College is an exciting time in a young person's life. You take your first steps toward independence, meet new people, and ultimately work toward a degree and career that will launch the rest of your life.
In and among all of these exciting events, it's key to ensure that you do everything you can to have a safe, successful college career. Chief among these tasks is a little-known one: Reading your school's code of conduct.
This might not be on your radar. It should be. Your Pennsylvania school's code of conduct lists out your school's expectations about your behavior. It also lays out your school's specific response to any behaviors it finds problematic.
Why is this so important to read? You may figure that this is a bridge you'll cross if you're ever in a code of conduct dispute with your school.
Here's the thing: When you undergo your school's disciplinary processes, you're going to be stressed. You may even be scared. There will be a million things on your mind at that point in time. You don't want that to be the first time you're ever reading your school's code of conduct.
This is also a situation where an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure. There may be some unique prohibited behaviors at your school that you may not be aware of. Knowing this upfront could save you a lot of time later.
However, your school's code of conduct was written to be comprehensive, not necessarily accessible. It may be full of confusing legalese and endless subsections.
That's where we come in. At the Lento Law Firm, we're dedicated to making sure that you have everything you need to successfully earn your degree. That starts with having all of the knowledge you need, right up front. We've put together this handy resource page for Pennsylvania college students and their families. Here, you'll find the code of conduct information you need as a college student in Pennsylvania.
What Types of Code of Conduct Issues Will My Pennsylvania School Find Problematic?
Very generally speaking, we can divide code of conduct issues into three specific subtypes: Academic, sexual, and a catch-all ‘general' type of code of conduct infractions.
- Academic misconduct or integrity issues tend to involve actions like cheating, unauthorized collaboration, data fabrication, classroom disruptions, and plagiarism. If your teacher suspects you of any involvement in these actions, including helping another student complete these activities, your teacher may either mete out a related sanction on the spot (e.g., a failing grade), or they may refer you to the administration for further action.
- Sexual misconduct infractions may include domestic or dating violence, stalking, incest, sexual exploitation, and rape. If a sexual event occurs without the consent of everyone involved, it could qualify as misconduct. Your school may have language within your code of conduct detailing these actions and your school's expected response. Your school may also adjudicate sexual misconduct cases under a distinct Title IX policy. The policy your school considers your case under may influence your experience, so it's a good idea to read the materials your school sends you very closely to glean the cited policy.
What Are “General” Code of Conduct Issues?
Aside from academic dishonesty and sexual misconduct, your school will likely have other types of behaviors it finds problematic. These behaviors may be lumped into one “general” code of conduct infraction category. At many schools, these general infractions may include:
- Drug or alcohol possession: Most Pennsylvania schools will make sure their school's policies mirror those of their state. In Pennsylvania, there are stringent laws surrounding underage consumption of alcohol and drugs, including narcotics, steroids, and (recreational) prescription drugs.
- Hazing: Many schools across the nation have recently issued strict policies against hazing, particularly when it goes too far. If your school's social or sports clubs have initiation ceremonies that may involve embarrassment, injury, or property damage, these rituals may be prohibited.
- Residential misconduct: College dorms represent, for many, the first time that students live away from home. Therefore, these dormitories can be difficult places to live. Your PA school may take steps to prevent dangerous scenarios with dorm-specific language in its code of conduct. For example, your school's code of conduct may ban assault in the dorms or any destruction of personal property in your school's residence halls.
- Hate crimes: If a student commits an offense against another that can be connected to the other party's sexual orientation, race, age, color, gender, or religion, that offense could be labeled a hate crime. This is a big deal: A seemingly innocuous or funny prank that is deemed a hate crime can result in a lot of permanent damage to the reputations of all involved.
Your school's disciplinary processes will begin when your school learns about your alleged misconduct. This is dependent upon receipt of an allegation. Anyone can file an allegation. Academic dishonesty typically nets an allegation from an instructor, for example, while the victim of alleged sexual misconduct might be the one filing the allegation in that scenario.
Once your school receives this allegation, it will launch its due process. In the next section, we'll talk about what that might look like, as well as best practices to follow should you find yourself in this type of situation.
How Will My Pennsylvania School Respond to My Code of Conduct Infraction?
