College or University Misconduct - What is at Stake?

To properly manage and defeat false, unfair, or exaggerated accusations of college or university misconduct, one best starts from the endpoint of what is at stake. To run a winning race, consider the finish line first. Whether the school's adverse finding involves academic cheating, sexual misconduct, or other misbehavior like vandalism, trespassing, or abuse of alcohol or drugs, what does it look like to ignore, underestimate, and mishandle false or exaggerated allegations, suffering the school's discipline?

Getting a Full View. Many students whom school officials accuse of misconduct think first and only of the charges' impact on their current coursework. They wonder, Can I continue and finish the term? For college and university studies, that narrow view is natural and normal. Students pressed with challenging studies tend toward pragmatism: do today what one must, while worrying tomorrow about tomorrow. Yet, a narrow view will not work when facing a school's misconduct charges. Students facing misconduct charges should not be thinking so much of their current coursework or even of their ability to continue in and complete the degree program. They should be thinking of the full impact of misconduct findings on their educational and vocational careers.

Taking the Long View. But just getting a full view of what could happen isn't enough. Indeed, the broad and lasting potential impacts may simply frighten the accused student into ignoring the matter or bailing from the degree program, hoping to start again later when the smoke clears or start again elsewhere. Those strategies, though, won't work. Walking away from misconduct charges typically results in adverse findings by default and the school imposing the stiffest appropriate penalty. Resuming studies at the same school won't be possible without first facing the penalty. Transferring to or restarting at another school also may not be possible, depending on the penalty. And those risks mean risking the job and career that the education would have won.

Equating Action to Risk. Instead of ignoring, minimizing, or freezing in the face of those risks, the key to a successful defense is to equate the high future risks with the necessary aggressive defense action today, the moment the school proceeds with misconduct charges. Take the future value of all that you have at stake, applying it to well-resourced present action defending and defeating the charges, and reducing or eliminating any penalty with mitigating evidence. That aggressive defense action begins with hiring preeminent national academic attorney Joseph Lento to represent you in defense. Consider in greater detail the following educational, career, and social impacts, so that knowing what's at stake, you can mount a proper, timely, aggressive, effective, and successful defense.

Educational Impacts of Misconduct Findings

Broad Authority. College and university misconduct policies uniformly grant the school the authority to impose the discipline or penalty for misconduct, from a simple oral reprimand all the way through to dismissal from the institution. When deciding on allegations of student misconduct, school officials know that they have the authority to do many things right up to kicking the student out of school. In that sense, higher education is more of a privilege than a right. And in misconduct proceedings, schools are ready to jealously guard that privilege, believing that the quality of the educational environment and the luster of the school's reputation are at stake. Many schools even provide for withholding or revocation of a degree. That latter penalty means that a student might complete all degree requirements and yet not receive the degree or, still worse, receive the degree only to have the institution take it back.

School Discretion. College and university misconduct policies also attempt to preserve for the school the discretion to impose the discipline or penalty that the school most sees fit. The school decides the penalty, not the student. Schools may permit the student to present evidence mitigating the penalty, in other words, to advocate for lighter discipline, but the school makes the decision, with the student having little other influence than that one key strategy of identifying, obtaining, organizing, and presenting mitigating evidence. And if the school believes that harsh discipline is appropriate, the student's contrary view takes the backseat. The University of Alabama’s academic-misconduct policy is an example, granting to the academic dean the right and responsibility to assign the penalty, even one contrary to the penalty the professor recommends. Students who disagree with the dean's penalty may appeal to a panel from the Office of Academic Affairs, but once again, “the panel's decision will be final and will conclude the process insofar as the University is concerned.”

Enumerating Discipline Forms. Some schools' discipline policies name few discipline forms other than suspension and expulsion while authorizing school officials to fashion other discipline as they see fit. Harvard University’s academic-dishonesty policy, for instance, simply states that violations subject students “to disciplinary action, up to and including requirement to withdraw.” Another Harvard University honor-council policy authorizes the responsible student's referral back to the professor for “local sanctions.” Other schools list specific forms of discipline the school may impose. Those lists, like the one in UCLA’s student conduct code, tend to include most or all of the following progressive sanctions:

  • oral or written warning or reprimand;
  • letter of apology or other acts of acceptance and contrition;
  • disciplinary probation including limiting enrollment;
  • loss of housing, concession, intramural, club, or other privileges
  • exclusion from courses, activities, sites, or functions;
  • community service or restitution;
  • remedial education or training;
  • deferred or actual suspension;
  • deferred or actual dismissal;
  • withholding of an earned or revocation of an awarded degree.

