Could Past Academic Misconduct Cost You Your Job?

Making a single serious academic blunder as a college student can upend an education, even to the point of preventing the student from earning a degree. And academic misconduct's implications go far beyond one's years of formal education, having the potential to wreak havoc on your career and other aspects of your life long after graduation. Those life-long impacts are why national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento fights so hard to defend college and university students nationwide against false, exaggerated, and unfair academic misconduct charges. Attorney Lento has helped hundreds of students preserve their right to earn a degree and enjoy the life-long benefits of their college or university education.

Graduation Is No Free Pass

Surprisingly, though, the risks of your college or university finding that you committed academic misconduct while earning your degree do not end with graduation. Although it may feel like it, graduation is not a free pass to the future with the slate behind wiped clean. Sometimes, allegations of academic misconduct arise after the student graduates, receives the degree, and even accepts a job and enters a career.

In those cases, when colleges or universities discover evidence of academic misconduct after having awarded the suspect student a degree, the institution may notify the graduate of the institution's proceeding to revoke the degree. Schools generally don't just let students get away with cheating once the student graduates. Schools will start a misconduct proceeding even after a student graduates, with the potential to revoke the student's awarded degree.

Degree Revocation Happens

To revoke a degree means to take it back, as if the institution had never awarded it. Yes, it's true. In many instances, colleges and universities reserve to themselves the right to revoke the degree even after the dean or other school official hands it to the student at the graduation ceremony. They do so by including degree revocation in their sanctions policies.

Some colleges and universities set a time limit on pursuing academic integrity violations, somewhat like a statute of limitations on criminal charges. But many institutions do not. The degree is not simply something paid for and earned once, for the graduate to keep ever after. The degree is instead a continuing certification by the school. Graduates may face scrutiny, sanctions, and serious repercussions years after graduation.

Why Schools Revoke Degrees

Although it may surprise some proud graduates who just walked across the stage, the ceremony and physical parchment are not the real thing. Degrees, long after lost or thrown away, instead, continue to represent to employers and others that the graduate completed all degree requirements within the school's academic conduct rules. College and university officials doubtless do not enjoy rescinding a degree. Degree revocation must be the least desirable outcome for school officials, even for the institution itself. But the institutions find themselves compelled to revoke a degree when evidence shows that the student did not rightly earn it. Schools have several reasons to revoke degrees, including that degree revocation:

  • protects the integrity of the institution and its degrees;
  • ensures other graduates that employers and the public continue to respect that they legitimately earned their degree;
  • ensures current students that all students must comply with academic conduct rules to earn their degrees; and
  • ensures prospective students and their parents that the school has the integrity and its degree have the value worth the investment.

Degree Revocation Is Adversarial

Colleges and universities have good reasons to treat students and graduates fairly. False and trumped-up charges of academic misconduct help no one. Yet once a school initiates a degree revocation process, the graduate had better expect it to be an adversarial process. Schools do not start degree revocation proceedings without believing the graduate to have committed serious academic misconduct. The graduate facing a degree revocation proceeding may as well assume that the school believes them guilty rather than holding them innocent until found guilty in a fair proceeding. Once a college or university starts a degree revocation proceeding, its actions are rarely in the graduate's best interests.

Degree revocation proceedings are not only adversarial but can also be lengthy and complex. They may drag on for months, through investigation, pre-hearing, and hearing procedures that mystify the graduate. Degree revocation proceedings undoubtedly require representation by an experienced, dedicated attorney who is intimately familiar with the insider workings of an academic institution. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm puts to strategic use his vast experience drawn from hundreds of college and university misconduct proceedings nationwide. Trust attorney Lento with your defense of degree revocation proceedings.

Academic Misconduct Generally

To revoke a degree, an institution would first have to find that the graduate, while still a student, violated one or more of its academic policies in some serious manner. Colleges and universities define academic misconduct in lengthy student conduct codes that differ from institution to institution. To some degree, what misconduct warrants degree revocation depends on where you go to school. But schools tend to define academic misconduct similarly. Generally, academic misconduct includes any student action intended to create an unfair advantage. The public University of California at Berkeley, for example, defines academic misconduct to include:

"… [A]ny action or attempted action that may result in creating an unfair academic advantage for oneself or an unfair academic advantage or disadvantage for any other member or members of the academic community. This includes a wide variety of behaviors such as cheating, plagiarism, altering academic documents or transcripts, gaining access to materials before they are intended to be available, and helping a friend to gain an unfair academic advantage. Individual departments at the University of California, Berkeley, may have differing expectations for students, so students are responsible for seeking out information when unsure of what is expected."

