If your school has found you guilty of academic misconduct, it can seem like that's the end of it.
You'll go through life with that label hanging over your head. Every admissions board, every scholarship committee, every employer will - somehow - know that you did something bad in college. Your academic misconduct will go through life before you, closing doors before you have a chance to get to them.
It can seem quite bleak. And, if you're a bright young student who's just gotten their final disciplinary notice from their school, you may think you're in a hopeless situation.
We're here to tell you that you're not. You still have options. Even when you think you've already explored every avenue - you've accused, you've argued, you've appealed - you still have actions available to you.
In other words: It's not over. Allow a seasoned, savvy legal advisor to hold this burden for you. You'll find that even when everything seems over and done, there's always a way to open negotiations. There's always a way to explore an alternative resolution. You just have to know how.
At the Lento Law Firm, we know how. Let's talk about how to get you back to where you need to be.
Misconduct Proceedings at Your School: What May Have Happened
Once your school receives word that you have had involvement in some type of misconduct, your school will send you some kind of notice regarding your allegations and their due processes.
From the very beginning, you need to be sure that you're documenting everything that happens. If you're at the end of your school's disciplinary proceedings and you believe that you've exhausted all options, one possible recourse will involve questioning whether your school treated you fairly. Keeping a log of everything your school does or going back and reconstructing a timeline of all actions will be very helpful to you and your lawyer as you decide what there is to do.
Your school may have pursued an investigation of the alleged event as well as an adjudicative hearing to determine your sanctions. The list of potential disciplinary repercussions you face depends on your specific school's processes; refer to your school's code of conduct for more information about what you can expect.
After your school made a determination of guilt, they may have recommended disciplinary actions against you. These may include loss of privileges, probation, remedial actions such as retaking courses, loss of financial aid, changes in housing situations, or even suspension and expulsion in serious cases. In addition, your school will likely note your alleged actions on your permanent record or transcript. As a result, your reputation at your school may make your future more difficult than it needs to be.
If you disagree with your school's decisions, you will have a short period of time - typically around five business days - to appeal your disciplinary action. However, you will usually only have recourse to do so if your school treated you unfairly during the disciplinary process or if new information comes to light. After that, your school will consider your disciplinary process complete.
If you do not like the position that your disciplinary process places you in, it will be up to you to invest further in the matter. It is a good idea to do so, even if it seems like your attempt will be futile. Your reputation is at stake - which means that your entire future may hang in the balance.
What Happens After a Disciplinary Hearing: The Outcomes You May Face
Student handbooks tend to be silent on what may happen after a disciplinary hearing that doesn't go in the student's favor. Here are the most common outcomes, in no particular order in terms of the likelihood of occurrence, following an unsuccessful disciplinary process, and what options you have open to you in each case.
Academic Sanctions. The first tier of punitive measures you will likely experience may consist of academic consequences for your behavior. Your professor may administer these informally. Examples may include a failing grade for an assignment, a large project, or even an entire class. Your GPA will suffer, as a result; but this may not be the only indirect ramification. If you're trying to get into a competitive program after college, even a single low grade could pose a red flag to a future admissions committee. Moreover, even though you could think of this as 'just a bad grade', your school may still register this as a disciplinary finding - leaving you vulnerable to further indirect consequences or hits to your reputation.
Probation. A second-tier punishment your school may mete out could consist of putting you on probation. Most colleges and academic institutions use probation as a warning to students to let them know that they need to get back on track. During the length of a student's probation, that student may be under increased scrutiny, may have to complete additional academic or behavioral requirements (such as therapy or community service), or otherwise work to show their school that they have turned their issues around. The benefit of probation is that it does generally show that your school has an interest in working to re-establish a good relationship with you. The downside is that many schools will consider it a disciplinary finding that needs to be disclosed, which won't look good for your future academic- and career-oriented steps.
Suspension. If your school has suspended you for a short time, you face the prospect of missing some amount of school before having the possibility to return to your school once your suspension is complete. However, you may not automatically have the same place or rights at school as you had prior to the suspension. You may need to reapply to your specific academic program, and, even once you have completed your suspension, your school may impose conditions on you (for example, therapy, substance abuse counseling, or anger management classes). Many students who have undergone suspensions have chosen to use their time very productively, to show their school upon their return that they are serious about future success. Examples of ways to use your suspension well for your future include using that time to pick up an internship, clinical experience, a brief job, or to complete a project relevant to your chosen field during that time. Regardless of how well you use your suspension time, however, you'll need to deal with the permanent consequences of your suspension (for example, the note on your permanent record) when you come back to school.
