Dental Student Dismissals

No student goes to dental school planning for their dismissal. Given the rigorous undergraduate education, high class standing, and general skill that students must exhibit to even enter dental school, the prospects for dismissal from dental school seldom, if ever, even enter a dental student's mind. And indeed, a dental student's prospects for graduation are generally good. Yet, some dental students do suffer dismissal because of various causes and on various grounds explored below. Dental students need to appreciate upfront, from the day that they matriculate until their graduation, that graduation is no guarantee and that dismissal is possible.

Dismissal Authority

Dental schools have the authority to dismiss students. The college or university of which the dental school is a part, and the boards and associations that will license the dental school's graduates, expect that the dental school will only graduate students who have acquired the requisite knowledge, skill, and ethics to perform competently in dentistry practice. Dental schools thus maintain academic standards and conduct and professionalism codes that students must continuously meet from the beginning to the conclusion of their enrollment. Dental schools also maintain procedures through which school officials can warn, reprimand, place on probation, suspend, and dismiss students who do not meet those standards.

Dismissal Limits

A dental school's authority to dismiss a student, though, is not unfettered. Many dental schools, including several world top ten schools like the dentistry schools at the University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, and the University of Washington, are public schools. Dental students have a property interest in their educations, meaning that those public dentistry schools must provide a student facing dismissal with constitutional due process. Dental students have successfully challenged their dismissal as violating due process. Even private dental schools, like the global top-ten school at Harvard University, can owe students contractual obligations, the violation of which can lead to the student's relief from dismissal. Courts give schools latitude to make academic judgments, but constitutional law, contract law, tort law, and administrative law limit dental school authority to dismiss students arbitrarily and capriciously.

Dismissal Causes

Within the Student's Control. Dental students don't usually just wake up one morning to find themselves dismissed. Students are typically well aware of conditions, events, and circumstances that can accumulate to contribute to dismissal. Some of those conditions and events are within the student's control. Dental students do well to prioritize their dental program over competing demands so that they are able to persist to complete the program. The harder dismissals to successfully challenge can be those that arise from matters within the dental student's control. Dental schools may judge firmly if not harshly students who show a lack of effort applied to studies, such as not showing up prepared for critical labs, clinical work, and exams, or a lack of discipline, such as substance abuse and disorderly conduct, or a lack of character and fitness, such as sexual misconduct and unprofessionalism. Dental students facing dismissal due to circumstances within their control should consult national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to discern any potential mitigating circumstances to present to the school.

Outside the Student's Control. Other conditions, events, and circumstances leading to dismissal may be largely or entirely outside the student's control but still apparent to the student. Physical or mental illness is one example. Some students who simply lack the physical or mental capacity because of injury or acute illness fail to afford themselves available relief like time off or withdrawal and instead find themselves failing to make the required grade and demonstrate the required clinical skill, suffering dismissal as a consequence. Loss of financial income, aid, loans, or other support can similarly lead the school to bar the student's enrollment for effective dismissal. Dental students facing dismissal due to circumstances outside their control should consult national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to marshall the evidence and arguments, and identify the options, to avoid dismissal.

Not Attributable to the Student. And then circumstances can arise in which a dental school dismisses a student when the school shouldn't do so, no cause having arisen and the school having no sound grounds. Personality conflicts, political conflicts, biases and prejudices, administrative errors, financial errors, grading errors, hidden school agendas, and just poor judgment from unfit or misguided faculty members or administrators can in some cases undermine a competent student's record and standing with the school, even resulting in dismissal. In those cases of arbitrary or capricious dismissal, dental students should promptly retain the expert representation of national academic advisor Joseph D. Lento. Students have constitutional, contract, and administrative rights on which to hold schools accountable, just as schools properly hold students accountable.

Conduct Codes Supporting Dismissal

Dental schools often refer to their college or university for student conduct codes, academic conduct codes, and Title IX and non-Title IX sexual misconduct codes governing their dental students. Those conduct codes routinely authorize discipline up to dismissal. Some dental schools, like the highly ranked one at the University of Washington, publish their own codes supplementing the college or university code with specific professionalism concerns peculiar to dentistry. The American Dental Association publishes its own code of conduct and ethical principles, after which licensing boards and the dental schools themselves pattern their own professionalism requirements. These codes alert dental students to the standards, norms, and customs to which they must conform to avoid dismissal.

Dismissal Grounds

No matter the specific source of the conduct codes listing dismissal grounds, dental schools routinely include specific grounds for sanctions up to dismissal. Those grounds include academic issues, behavioral issues, and professionalism issues. Common academic grounds on which a dental student could suffer dismissal include:

  • repeated failures of required coursework;
  • repeated withdrawals and incompletes;
  • failure to enroll for the minimum required credits;
  • failure to make satisfactory academic progress toward graduation;
  • failing to fulfill clinical hours; and
  • repeated substandard clinical performance.

Common behavioral grounds on which a dental student could suffer dismissal include:

  • Title IX sexual misconduct including sexual violence, harassment, or quid pro quo favors;
  • non-Title IX sexual misconduct as some form of sexual exploitation including voyeurism, exposure, and prostitution;
  • alcohol abuse, drug abuse, non-sexual threats and violence, vandalism, trespass, and misuse of school computers.

Common professionalism grounds on which a dental student could suffer dismissal include:

  • exceeding consent with a service the patient had not authorized;
  • recommending or providing unnecessary dental services;
  • using a method or material other than that represented to the patient;