Specific Examples of Academic Misconduct

Colleges and universities, though, do more than define academic misconduct generally. They also give specific examples of it in their lengthy student conduct codes or other academic policies. To suffer degree revocation, a graduate, while still a student, would have had to have committed some serious form of academic misconduct, likely within one of the specific examples that the college or university defined. Once again, the public University of California at Berkeley provides a good example of specific forms of academic misconduct. After giving the above general definition of academic misconduct, its policy goes on to define these specific examples of academic misconduct:

Cheating

Cheating is defined as fraud, deceit, or dishonesty in an academic assignment, or using or attempting to use materials, or assisting others in using materials that are prohibited or inappropriate in the context of the academic assignment in question, such as:

  • Copying or attempting to copy from others during an exam or on an assignment.
  • Communicating answers with another person during an exam.
  • Preprogramming a calculator to contain answers or other unauthorized information for exams.
  • Using unauthorized materials, prepared answers, written notes, or concealed information during an exam.
  • Allowing others to do an assignment or portion of an assignment for you, including the use of a commercial term-paper service.
  • Submission of the same assignment for more than one course without prior approval of all the instructors involved.
  • Collaborating on an exam or assignment with any other person without prior approval from the instructor.
  • Taking an exam for another person or having someone take an exam for you.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is defined as use of intellectual material produced by another person without acknowledging its source, for example:

  • Wholesale copying of passages from works of others into your homework, essay, term paper, or dissertation without acknowledgment.
  • Use of the views, opinions, or insights of another without acknowledgment.
  • Paraphrasing of another person's characteristic or original phraseology, metaphor, or other literary device without acknowledgment.

Course Materials

  • Removing, defacing, or deliberately keeping from other students library materials that are on reserve for specific courses.
  • Contaminating laboratory samples or altering indicators during a practical exam, such as moving a pin in a dissection specimen for an anatomy course.
  • Selling, distributing, website posting, or publishing course lecture notes, handouts, readers, recordings, or other information provided by an instructor, or using them for any commercial purpose without the express permission of the instructor.

False Information and Representation, Fabrication or Alteration of Information

  • Furnishing false information in the context of an academic assignment.
  • Failing to identify yourself honestly in the context of an academic obligation.
  • Fabricating or altering information or data and presenting it as legitimate.
  • Providing false or misleading information to an instructor or any other University official.

Theft or Damage of Intellectual Property

  • Sabotaging or stealing another person's assignment, book, paper, notes, experiment, project, electronic hardware or software.
  • Improper access to, or electronically interfering with, the property of another person or the university via computer or other means.
  • Obtaining a copy of an exam or assignment prior to its approved release by the instructor.

Alteration of University Documents

  • Forgery of an instructor's signature on a letter of recommendation or any other document.
  • Submitting an altered transcript of grades to or from another institution or employer.
  • Putting your name on another person's exam or assignment.
  • Altering a previously graded exam or assignment for purposes of a grade appeal or of gaining points in a re-grading process.

Disturbances in the Classroom
Disturbances in the classroom can also serve to create an unfair academic advantage for oneself or disadvantage for another member of the academic community. Below are some examples of events that may violate the Code of Student Conduct:

  • Interference with the course of instruction to the detriment of other students.
  • Disruption of classes or other academic activities in an attempt to stifle academic freedom of speech.
  • Failure to comply with the instructions or directives of the course instructor.
  • Phoning in falsified bomb threats.
  • Unnecessarily activating fire alarms.

Academic Misconduct Warranting Degree Revocation

Cheating. Of the above specific forms of academic misconduct, several may warrant the institution's most severe sanctions. Those sanctions would include the student's dismissal or, if the institution had already awarded the degree, then degree revocation. Cheating is one example, especially when the cheating involved a cumulative examination. If the student cheated on an examination or other course requirement necessary to pass a required course, or a cumulative exam across courses, then degree revocation is a possibility. The institution may determine that the degree's integrity warrants it. The institution may conclude that if the student cheated the way to the required course credit, then the student has not earned the degree.

Plagiarism. Likewise, plagiarism may be a form of academic misconduct for which an institution would seek degree revocation, especially if the plagiarism was in a scholarly work for which the student received significant course credit. Plagiarism in a master's thesis may cause the graduate school to seek the master's degree's revocation. Plagiarism in a doctoral submission may well warrant revocation of the doctoral degree. Even plagiarism in a significant undergraduate course paper could result in a degree revocation proceeding.

Falsification. A third form of academic misconduct that institutions may especially feel warrants degree revocation is the falsification of data, results, or other information in an academic setting. If the falsification allegedly involved labs, studies, or experiments, then falsification undermines the entire integrity of the results. If the falsification involved the timeliness, diligence, independence, or other conditions of an academic performance, then falsification undermines the entire integrity of the performance. Falsification is a serious academic wrong for which an institution may pursue degree revocation.

