violations, and coming up with sanctions. Punishments usually range from a simple warning to failure in the course.

Most schools, though, also require faculty to report any violations to a central administrative office. This office maintains records of all offenses. If you're a repeat offender, or if you've committed a particularly egregious offense, you could find yourself subject to additional penalties such as probation, suspension, or even expulsion.

Disciplinary Misconduct

If academic misconduct relates to issues in the classroom, disciplinary misconduct relates to issues outside the classroom and in the campus community at large.

Again, the rules at your school will be specific to the principles that it holds to be most important. For example, some schools ban drinking altogether. Others focus on just eliminating underage drinking.

There are some rules, though, that virtually every school maintains.

  • Hazing: With the rise in hazing deaths over the last several years, all schools now prohibit the use of dangerous or coercive activities in association with joining an organization. In fact, hazing is also against Vermont law, and violations are subject to criminal prosecution.
  • Underage drinking: Here again, state and federal law prohibits underage drinking, so it is no surprise that all colleges in Vermont impose stiff penalties for anyone under the age of 18 caught with alcohol.
  • Drug possession: All Vermont schools have strict policies against the use or possession of illegal controlled substances. As with other rules on this list, violators can also be charged in criminal court.
  • Hate crimes: Most Vermont schools take harassment and discrimination seriously. Your college or university very likely has a strict policy against mistreating anyone on campus based on their race, sex, disability status, age, or religious affiliation.

Finally, if you live on campus, you should know that you're also subject to a set of residential disciplinary policies. Making too much noise or trying to sneak a non-resident into your dorm room at night could very well get you into serious trouble.

Sexual Misconduct

In a strict sense, sexual misconduct is a form of disciplinary misconduct since it has to do with behaviors that affect the campus community. However, colleges and universities almost always treat it as its own separate category of offense. The reason is that sexual misconduct isn't just a matter of school policy; it's governed by federal law. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment against anyone in a US educational program. That prohibition applies to a range of behaviors, from simple verbal harassment to sexual assault and rape.

Furthermore, Title IX dictates exactly how schools must respond to all allegations.

  • All schools must maintain a Title IX Coordinator who determines whether or not to instigate a formal Complaint
  • All formal Complaints are investigated thoroughly by an appointed Title IX Investigator
  • Once the investigation is complete, accused students have the right to defend themselves at a live hearing
  • Responsibility (guilt) is determined by one or more appointed Decision-makers using a legal standard known as “preponderance of evidence”
  • Students have the right to appeal hearing decisions, but only under limited circumstances such as the discovery of new evidence or the revelation of procedural misconduct

Colleges and universities deal with most sexual misconduct cases using Title IX, but not all. Title IX changed in 2020 such that the law no longer covers some forms of misconduct. For example, incidents occurring at off-campus housing are no longer subject to Title IX investigation. In response to these changes, many schools passed new policies designed to handle these so-called “non-Title IX” offenses.

Because these cases aren't subject to the law, schools are free to use any procedures they deem fit for investigating and adjudicating accusations. Many colleges and universities in Vermont have chosen to follow Title IX rules in both kinds of cases. However, schools aren't required to do so, and many have done away with key due process rights designed to protect respondents.

How Vermont Colleges Manage Misconduct

If you're accused of misconduct, any type of misconduct, you can expect your school to use a basic four-part process to decide whether or not you are responsible for the offense.

  • Preliminary meetings: The first step in a misconduct matter is usually a meeting or a series of meetings with the instructor or some other school official. The school has an opportunity to apprise you of the specific charges, and you have the opportunity to explain your side of the story.
  • Investigation: Next, the school will undertake some type of investigation. In the most serious cases, this might go on for several weeks and involve collecting physical evidence and interviewing witnesses. If you've been accused of something minor, though, like plagiarism, the investigation may be brief and could merely consist of your instructor collecting documentary evidence against you.
  • Hearings: If you've been accused of a serious policy violation, something that could get you suspended or expelled, you can expect your school to hold a formal hearing so you can defend yourself. Lesser offenses, though, are sometimes decided through meetings with a single official.
  • Appeals: Finally, your school should have some mechanism for raising questions about its judicial processes. You may have the right to ask a committee to review your case, or a single administrator, such as the Provost, may have the final authority to decide the outcome.

Handling Your School's Investigation

Students are almost never prepared for a misconduct charge. Your school is your home, and you're used to it taking care of your most basic needs: food, housing, and education. When your school suddenly turns against you, it can be stressful. It's a good idea, then, to plan ahead for how you might deal with this situation.

  • Don't talk to officials without consulting an attorney. Your school will want to question you as soon as you've been charged with an offense. Say nothing until you've had a chance to talk to a lawyer. You may think you can fix the problem simply by explaining what happened. Just as in criminal matters, though, anything you say can and will be used against you.
  • Don't talk to others about the case. Avoid talking to anyone about your situation. This applies particularly to social media. Again, you may think you can just explain what happened, and the campus community will take your side. Unfortunately, sometimes even the truth of your innocence can make you look guilty.
  • Don't contact your accuser. Your school may very well institute some type of restraining order preventing you from contacting the Complainant. Even if they don't, it's a good idea to avoid talking to your accuser. This includes personal contact, email, and text messages. If you ignore this advice, you leave yourself open to further charges like harassment.
  • Maintain good records. As soon as you are charged with misconduct, take the time to write down your version of events. In addition, preserve any and all physical evidence and make a list of potential witnesses. You'll also want to keep notes on every contact you have that's related to the case. All this material will help your attorney to build your case.
  • Keep yourself healthy. You cannot assist in your own defense if you're too stressed out. Do what you can to keep your life as routine as possible. Continue going to classes, for instance. Hang out with friends. Visit the gym. You may also want to consider meeting with a counselor, someone you can vent to who can suggest appropriate ways to cope with your situation.
  • Get advice from an attorney. Most importantly, don't try to deal with the charges yourself. Even a minor accusation such as cheating on an exam can have enormous repercussions on your academic and professional future. Always consult with an attorney. Your lawyer may or may not be able to accompany you to interviews or represent you at a hearing. However, they will certainly be able to help you do things like gather evidence, prepare your defense strategy, and practice answering questions.