Harsh Judgments. Progressive discipline may sound nice. Many students facing misconduct allegations or charges, especially those who have maintained a strong academic record and not been in other trouble, assume that a slap on the wrist such as an oral reprimand or apology is the probable sanction. After all, education is supposed to mold, not judge, character. Yet colleges and universities do not always take such a lenient view. Rightly or wrongly, they also see themselves as guardians for entry into careers and professions, a role that means judging character more than shaping it. Time and again, naive students misjudge the seriousness of the misconduct charges and likely discipline to follow, and in the process lose everything, when a successful defense may well have been possible.

Collateral Educational Impacts. Once a school places a student on probation, or suspends or dismisses the student, for some form of misconduct, the student faces sharply curtailed options to proceed with any education. It is not as simple as choosing a different major, school, or college at the same institution. The student will surely have to comply with the discipline's terms to gain any advantage from the same institution that imposed the discipline. And the student's challenge is greater even than that. Transferring to or restarting at another school very likely means dealing with the same discipline restrictions. Schools tend to require disclosure of prior discipline at other schools. They may also require transcripts from prior schools. Convincing the new school that the old school imposed unduly harsh discipline may be just as hard as it was trying to overturn that discipline at the former school.

The Worst Educational Outcomes. The worst educational outcomes of misconduct findings, then, are to be dead in the water from an educational standpoint. Depending on the cause, a misconduct dismissal, or degree withholding or degree revocation for misconduct, can end one's prospects for meaningful education in the desired field and related fields and professions. Getting around a prior dismissal isn't as simple as going from an aspiring doctor to an aspiring dentist, or from a doctor to a lawyer, engineer to accountant, or social worker to historian. Academic programs tend to share values. The student whom an institution dismisses for sexual misconduct, drug dealing, vandalism, or cheating may not get another chance even in a very different school and program, perhaps for a very long time. The end of one's education doesn't mean the end of one's world. Plenty of people do very well and are very happy with little or no education. But education is also a great boon to many, for many the surest ticket to an improved life. Don't throw it away by underestimating the impact of misconduct charges.

Career Impacts of Misconduct Findings

Students facing college or university misconduct charges tend to think first of the narrow, short-term educational impacts. They want to finish the course, finish the term, and someday finish the degree. Wiser students know that many forms of misconduct charges, not just Title IX or other sexual misconduct but also academic misconduct and serious behavioral issues like theft and disorderly conduct, place their education at risk. The key to fully appreciating the risk of misconduct findings, though, is to translate the education's disruption into its job and career effects. Appreciate not just the educational impacts but also the vocational impacts of misconduct findings.

Why We Go to College. Jokes about starving artists with fine-arts degrees and warnings about unemployed history buffs with Ph.D. degrees, remind us that as enjoyable as education itself can be, education generally has a purpose in leading to vocation. Not just parents bankrolling a child's education but also hard-studying students expect the reward of a job and career from completing, or even making a good start to, a college or university education. You didn't go to college to live in your parents' basement. Money may not be your idol, but you'd still like to earn enough in your degree-related field to do more than pay for the education. One of the worst educational outcomes is to expend savings and incur substantial debt to pay for college tuition but then have no economic return at all to show for it. We go to college or university to learn and grow. But we also get an education to earn a living--a better living than we would have earned without the education.

Employers Expect Education. It should be no revelation to job-seeking students and graduates that employers expect their job candidates to have certain education. Employers publish job descriptions and profiles with criteria for required education, not because it makes them look good but because they need their employees to have the knowledge, skill, and ethics that the required education represents. In most cases, a candidate who lacks the employer's required education may as well not apply for the job. In some fields, like computer coding, the skill usually means more than formal education. But in many fields, like medicine, law, social work, counseling, and engineering, the candidate must have the formal education to qualify for the licensure necessary for the job. Employers expect education. Misconduct findings that result in dismissal or degree withholding or revocation, or other failure to complete the education, often mean no job prospects whatsoever in the chosen field. That potential impact makes many misconduct charges, indeed most charges, extremely serious.

Employers Value Integrity. While employers expect job candidates to have the education necessary to qualify for the job, especially when the job requires licensure, employers also value education completed with integrity, if not with honors, awards, and other recognition. There may be an employer somewhere who requires education but does not care about an employee's lack of integrity in that education, shown by college or university misconduct findings, but those employers are likely exceedingly rare. Sure, you may get a job that doesn't require education even if you've been kicked out of school. Why would that employer care, as long as your back is strong enough to lift the load or you are skilled enough with that shovel? But employers who require or reward college or university education do so in part because of the integrity that the completed education certifies. Employers usually have choices in hiring. Spoiling an educational achievement with an associated misconduct finding won't get you the job.