After your school receives an allegation of misconduct, it may start by launching an investigation to learn more about what happened. As a result, your school may send you a notification not only detailing your allegations but also informing you of an impending investigation.
If you receive this notice, consider it a call to action. There are a few things that you should do as soon as possible in your code of conduct experience to protect yourself. These actions include:
- Writing down as much information as possible about what happened. You're going to get a lot of questions about the alleged event from investigators and school officials, and more. Starting to pull together a cohesive, comprehensive timeline as well as any evidence that may be able to back up your story will help you later.
- Staying quiet. This may be difficult; you may wish to confide in trusted advisors or even your friends. Unfortunately, once you're in an adversarial position with your school, confiding in anyone can put you in a dangerous position. The things you say can be quoted out of context and used against you. Try to refrain from speaking about your case to anyone other than your parents and your defense advisor. This leads nicely into the #1 thing you should do once you realize a code of conduct dispute is in your future.
- Contacting a student defense attorney. While this can seem like an overreaction, it isn't. These types of cases are often won or lost in the investigative stage, which makes it vital that you bring your advisor in as early as possible. In addition, code of conduct disputes can spiral out of control very quickly. You want to be prepared before your case is overly difficult, not after. In addition, your school will be much more likely to take you seriously if you have a lawyer with you.
Your code of conduct student defense attorney can help you manage your investigation from the start. Then, when your school invites you to a hearing, they can coach you and make sure that you're comfortable delivering the information you need to deliver.
At your school's hearing, you'll have the chance to review all of the information your school has against you. You'll also be able to tell your side of the story. The disciplinary hearing should culminate with a decision from your school regarding your responsibility for the alleged infraction. Your school will also issue a recommendation for sanctions if found responsible.
After a Code of Conduct Dispute at My Pennsylvania School, What Sanctions Could I Receive?
Your school's code of conduct should detail the types of suspensions you could receive. While the specific sanctions may vary from school to school, it's not uncommon to see a lengthy list of possibilities. These possibilities may include:
- Loss of privileges
- Loss of scholarships
- Mandatory training or formation (e.g., taking a course on substance abuse or sexual misconduct)
- A mandatory change in housing
- Loss of housing
- Ban on extracurricular activities
Here's the thing: It can be tempting to think that you could handle, say, a ban on extracurricular activities, probation, or a suspension. Your school will very likely mete out suspensions as opposed to more varied sanctions, however. Sanctions themselves are far more serious than you may think.
Let's think about what happens if you are suspended. By definition, you won't be attending school for some period of time. As a result, there will be a gap in your transcript. Later in life, when you apply to an internship or another school or even the job of your dreams, you'll need to produce your transcript. The people reviewing your transcript will require some kind of explanation regarding the gap on your transcript. No matter how well you're able to explain this, it won't reflect well on you. Very likely, you won't end up getting that job (or internship or place in an academic program).
This may not seem fair, but it's how it works! This is precisely why you need to make sure that you don't receive a suspension. Avoiding that type of long-term damage to your reputation starts now, with strategic action to negotiate yourself a reduced sanction or avoid disciplinary actions in the first place.
If you do receive a sanction such as a suspension at the end of your disciplinary hearing, your student defense attorney will be able to help you determine what you should do next. Very likely, you'll file an appeal at your school.
Filing an Appeal at Your Pennsylvania School
When your school informs you of its disciplinary recommendations, it should also let you know what the requirements are for filing an appeal. If this does not occur, your school should still have this information readily available on its website or within the code of conduct itself.
Likely, you'll have to complete the following steps:
- You'll come up with the most strategic basis possible for your appeal. In most cases, you'll only get one shot at this, so it's important to make it as strong as possible. For example, a good basis for an appeal could involve evidence that your school did not follow its stated procedures during your disciplinary experience. If you have new evidence that has come to light since your school's initial investigation, that could work, too! Your lawyer will be able to review your case and help you determine a strong foundation for your appeal.
- You will need to write a persuasive summary of that basis, as well as any supporting information or evidence that you have. Again, your lawyer can help you with this crucial step.
- Once you have pulled that argument together, you will need to file that argument and any substantiating documents with the relevant authority at your school. At many schools, this is the Dean of Students.
- You'll then wait for a reply. Depending on the nature of the previously issued sanctions, you may have to carry them out while you're waiting. Your school will respond with its final decision. Importantly, this decision will be final: In most cases, you will not get a second opportunity to appeal.
