Every college and university in New Jersey and elsewhere will have a “code of conduct” that governs student behavior. Students don't enroll in higher education programs to violate a school's code of conduct. Nevertheless, the transition period into a new stage of life at the dawn of adulthood can create obstacles to success. Sometimes students make a misstep or mistakes, landing themselves in trouble.
College disciplinary proceedings are, in many cases, complex and speedily carried out, with nuances a young student may not be aware of or understand. Punishments can be severe, and their effects can last long after a period of probation or term of separation from studies. It's essential that if you or someone you love is a New Jersey student facing an institution's disciplinary body, they know they have options for assistance and redress. They don't have to proceed alone.
Understanding Your School's Code of Conduct
Typically, students are lectured on locating code of conduct information during matriculation. However, it's students' job to ensure they have a clear understanding of the institution's internal body of laws. This formal, published set of ethical, professional, and legal standards protects everyone in the school's greater community. It not only applies to students but faculty and part-time campus personnel. Within the code are all regulations and responsibilities surrounding campus life issues, including classroom activities, dormitory living, and off-campus events.
Graduate schools and other academic units under the banner of a larger university may also have their own code of conduct that students of those programs must follow in conjunction with a standard code of conduct from the host university. For example, Princeton University's Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, its form of a code of conduct, applies to all students, both undergraduate and graduate. Yet, some of Princeton University's graduate programs hold more narrow definitions of items like “satisfactory academic progress” (SAP), minimum classroom attendance, and academic production, among others.
The code of conduct will detail prohibited things and specific guidelines that must be followed, including thresholds that will end with repercussions from the school's disciplinary body. It's imperative that you understand the expectations outlined in your school's code of conduct. If you violate the code of conduct, ignorance isn't a defense.
New Jersey colleges and universities have policies governing academic progress. SAP guidelines may include specific criteria for minimum Grade Point Average (GPA), minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA), and credit load requirements, but schools tend to have similar definitions. A schedule of minimum academic performance will generally be listed, which is often tied to financial aid eligibility requirements. For instance, at New Jersey City University, an undergraduate student must achieve a CGPA as follows:
- 1.60 CGPA after a minimum of 13 credits hours attempted
- 1.75 CGPA after a minimum of 24 credit hours attempted
- 1.85 CGPA after a minimum of 48 credit hours attempted
- 2.0 CGPA after a minimum of 72 credit hours attempted
Moreover, just as graduate programs tend to have stricter guidelines, students in New Jersey City University graduate programs must maintain a CGPA of at least 3.0 to retain their eligibility for financial aid. Students must also complete their degree within the 150 percent timeframe (a four-year degree completed within six years), a common rule among New Jersey schools.
If a student fails to meet their school's minimum academic requirements, they could be remanded for disciplinary action. Regardless, failure to achieve sufficient academic progress isn't the only misstep that can land a student into trouble.
Plagiarism constitutes using another person's words, ideas, images, or results without giving the source the appropriate credit. Students generally believe plagiarism is simply copying exact words without attribution. However, utilizing some writing support programs, automated article generators, and other online tools that translate, transcribe, predict, and extract text to enhance a student's abilities will be grounds for a code of conduct violation.
Students must be aware that professors will often give a syllabus for the class that the beginning of the semester, and typically listed are other instances that could fall under academic misconduct. For example, joining study groups in school is a great way to get ahead, but some schools prohibit group studying, also known as unauthorized collaboration. A professor usually won't say a student cannot work with others, only implied as part of the educational process. Therefore, you must understand how the rules in your classroom work.
Consequences for Academic Misconduct
Depending on the severity of an academic misconduct charge, a student can face a lengthy set of punishments. At Rutgers University, some of the sanctions that may be handed down to students found responsible for academic misconduct include:
- Written warning
- Academic probation
- Dismissal from a departmental or school program
- Loss of access to internships or research programs
- Endorsement denial for internal and external fellowship support and employment opportunities
- Removal of fellowship or assistantship support
- 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
Allegations of academic misconduct can impact an accused student's life for years beyond graduation if not defended appropriately. Many graduate schools require prospective students to detail such occurrences on applications. As well, some applications for professional licenses and even government jobs require a full academic background check, and many colleges and universities notate on a student's official transcript violations of a school's academic code of conduct.
Student life is much more expansive than its academic requirements and includes joining clubs, fraternities, athletic teams, and engaging in social events, both on and off-campus. The college or university code of conduct will also provide guidelines for violations in these domains.
Alcohol and Drug Possession/Consumption: Most institutions of higher education have specific rules regarding alcohol possession and consumption, especially on school property, whether you are of legal drinking age or not. New Jersey has adopted laws to legalize the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis/marijuana by people over 21. However, some schools like Montclair State University are obligated to comply with federal laws—Controlled Substances Act and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act—which prohibit the cultivation, distribution, and possession of marijuana. Its use by anyone on the university's campus or property of a university-related entity isn't permitted.
Hazing: Rituals that involve embarrassment, harm, or risk for initiation into a group or club have become a defining issue on school campuses in New Jersey and across the U.S. Individuals, as well as organizations, are likely to be punished through a code of conduct violation if their initiation process takes things too far with new inductees. Increasingly, colleges and universities are taking a harsh stand on hazing to protect their reputation and students' safety, thus dealing severe penalties for hazing violations.
Student housing misconduct: For many students, the dormitory is the first place they will live outside their parents' home. While there may be a learning curve, it is important to be a mindful student community member. Your school's code of conduct likely has rules regarding things like:
- Unauthorized appliances
- Impromptu games within the confines of the residence hall
- Storage and authorized usage of bicycles, skateboards, motorcycles, automobiles, recreational vehicles, etc.