The thing that these three forms of academic misconduct, cheating, plagiarism, and falsification, have in common is the student's deliberate deception. These forms of misconduct do not simply involve carelessness. They involve dishonesty, which is a deeper character issue and larger integrity issue than mere carelessness. Institutions do not want to certify the integrity of a graduate who has none. If your institution alleges that you committed academic misconduct involving some such form of dishonesty, then take those charges seriously. Do not let your institution find you guilty of misconduct you did not commit. Retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to defend you in a degree revocation proceeding.

The Impact of Degree Revocation

Disclosure. Degree revocation is certainly not something to take lightly. Do not ignore your institution's notice that it has begun a degree revocation proceeding against you. Instead, promptly retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to assist you and to defeat false, exaggerated, and unfair charges. Your need for representation is particularly acute if you work in a field that depends on your degree. Degree revocation could end your work and ruin your reputation when your alleged misdeeds come to the attention of your employer and associates. If your institution finds you responsible for serious academic misconduct and revokes your degree, then you will have no choice but to disclose to your employer what has happened.

Disqualification. If the institution decides to rescind your degree while you are in graduate school or residency, or at a job in your chosen career field, then it is possible you could not only lose your current position but also be disqualified from graduate programs and jobs that require the lost degree. You may not only lose your current job or get dismissed from your current graduate school but also lose the opportunity to continue in that chosen field.

Licensure. With degree revocation, or even with a sanction short of a lost degree, you may also lose the ability to obtain a professional license or certification. Every profession is different, and each profession has different requirements for licensure or certification. But many professions ask questions not only about degrees earned but also about suspension, probation, reprimand, or other sanctions your institution imposed as you worked toward your degree. Law, medicine, accounting, financial advising, and other professions involving legal, financial, medical, and other significant personal interests all tend to look very closely at any issues of integrity.

The Impact of Degree Revocation Proceedings

Even if you do not suffer degree revocation in a post-graduate proceeding, the proceeding itself may be significant in your ability to obtain a professional license or job in your chosen field. State bars and licensing boards tend to ask not only about sanctions but also about proceedings. Licensing boards will sometimes look behind the result, which may look like a win, to the allegations and evidence supporting them, which can look a lot like a loss. That is why you need national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento in your corner, to ensure that the record of your proceeding contains the exonerating and mitigating evidence that it should.

Disclosure rules for what you must tell the licensing board can also be complex, where one misstep for failure to disclose has the potential to stop a professional career in its tracks. Your response must not only be honest but also complete so that it does not mislead the licensing board. You could lose your license if your misconduct late came to light, showing you lied or misled the board on your application. Get guidance on how to address your degree revocation proceeding or other academic misconduct proceeding truthfully, to the extent you must address it according to board policies. It is essential that you have an attorney with a grasp not just of the fundamentals of a given medical board's expectations, but an understanding of every salient detail. Without proper counsel, years of work to build a professional pedigree can go down the drain. Retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to ensure that you make appropriate disclosures in the best light.

Degree Revocation Procedures

Degree revocation procedures for after graduation are likely similar to procedures for current students—and potentially just as flawed. The institution should give fair notice that it has begun the proceeding. That notice should include the misconduct charges in enough detail to allow you and your attorney to respond. If the charges do not include sufficient detail, then your attorney will challenge the notice to get more information. Keep in mind that the school official who contacts you likely has an investigative and even a prosecutorial role. That official may well be your opponent and accuser, certainly not your advisor and friend. School officials, investigators, and hearing officers or panels have the upper hand. They understand the process, while the graduate defending the proceeding does not.

Schools can also face intense internal or even external pressure to find misconduct once an accuser has alleged it. Schools need to maintain their reputation. Punishment tends to prove their diligence, even when the evidence does not warrant punishment. The school may push for punishment quickly before you can find your footing. And once the procedural ball gets rolling, schools can handle things in what can appear to be a haphazard way. Some schools will even drag things out while your career hangs in the balance. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how to keep the schools true to their procedures. He knows how to invoke those procedures to ensure that you get the fair hearing that you should.

What the Courts Say

Academic due process typically falls outside the purview of the courts. Courts tend to leave it to each educational institution to design its own procedures. Courts are especially likely to entrust decisions on academic misconduct to the professional judgment of academic faculty members. Courts assume that faculty members are better at determining educational standards than judges and juries. Yet courts will hold academic institutions to basic due process standards. Two Supreme Court decisions in Missouri v. Horowitz, 1973, and University of Michigan v. Ewing, 1985, confirm that academic discipline decisions must be the result of a careful, deliberate, and “reasonable decision-making process.” The deliberations must be conscientious, rational, and fair, and cannot be arbitrary or capricious. The institution must also review the entire academic record and broad context of the student's performance. The institution must clearly communicate to the student any negative findings, after giving the student a fair chance and process to address them.