Expulsion. In more serious misconduct situations, your school may decide not to allow you to return - or, if they have deemed a long-term suspension appropriate, you might not want to return or waste that time. Many students in this scenario work to transfer to another school, one at which they can begin again without their reputation or their allegations of misconduct overshadowing them. Of course, if this is your goal, you still need to deal with your misconduct violations, because there are certain situations in which you will need to reveal the fact that you received disciplinary action. For example, your new school will likely ask to pull your transcripts - and your old school will have put some type of notation in your transcript regarding your alleged misconduct. Your new school may also ask for some kind of letter of recommendation or report from your former school, which will cause information regarding your misconduct to come out. Alternatively, your new school may require you to answer questions about any disciplinary violations you may have had during the application process.
Do You Have to Divulge Your Involvement in a Disciplinary Proceeding?
While it's going to be best, long-term, for your future if you do your best to erase any mention of your disciplinary proceedings from your permanent record, you may find that there are certain situations in which you simply won't have to provide that information. Your new school may not ask about it; or, if you were only at your previous school for a short time, you may not have a transcript or a record worth transferring.
It's still better to make sure that you deal with the problem as quickly and completely as you can. Issues like this won't just go away - and your reputation is worth protecting as fully as you possibly can. For example, even if your new school doesn't ask about past misconduct, if they somehow find out about your past misconduct after you've matriculated - from a past teacher, perhaps - your new school could terminate you instantly.
If you don't deal with your past disciplinary violations at the time, you'll always have to manage exactly how much you tell future applications boards or employers about what you did. It'll affect the way you go about interviews, applications, requests for letters of recommendations, and many other aspects of your personal and professional life for years to come.
Therefore, regardless of how well you're able to ‘use' your disciplinary measures to your advantage, it's critical that you work with a legal advisor to deal with the issue as comprehensively as possible. Otherwise, even if you choose to start at a new school with a clean slate, you'll find that your past misconduct will always be looming over you.
Pursuing Your Options: Thinking Outside Your School for Satisfaction
If you believe that you have exhausted all avenues at your school that could result in a positive outcome, the next logical step is to think outside of your school's walls. While pursuing external remedies will constitute a big step, one that it may be hard to backtrack from, it's good to know your options. The two major external avenues you may have for relief include:
- Filing a Complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education: The Office of Civil Rights manages cases of school discrimination during disciplinary proceedings. You may be able to file a complaint with them.
- Determining Whether You have the Basis for a Lawsuit: Your lawyer can help you determine whether you have the grounds for legal action against your school. However, this is a very drastic step, one from which there really is no coming back.
Note that pursuing either of these options is only really a good idea if you think - and can in some way demonstrate - that your school did not follow proper procedure while adjudicating your alleged misconduct.
In fact, pursuing these options may not result in the outcome you wish, regardless of what happened. If you want to have a good relationship with your school, whether you stay on at your school after this is over or not, it's best to keep the resolution as in-house as possible. This is why we recommend working with a knowledgeable legal advisor to pursue private negotiations that can get you back on track effectively while keeping the entire matter as quiet as possible.
Exhausting Your Alternatives: Do These Things Prior to Pursuing a Lawsuit
Filing a lawsuit is an incredibly final action. If you want to retain any semblance of a relationship with your school, it's a good idea to avoid a lawsuit at all costs. Fortunately, this isn't an option that you will likely need to pursue. We tend to see far more benefits for students hoping to get back in their school's good graces through negotiation and mainstream avenues of reconciliation. At the very least, it's important to show that you tried to work with your school to pursue mutually favorable ends, even if it doesn't look like that is possible.
Here, we'll list a couple of steps that you'll likely want to explore far before you decide to think about your legal options.
- Make absolutely sure that you've pursued all of the grievance procedures that your school has already put in place. You may not believe that doing so will have any difference in your case, but it's important groundwork for further negotiations. This will likely include filing appeals and speaking with your school's disciplinary committees extensively. Beyond this stage, entering into potential discussions and negotiations with appropriate administrators at the school and also the school's Office of General Counsel (the school's attorneys in other words) can allow recourse even when formal channels at the school may be closed.
- Let your legal advisor know that you plan to sue if nothing else works. This will help your legal team set up your meetings, documentation and conversations with that potential end in mind - although it likely won't come to that drastic end.
- Do your research. Remember, thinking outside the box will serve you well. If your school has extremely well-defined (and narrow) outcomes designated for a student guilty of misconduct, then, during negotiations, it may be up to you and your legal team to propose alternatives that may work for you. Starting from a blank slate, review your school's policies and programs. Think about future courses of action that could work for you and your career goals - for example, transferring campuses, switching programs, or taking a gap year, if necessary.