- Alterations of campus housing furniture, appearance, and construction
- Decorations on walls, doors, and windows
- Strict 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/Service animals without the proper authorization
If you violate one of these rules, many of the sanctions mentioned earlier are applied, but you could also lose your university housing. In many cases, violations can lead to a short-term separation from the college or university.
Sexual Misconduct and Title IX
Violations of this nature are likely seen in news headlines in New Jersey and across the country because even the allegation of sexual or Title IX misconduct can follow a student long past their college years.
Title IX is a federal law that guarantees equal access to higher education for people of different genders and sexual orientations without discrimination. Consequently, it's common for colleges and universities to take aggressive action when there is an allegation of sexual misconduct. 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 New Jersey colleges and universities have very similar Title IX policies as they come under federal purview. Ramapo College of New Jersey lists their violations as:
- Sexual harassment (can include hazing and bullying)
- Sexual violence (including sexual assault/battery, rape, domestic violence, sexual coercion)
- Unwelcome sexual advances (such as requests for sexual favors and various physical, verbal, and non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature
- The basis of determinations by faculty or staff on a student's sex or gender identification
- Failure by any school employee to provide equal opportunity for participation in athletics, sports, recreation, and housing, among others
The minimum punishment handed down if a student is found responsible for a Title IX or sexual misconduct violation is typically suspension. More commonly, the school expels the student.
Expulsion can be a traumatic ordeal in itself, but it may become even more burdensome. The school will notate the nature of the offense in the student's transcript, making it even more challenging to gain admission at a New Jersey school or elsewhere, effectively ending the student's academic career. Additionally, disclosure is often required for those subject to sexual misconduct or Title IX investigations. For instance, if a student seeks to gain employment with the New Jersey state government, the application form requires the disclosure of prior sexual misconduct violations, even investigations wherein the accused was found not responsible for the allegations.
Understanding Your Rights and the Campus Judicial Process
If you or a loved one has been accused of a code of conduct violation, you will likely receive a notice of violation or a notice of disciplinary action. This notice is a formal letter from the school administration, but you may also receive an electronic copy in your student email inbox. The notice will include varying details of the allegation and the time and date of a disciplinary hearing.
How New Jersey colleges and universities conduct their disciplinary hearing process varies by school. Besides, there are often different standards for academic misconduct, non-academic misconduct, and Title IX and sexual misconduct cases. A school's code of conduct will detail the amount of time is required for a student to respond to allegations, the evidence-gathering process conducted by school administration officials, punitive measures, and the opportunity for appeals.
Students may believe the disciplinary or grievance process is the same as a court hearing. However, a college or university isn't a court of law. Therefore, the student cannot assume they will be granted due process. In addition, the solid constitutional protections you are afforded regarding privacy, evidence-gathering, and self-incrimination aren't always applied the same way by schools. Indeed, what you do and say during the investigative process or hearing can be used against you if you aren't careful.
Depending on the nature of the violations, representation in hearings isn't guaranteed. In fact, your notice may even say you aren't permitted to have outside representation attend the hearing with you. Even if your school doesn't permit this during your hearing, you can rest assured that the advice and defense preparation you receive beforehand will allow you to present your side of the story—and any corresponding evidence—clearly and confidently.
There are many differences between campus administrative hearings and a court trial, and many of them often work against the accused. While schools claim to prioritize rehabilitative over punitive outcomes 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.
If a student is found responsible for misconduct, there will be a short period during which the accused can appeal the decision. However, most institutions of higher education in New Jersey and elsewhere detail in their code of conduct that appeals may be filed for just a few specific reasons. According to guidelines from Rutgers University, a student can file an appeal if:
- New evidence emerges following the proceeding
- Bias or procedural errors were committed
- Determination of responsibility isn't supported by evidence
Yet, how will the student know the grievance process was fair according to a college's typically vague guidelines? How will the student understand when new evidence suddenly emerges? Given that the student isn't versed in academic administrative policy, how will they determine if the punishment is proven excessive given the charges? Most students aren't prepared for these situations, and they need an experienced student defense attorney-advisor to assist them through the complicated process.
Why You Should Hire About Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm
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 tout their legal prowess, those skills don't translate into proven tactics used in disciplinary hearings. Very few lawyers have demonstrated themselves to be successful student defense attorney-advisors fighting for students in hearings or negotiating relief from sanctioning bodies.
Typically, attorneys begin by threatening lawsuits at New Jersey colleges and universities. While a “shock and awe” strategy may sound nice, it's ineffective in protecting a student's academic career. Although a formal suit is a possible strategy, in many instances, Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have settled with the school's Office of General Counsel (OGC).
Lento and his team have formed beneficial relationships with many OGC officials throughout New Jersey, and across the U.S., even with legal representatives, the school has retained. The advantage Joseph D. Lento can provide to a student is that he and his team know how to get college and university officials to view positive options that serve both the student and the institution far better than suspension, expulsion, or other harsh and punitive forms of discipline.
This is especially important when students feel like the deck is stacked against them. In many ways, if a student finds themselves accused of a code of conduct violation, the deck is stacked in the school's favor. With a student's academic and professional future at stake, they deserve a student defense attorney-advisor who will fight for their future. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have successfully defended thousands of students across the nation who faced various code of conduct allegations. His invaluable knowledge and experience with college and university judicial proceedings can help you mount the most robust possible defense, resolving your case favorably. To schedule a confidential consultation with Joseph D. Lento, call (888) 535-3686 or contact the Lento Law Firm online.