If your school is amenable to negotiations, great! Your lawyer can help you argue for reduced sanctions or other ways to lower the impact of your code of conduct infraction on your future. If not, you may need to resort to slightly more dramatic actions.
For example, you could start by filing an external appeal with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s complaint office. As a government agency, this department may be able to exert some pressure on your school to help resolve your case. Even if this doesn't work out in your favor, having this documented appeal may strengthen any further action you need to take.
After that or even prior, it may be time to ask your lawyer to speak directly with your school's office of general counsel. This may be one of the most effective ways to help mitigate this process. Very likely, your attorney can help your school's attorneys realize that it's in everyone's best interest to come to a mutually beneficial resolution—one that involves fewer sanctions on your side.
If that doesn't work either, it may well be time to consider a formal lawsuit. This may seem dramatic. It is. It can also be expensive and time-consuming. It will also probably get you the results you need if you've already exhausted all of your other opportunities for relief.
Consult with your attorney with all of these steps. Your student defense attorney will be able to help you determine the best course of action in your case.
Joseph D. Lento is the PA Student Defense Attorney You Need
When you're a student attending a college in Pennsylvania, your goal is to attain your degree (and have some fun). Unfortunately, it can be much easier than you think for misconduct to get in the way of this goal. Whether it's the result of miscommunication or simply a mistake, you may find yourself mixed up in a code of conduct dispute at your Pennsylvania school. When this happens, your degree and your entire reputation can be in jeopardy.
At the Lento Law Firm, we don't believe that this type of situation should cost you your chances of a successful career or an enjoyable college experience. That's why we're giving you the tools you need to be informed about your school's code of conduct expectations. We're also here for you if you need any type of support during your school's investigation, adjudication, or disciplinary processes.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a highly-experienced student defense lawyer. For years, he has helped students in your precise situation with strategic defenses, persuasive arguments, and cutting-edge legal knowledge. He can help you delve through your school's code of conduct, get ready for any hearings, and lower your stress levels during this hard time.
If you need assistance with a code of conduct process at your Pennsylvania school, call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686, or reach out online.
Pennsylvania colleges and universities where Joseph D. Lento can help as your or your student's code of conduct advisor during investigations, hearings, and appeals include, but are not limited to, the following schools:
- Albright College
- Allegheny College
- Alvernia University
- Arcadia University
- Bryn Mawr College
- Bloomsburg University
- Bucknell University
- Cabrini University
- Cairn University
- California University of Pennsylvania
- Carlow University
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Cedar Crest College
- Central Penn College
- Chatham University
- Chestnut Hill College
- Cheyney University
- Clarion University of Pennsylvania
- Delaware Valley University
- DeSales University
- Dickinson College
- Drexel University
- Duquesne University
- East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
- Eastern University
- Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
- Elizabethtown College
- Franklin & Marshall College
- Gannon University
- Geneva College
- Gettysburg College
- Grove City College
- Gwynedd Mercy University
- Harcum College
- Haverford College
- Holy Family University
- Immaculata University
- Indiana University of Pennsylvania
- Juniata College
- Keystone College
- King's College
- Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
- Lackawanna College
- Lafayette College
- Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
- La Roche College
- La Salle University
- Lebanon Valley College
- Lehigh University
- Lincoln University
- Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania
- Lycoming College
- Mansfield University of Pennsylvania
- Marywood University
- Mercyhurst University
- Messiah College
- Millersville University of Pennsylvania
- Misericordia University
- Moravian College
- Mount Aloysius College
- Muhlenberg College
- Neumann University
- Peirce College
- Pennsylvania State University
- Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Philadelphia University
- Point Park University
- Robert Morris University
- Rosemont College
- Saint Francis University
- Saint Joseph's University
- Saint Vincent College
- Seton Hill University
- Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
- Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
- Susquehanna University
- Swarthmore College
- Temple University
- Thiel College
- Thomas Jefferson University
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Pittsburgh
- University Of The Arts
- University of the Sciences
- University of Scranton
- Ursinus College
- Villanova University
- Washington & Jefferson College
- Waynesburg University
- West Chester University of Pennsylvania
- Westminster College
- Widener University
- Wilkes University
- York College of Pennsylvania