- Analyze all of your data or evidence. We've seen it before: A tiny piece of information - one text message, one social media post - could change the outcome of your school's case against you. Your school, unfortunately, might not have the same interest you naturally do in finding that one crucial piece of evidence. Your legal advisor can help you review all of the information in your case to make sure you haven't missed anything.
- Review your school's procedures against what actually happened. One way to re-open negotiations with your school, even after it seems like everything's over, is to find an occasion in which your school didn't follow its own rules. In this case, you may be able to essentially declare a mistrial and work towards an alternative resolution that benefits you and your academic future. Your lawyer will have the training and experience necessary to look out for any missteps your school may have made - missteps which could change everything in your favor.
A Mistake Shouldn't Jeopardize Your Goals: Here's What a Legal Advisor can Do For You
You may wonder: If you're not pursuing legal remedies to your situation, why do you need to hire a legal advisor? What's the good in that?
A lawyer is a professional individual that has gone through years of training to understand the fine print in complicated documents, brainstorm creative solutions to tricky processes, and negotiate well so that multiple warring parties can all come to an agreeable compromise. Your school's disciplinary committee does not constitute a court of law, it's true - but, if you've found yourself between a rock and a hard place, there's no better aide to help you get out of that situation than an experienced legal professional.
For disciplinary charges specifically, it's an excellent idea to hire a third party to help you fight your battles. Why? Here are just a few reasons:
- If you're not planning on suing your school, your goal needs to be preserving your relationship with your academic institution. Disciplinary proceedings can strain that relationship. It's often best to outsource tense negotiations so you can avoid direct association with tough, unpleasant conversations with your school.
- You may be far too close to your situation to act in a smart, strategic manner. Think about it: It's your future at stake. You might be losing sleep over this issue. You might be frustrated, confused, and scared. None of that puts you in an excellent position for sleuthing, smart arguing, giving persuasive presentations and communicating well. It's far better to bring in an individual who can remain clear-headed and objective, while staying 100% loyal to your cause.
- After this is over, you need to hit the ground running. When you are reinstated as a student in good graces at your school, you'll need to be focused and alert so you can make your second chance count as much as possible. That will be difficult if you've just spent all of your mental energy managing a difficult series of disciplinary negotiations with your school. In order to preserve your energy and keep yourself ready for what will come after you've cleared this hurdle, you need to hire competent and clever help to get you where you need to be.
How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help You
We all know how the old adage goes: Just because you can, technically, manage something doesn't mean that you should. Here are a few practical reasons that reaching out to a trained legal advisor will be well worth your time:
- Your legal advisor can help you draft documents. Using the benefit of their years of experience in defense, your advisor can help you put together language that is strong, succinct, and strategic.
- Your legal advisor can examine your school's policies. Even if you've already gone through your code of conduct thoroughly, your legal advisor can bring a trained set of eyes to seek loopholes or nuances in your school's policies that you may not have seen.
- Your legal advisor will help you heed deadlines. While you're going through this disciplinary process, you likely have many other things to deal with - for example, you may still be a full-time student, or you may be dealing with the fallout of a dismissal. Either way, you're busy! Let a legal advisor help you make 100% sure you're not letting anything slip through the cracks.
- Your legal advisor can help keep your school accountable. If your school is in any way not upholding its own policies when dealing with you, it will likely stop doing so when an external authority gets involved.
- Your legal advisor can help you know what to do next. Part of the hopelessness of a college misconduct investigation gone awry is simple: You don't know what to do next. You're not sure if you have any more avenues to pursue. Part of being a good lawyer is being creative about next steps, even when it seems all doors are closed. Your legal advisor will make sure that you always have recourse, even when it looks like all is lost.
Joseph D. Lento is an Empathetic, Experienced Defense Advisor Ready to Help You Succeed
When you're a smart, hard-working college student with your whole life before you, it can seem like receiving a suspension or a dismissal is the end of the world.
To an extent, it's important that you realize that you may be in a serious situation. It's true that - especially if you plan on attending graduate school or entering a profession that requires a certain degree of ethical, respectful, or professional behavior - evidence of misconduct on your permanent record will do you no favors.
If you take the time and initiative now to deal with it properly, you'll find that this doesn't have to be the end. However, that does mean that you have to deal with this now, while it's still fresh. The longer you wait after a disciplinary event, the harder it will be to smooth over it in the best possible way.
When you need help dealing with your misconduct investigation or your disciplinary consequences at school, you need a legal team that knows how to deal with a wide variety of misconduct. You need to find a legal advisor who has the foresight to handle nuanced issues decisively, one who will fight aggressively to help you experience a successful outcome.
That legal advisor is Joseph D. Lento.
Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have unparalleled experience working hard to protect successful futures for students who have strayed away from the straight and narrow. Joseph D. Lento will assist with negotiations, help you pursue alternative resolutions, and more.