What Professions Expect. The career impacts of college or university misconduct findings grow larger when the educational field involves a profession like medicine, nursing, law, psychology, social work, and accounting. These and other professions generally require licensure or certification for entry. Professional boards and associations issuing those licenses or certifications examine not just whether the candidate has the knowledge and skill to perform competently but also the character, fitness, and ethics. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who have bad character for dishonesty, violence, or other misbehavior threaten the patients, clients, and public who depend on those professions. The college or university student who graduates despite misconduct findings may not be able to get the license or certification to enter the profession. Students in professional programs need to be especially aware of the career impacts associated with misconduct charges and findings.

What Professions Value. Even if the college or university student who graduates with misconduct marks on the student's professional-program record manages to get the post-graduation license or certification to enter the profession, that graduate may face career-long impediments to professional success because of the misconduct finding. Just because the graduate gets the license or certification doesn't mean that employers will hire the graduate. The graduate may enter the profession as a solo practitioner, without the resources and mentoring of a solid employer firm. A college or university misconduct record may close the profession's doors to internships, fellowships, committee assignments, leadership positions, and publication opportunities on which professionals build leading careers. Don't enter your chosen profession handicapped by a misconduct finding. If you face misconduct charges, treat them seriously. Retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento who has helped hundreds of college and university students nationwide defend and defeat Title IX and other misconduct allegations.

Social Impacts of Misconduct Findings

Many students charged with college or university misconduct soon come to appreciate the potential educational and career impacts, especially if they have the prompt advice and skilled representation of experienced counsel like attorney Lento. Students can still fail to readily appreciate the social, mental, emotional, and psychological impacts of handling false, unfair, or exaggerated misconduct charges poorly, resulting in unnecessary and undue adverse findings. Misconduct findings affect not just the student's education and career but also the student. Even if misconduct findings had no educational or vocational impact, they can still have serious personal impacts, further warranting that the accused student treat them most seriously.

Peer Impacts. At college or the university, many students for the first time shift their social support system from family members and a few friends to peers generally. What one's college or university classmates think of you can become quite important to one's school success, including whether, when, and on what terms they include you in their studies and other beneficial activities, and whether to trust you with their resources and opportunities. Many college and university students credit their success to the support of peers. That support, though, depends on peer trust and respect. Misconduct allegations and findings can quickly dissipate that trust and respect. One of the hardest impacts students can face when accused of misconduct is when peers turn a cold shoulder toward them. Don't underestimate the value of peer trust and respect. Act promptly, responsibly, wisely, and aggressively when facing misconduct allegations.

Mentor Impacts. College or university is also a time when the trust and respect of professors, directors, supervisors, and other mentors can become critically important to a student's success. Students come to appreciate the enormous value to their education, honors, and opportunities that precious roles like teaching assistant and research assistant represent. Access to special courses, labs, clinical programs, and internships can also depend on the trust and respect of those mentors, as do their written recommendations and oral references for jobs, graduate programs, and other critical opportunities. School employment, whether in libraries, labs, tutoring programs, or other leadership and developmental roles, can also depend on the trust and respect of school faculty and officials. Misconduct findings can ruin each of those mentor-dependent opportunities.

Program Impacts. When misconduct findings burden peer relationships and disrupt mentor relationships, they also produce school program impacts. The school's misconduct sanctions may outright prohibit participation in co-curricular or extra-curricular activities. Even if not, though, misconduct findings may so disrupt and burden social and supervisory relationships within those activities as to make them unproductive. It's hard to enjoy and draw from others, no less lead others, without their trust and respect. Misconduct charges can ruin those program benefits.

Family Impacts. Blood may be thicker than water, as the old saying about strong family ties goes, but misconduct findings can nonetheless affect even family relationships. Mom and dad didn't send their son or daughter to college or university to embarrass the family with misconduct charges and findings. Forgiveness and unconditional love may be strong in many families, but most families find that they still have limits. Families hesitate to facilitate misbehavior. Mom and dad, or formerly supportive aunt or uncle, may believe it better to let the miscreant student manage on the student's own for a while after the student's school sanctions the student for misconduct. College and university misconduct findings can disrupt important family relationships.

Relationship Impacts. Misconduct findings can also burden and disrupt relationships outside the family. Many students find their spouses, business partners, or other critical companions in college or at the university. College and university relationships can last a lifetime, forming a network for social, professional, recreational, and other opportunities. Misconduct findings can ostracize a student at school, destroying all chances for those lasting relationships to form as they otherwise would. Don't underestimate the broad, deep, and lasting impact of college or university misconduct findings.

Retain the Best Available Representation

A college or university misconduct proceeding puts so much at risk for the student that no student should take lightly any such proceeding. Recognize the full risk, and take action commensurate with that risk. Raise your best possible defense, promptly and aggressively. Retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to represent you from the outset of and throughout your misconduct proceeding. Attorney Lento's premier representation helps you successfully defend and defeat college or university misconduct charges. Retain attorney Lento today by calling 888.535.3686 or going online.

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