A Right of Counsel

Case law also backs up the right of a student to have an attorney assist the student in the proceeding. How much the attorney may do directly in the proceeding is a close question. Some schools limit the attorney's direct role more than other schools do. But an attorney's active assistance is a substantial and important right that courts are willing to enforce against schools. For example, a 2017 district court case alleged that the school permitted the student to have an attorney-advisor present but required the attorney to remain silent and not to participate. An article in a publication by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) summarized the judge's opinion as such:

"Without counsel who can actively participate in a hearing, students may miss critical opportunities to respond to evidence, challenge testimony, and present an adequate defense…. Students aren't ultimately able to adequately defend themselves against charges if they don't know what the charges are or have an opportunity to acquire, meaningfully review, or present exculpatory evidence."

Procedures and Standards Differ

The specific procedures for degree revocation will vary, depending on the size, nature, and culture of the school and whether it is private or public. Every college or university has its own established policies and procedures for dealing with misconduct allegations, but the process generally has these common elements:

  • Someone files a complaint, alleging misconduct or some sort of violation on your part.
  • The appropriate office reviews the complaint. You may be contacted for an informal discussion, especially if the allegation is a mild infraction, and in some cases, the issue may be resolved here.
  • For more significant accusations, the school's disciplinary body will conduct an investigation. This may be a Dean, a Conduct Officer, an Honor Council, an Academic Progress Committee, etc.
  • You are called to a formal hearing. You'll hear the complaints against you and any evidence, and you'll be invited to give your side.
  • The disciplinary body (usually a committee or council) will review the events of the hearing and make a determination and recommendation of punishment, usually to a Dean.
  • You will be notified in writing of the punishment.
  • You will have a window of time to appeal, if applicable.
  • There may be a separate appeals hearing, after which the decision will be final.

Premier National Counsel Helps Prevent Degree Revocation

Retaining premier national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to defend a degree revocation proceeding is likely to accomplish two critical things. The first thing retaining attorney Lento accomplishes is to show the school that the graduate is not going to give up the degree without a good fight. Colleges and universities don't relish fights. Often, they just need to see whether the student or graduate facing the school's action is going to put up that fight or instead walk away, leaving the school to do as it wishes. 

Degree revocation is obviously an extraordinary action, one that colleges and universities should prefer to reserve for the extraordinary case. The schools generally know that the graduate has invested so heavily in earning the degree, and getting the job and entering the career that the degree permits, that the graduate is unlikely to give up the degree without a fight. Some graduates, though, will ignore the degree revocation proceeding, simply because the degree no longer means anything to them, having moved on in life. Other graduates may retain no attorney representation, signaling to the school that the graduate doesn't take the proceeding seriously and won't put up a good fight. Still other graduates retain only local counsel, whom the school may know lacks the knowledge, skill, experience, or commitment to carry forward the graduate's fight. When a graduate hires local counsel whom the school knows usually defends drunk drivers or handles uncontested divorces, the school doesn't expect a hard fight. But when a graduate facing degree revocation retains national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento, the school will know the graduate is going to do everything within the graduate's lawful power to preserve the degree. That action, alone, may change the school's stance and tune.

The other critical thing that retaining national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento accomplishes, though, is just as important. In these degree revocation procedures, experienced academic attorney representation unquestionably helps to navigate the school's nuanced procedures. Degree revocation procedures are legal, academic, and administrative in nature. Lawyers have training in legal and sometimes in administrative procedures. They generally lack knowledge, skill, and experience in academic matters. Attorney Lento, though, has exactly that academic knowledge, skill, and experience, combined with substantial experience in school legal and administrative procedures. 

A school's degree revocation procedures allow for strategic planning and action. Your lawyer representative, though, must have the experience, skill, and insight to deploy those procedures on your behalf. Because he has represented hundreds of students and graduates in all kinds of academic discipline matters, national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how to invoke these procedures for your best advantage. He has the skills in investigation, discovery, research, drafting, presenting evidence, direct examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and other argument and advocacy. Do not face a degree revocation proceeding without the best available representation.

Local Counsel Is Not Enough

To respond swiftly to a college or university action to revoke your degree, it is essential to hire capable legal counsel with very specific experience in handling matters related to academic misconduct. Local lawyers who have a general law practice, or even a litigation practice in criminal defense or civil disputes, generally do not understand the peculiar academic environment and administrative procedures of a degree revocation proceeding.

National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento has spent many years fighting on behalf of students nationwide, defending and defeating charges of academic misconduct. Attorney Lento knows what it takes to win as an attorney in the academic environment. He is a skilled negotiator and fearless attorney who demands results. He has represented countless students at over a thousand colleges and universities across the United States from coast to coast and has particular experience in the unique practice area of Student Discipline Defense. Click here to learn more about how we can help you regardless of your school's location in the United States. Help is just a phone call away! Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.

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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 our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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