Defending Yourself From Academic Misconduct Charges at American University

You can't afford to take an accusation of academic misconduct lightly. You may be thinking, “Slap on the wrist, no big deal.” The fact is, if you're proven responsible for a violation, you can fail the assignment or even fail the course. Even just a warning, though, can have dire repercussions on your academic career. If your academic file includes a notation about misconduct, you could have trouble applying for scholarships, getting the right internships, and gaining admission to graduate school. Such a mark against you could even affect your job prospects. Fight every charge; challenge every sanction.

Don't try to handle the situation all on your own, though. Taking on your instructor is daunting enough, but keep in mind that your school will likely support your instructor to the hilt. If you're going to do battle with your university, you're going to need all the help you can get. Make sure you have a professional on your side: someone who understands your school's judicial processes and has experience defending student clients.

Defining Academic Misconduct

The first step to building a strong defense is to know exactly what you've been charged with. Only then can you respond to those charges effectively. American University's Academic Integrity Code divides academic misconduct into nine separate categories.

  • Plagiarism: In simplest terms, plagiarism means trying to pass off another person's work or ideas as you own without giving them due credit. Keep in mind that plagiarism isn't limited to the written word. You can plagiarize music, images, video, and even computer code.
  • Inappropriate Collaboration: Several of these categories can be tricky; this is one of them. Often professors encourage you to work with others to brainstorm ideas, offer suggestions, and critique work. Yet, you're not supposed to participate in “inappropriate collaboration.” It's not always easy to see the line between the two.
  • Dishonesty in Examinations: This means using unauthorized materials to complete a test. That could include asking someone else to take the test for you, or something far simpler, like sneaking in a crib sheet.
  • Dishonesty in Papers: AU's description here focuses on buying coursework from online paper mills.
  • Multiple Submissions: You're prohibited from submitting the same work in more than one class unless you have prior authorization to do so.
  • Fabrication of Data: This would include inventing a source for a paper or making up lab results rather than doing the experiments yourself.
  • Interference with Other Students' Work: “Interference” can be direct, as in sabotaging another student's semester project. It can be indirect as well, though. Vandalizing library books, for instance, prevents other students from using those books.
  • Bribes, Favors, and Threats: Quid pro quo is expressly forbidden when it concerns academic work.

Finally, American University includes a prohibition against “other academic misconduct.” Basically, the school wants you to know that this list is not exhaustive. The danger is that this final category can be used to justify virtually any allegation of dishonesty. It's one reason why you're going to need help if you decide to take on your school.

Judicial Procedures at American University

In addition to knowing the rules, if you're going to successfully defend yourself, you're going to need a familiarity with your school's judicial procedures.

As the American University Code points out, “Most charges […] are brought by the university faculty.” After all, they're the ones on the front lines, the ones who actually evaluate your coursework. However, faculty do not have carte blanch to assign penalties. If they want to do more than ask you to make up the assignment, instructors must refer the case to the dean's office. That office may assign a range of other sanctions, including a lowered grade on the assignment, a lowered grade in the course, and—in cases of repeat offenders—probation, suspension, or expulsion.

The dean's office assigns an Academic Integrity Code (AIC) administrator to each case. This official meets with students to discuss the charges and the proposed sanction and to give them a chance to respond. Students can accept the charges and the sanction, they can agree to let the AIC administrator decide the case, or they can request the case be heard before the school's Academic Code Review Panel.

At a hearing, students may submit evidence and call witnesses to testify on their behalf. Instructors may do the same.

It's worth noting that AU does not allow students to bring legal counsel to proceedings. You might interpret this as meaning you don't need to hire an attorney. In fact, the opposite is true. The fact that the school doesn't allow counsel to speak on your behalf means it's especially important that someone on your side monitor the case carefully to make sure the school doesn't violate your rights. A lawyer may not be able to attend the hearing, but they can help you prepare your presentation, give you practice in answering questions, and, most importantly, keep a record of any procedural errors or misconduct.

Joseph D. Lento, Academic Misconduct Attorney-Advisor

Don't take chances with your future. Proving your innocence may not be easy, but the alternative—a black mark on your record—is always worse.

Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who specializes in advising student clients. In other words, he knows how to construct air-tight arguments, organize evidence, and cross-examine witnesses. Day-to-day, though, he applies those skills to help get justice for students like you. Joseph D. Lento knows the law and particularly how it applies to higher education. He also knows how to communicate effectively with faculty and administrators. Whether you've been charged with something big, like coordinating a large-scale cheating conspiracy, or small, like forgetting to cite a source in a paper, Joseph D. Lento is ready to help you get the very best possible resolution to your case.

If you've been accused of academic misconduct, contact Joseph D. Lento today to find out what he can do for you. Call 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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