Your College's Disciplinary Hearings

Schools almost always have hearings for serious matters—sexual misconduct cases or other cases where suspension and expulsion are potential sanctions. That's in your favor since it gives you a chance to formally defend yourself and to do it in person.

Your school will notify you of any proceedings before they happen and should give you enough time to prepare your case. Of course, every charge is unique, and you'll need to develop a defense strategy that suits your individual circumstances. An attorney can offer crucial help during this stage.

Typically, a panel or a committee made up of faculty and students will decide your fate. Both sides in the case have an opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses. Hearings are generally decided using a legal standard known as “preponderance of evidence.” You may be familiar with another standard, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” “Preponderance of evidence” is far less strict. Essentially, decision-makers must find you responsible if they believe it is more than fifty percent likely you committed an offense.

Often, an advisor, who may be an attorney, can accompany you to the hearing itself. They may even be allowed to speak on your behalf or examine and cross-examine witnesses. Even if they are not, however, they can help you prepare questions and practice responding to cross-examination yourself.

Possible Vermont College Sanctions

The range of sanctions for misconduct is pretty standard from school to school within Vermont. Typical punishments can include:

  • Formal written warnings placed in your personal file
  • Removal from housing
  • Loss of privileges such as extracurricular activities or access to the campus gym
  • Restitution
  • Mandated counseling
  • Loss of scholarships or other financial aid
  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

Obviously, no one wants to face a sanction as harsh as suspension or expulsion. You should know, though, that any sanction, even a warning, can have long-term consequences. Of course, once you've been found responsible for policy violations, any future offenses will almost certainly result in harsher sanctions. Beyond this possibility, though, a notation of misconduct in your academic file can cost you scholarships, make it difficult to get into graduate school, and even interfere with job applications.

The bottom line is, if you should find yourself accused of any kind of misconduct, you are always better off fighting it. You should fight the accusation, and if you're found responsible, you should find the sanction as well. The best way to do this is to make sure you have a lawyer on your side, someone who can help you navigate the system and make sure the outcome is fair.

Best Practices for Responding to Allegations

In the end, if you're charged with misconduct, what can you do to improve your chances of successfully defending yourself?

Dealing With the Accusation

Start by making sure you don't make your situation worse. Don't fight or argue with school officials. Don't harass your accuser. Don't do or say things that you might later regret.

Instead, make sure you've hired a qualified attorney, someone with experience representing students in university misconduct cases. Attorneys are professionals at what they do. You're not. They know how to talk to faculty and administrators. They'll be skilled at making arguments on your behalf. They will know how to talk to the public and the press if that's necessary. Most importantly, they'll be objective. Where you'll be prone to acting out of emotion, they'll be practiced at staying calm and cool under pressure.

Before and During the Hearing

Well before the hearing itself, the school will notify you of the specific charges against you. They're also required to give you equal access to all the evidence in the case. This will give you an opportunity to begin organizing your defense. Every case is different—each one requires its own specific strategy. Make sure that before you head into a hearing, you've consulted with an attorney, so you know what's going to give you the very best chance of winning.

At the hearing itself, it's important you maintain your composure. You'll likely be asked pointed, perhaps even difficult, questions. You'll be tempted to respond out of emotion. Practicing answers ahead of time can be an excellent way to prepare. A seasoned attorney will be able to tell you just what kind of questions to expect and can help you formulate your answers.

Making Appeals

If you should lose your case, you will need to file an appeal. Appeals take time and resources, so schools typically only hear them for very specific reasons. You'll need to have a strong argument for why your case deserves a second look.

Unlike a hearing, an appeal is conducted almost entirely on paper. You don't get a chance to speak directly to decision-makers. They won't see you or hear the sincerity in your voice. This is yet another reason why it is so important to hire an attorney to help you with this aspect of your case. Attorneys are practiced in choosing the very best arguments and in making those arguments in writing. A good lawyer can make sure your appeal gets heard and give you the best chance at success.

The Lento Law Firm

Joseph D. Lento is a fully-licensed, fully-qualified defense attorney. He isn't just any attorney, though. Joseph D. Lento specializes in student conduct cases. Over the years, he's dealt with literally hundreds of such cases, helping students just like you defend themselves from all types of charges. Joseph D. Lento knows the law, especially as it applies to colleges and universities. He also knows how schools operate, what tactics they use, and how to counter them. Most importantly, though, Joseph D. Lento is on your side. Whatever you've been accused of Joseph D. Lento knows that schools too often try to deny students their rights, they are too quick to find students responsible, and they assign punishments all out of proportion to actual offenses. Don't take on your school alone. Let Joseph D. Lento help you get the justice you deserve.

If you or your child has been accused of misconduct, don't wait to act. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.

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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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