F* - The Big Impact a Little * (Star) Makes

Academic misconduct complaints should generally follow a college or university's published procedures. Those procedures ensure notice to the accused student of the charge and a fair opportunity for a hearing. Students have way too much riding on their good academic standing--things like scholarships, awards, internships, and graduation--not to know when a professor has alleged their misconduct. Indeed, the accused student needs to promptly know what the professor charges, what the alleged evidence of the charge is, and what the student can do to clear the charges. Colleges and universities maintain academic-misconduct procedures for just those due-process purposes.

Unfortunately, some colleges and universities are adopting informal, backdoor I* and F* systems for accusing students of misconduct. These systems allow a professor to simply add the * asterisk behind the I-incomplete or F-failing grade when entering grades in the institution's administrative system. That's it: one tiny keystroke and the professor has let the registrar and, in effect, the whole institution know that the professor believes the graded student has committed some form of misconduct affecting the incomplete or failing grade.

An Example I-star and F-star Policy

Not every college or university has adopted the I* or F* backdoor misconduct-charge system. But some colleges and universities, including large public universities like Indiana University, have done so. Indiana University adopted its I* and F* system in 2006. Its current website continues to give this explanation, as an example of one such * misconduct-charge policy:

Faculty may effectively report to the Registrar cases of academic misconduct by entering the academic misconduct reporting values of I* and F* on the final grade rosters. These values allow instructors to award the grades of Incomplete (I) or Failing (F), while also notifying the Office of the Registrar that such grades are being awarded because of academic misconduct. The I* and F* values will be reflected on the academic record as I and F, respectively.

Who Sees the I* or F* Entry?

To understand the impact of an I* or F* grade, discussed in the next section, you first have to know who sees the starred grade. Grades, whether A, B, C, D, F, or I, go on a student's transcript. Institutions should maintain only one transcript (one student record), not an official one and a separate unofficial, temporary, or informal transcript. Official transcripts and transcript entries are also electronic these days, not paper. So, when a professor makes an I* or F* entry in the school's grading system, the entry may be appearing or may soon appear on the student's official transcript.

Colleges and universities do, though, have grade-approval systems. Just because a professor submits an I* or F* grade does not mean that in every case in every institution, it automatically appears on the student's single formal transcript. Deans, department chairs, and registrars often review grade submissions for various reasons before approving grades for release and posting to the student's transcript. Those academic and administrative reviews may in some institutions catch the I* and F* grades, and in some instances, remove or otherwise address them, before grade posting.

The simple answer for students fearing an I* or F* grade is to check your online transcript. If the starred grade appears there, then others within the institution who have administrative access to grades are also seeing it. Colleges and universities grant administrative access to student transcripts to a relatively large number of employees within the institution, many of them important to the student's success, and all of whom would see the starred grade indicating academic misconduct.

Eyes Within the Institution. Employees who see starred grades, and are sure to take special notice of them, include deans, department chairs, and professors, who routinely review transcripts to nominate, recommend, or select students for special courses, scholarships, awards, and significant roles like teaching and research assistants. They also include staff members like placement coordinators, clinic directors, academic advisors, and academic-support professionals on whom students routinely rely for advancement, and even administrative assistants who are often the kind listening ear for students to hold it altogether. Dozens of personnel within the institution may notice the starred grade.

Interested Persons Outside the Institution. The starred grade would also likely appear on any transcript certified and released for distribution. Colleges and universities using the I* and F* system are probably not removing the stars when certifying the transcripts for review by outsiders. Students request transcripts for several important reasons, including qualification for grants and scholarships, transfer to another school, enrollment in graduate programs, participation in internships, and, most important of all, job opportunities. All those constituent interests will see on the released transcript the starred grade, from which they would rightly draw an inference of academic misconduct.

Adverse Impacts of an I* or F* Grade

Students know that grades of I or Incomplete present several challenges. An I grade conveys no course credit. The student must submit additional coursework to complete the I-grade course and receive that course's credit. Without credit for the course, the student won't get to count the course toward satisfying degree requirements. The student might not graduate when expecting to do so. The student might also not be able to enroll in another course or participate in a clinic or internship that treats the I-grade course as a prerequisite. An I grade can also affect grants, scholarships, or loans, in cascading effect.

Failing or F grades have similar and worse impacts. The F means no credit and thus potentially no graduation or no enrolling or continuing in the next sequenced program or course. If the institution requires the course to graduate, then the student must repeat the course, which may mean paying for it a second time. But the effect of an F is much worse than an I in that it reduces a student's grade-point average, which may affect the student's good standing in the degree program or cause a loss of scholarships or other aid. The failing grade could even mean academic probation or dismissal.

Those impacts, though, are just from the I or F grade. An I* or F* grade, adding the dreaded asterisk, can potentially be significantly worse than a simple I or F in that asterisk carries the notice or presumption of academic misconduct. The I*- or F*-graded student didn't just fail to complete the course or fail course requirements. The student failed because of academic misconduct, at least in the view of the professor assigning the grade. That's what the star designation means. The I* or F* grade doesn't just leave an inference of incomplete or incompetent coursework. It leaves an inference of cheating, deliberate violation of course conditions, dishonesty, or other bad character.

Think again, then, of all those employees within the institution who see I* and F* grades: deans, department chairs, professors, clinic directors, placement professionals, academic advisors, and academic support professionals. The I* or F* grade may prevent any or all of them from nominating, recommending, or selecting the student for jobs, courses, clinics, co-curricular activities, extra-curricular activities, scholarships, grants, loans, awards, honors, and other advantages and benefits. In the worst case, an I* or F* can put a student alone on a figurative island.

And think again, too, of those outside the institution who would, on a transcript review, see the dreaded I* or F* grade: grant-issuing foundations, agencies, and corporations; scholarship sources; schools where a student may hope to transfer; desired graduate programs; internship supervisors; and, most significant of all, job recruiters. The impact of an I* or F* grade may thus be lost grants, scholarships, transfer opportunities, graduate-program admissions, internships, and jobs, most everything tangible for which a college or university student works.

Serious Problems with I* or F* Entries

Apparently, for colleges and universities like Indiana University adopting these I* and F* systems, the systems work well enough to continue them long term. Indiana University has had its star system in place for a decade and a half. Appreciate three major problems, though, that these I* and F* systems create for students accused in this backdoor manner of unspecified misconduct.

Flagging Things Other than Misconduct. The first problem is that a professor may, in a misinformed, mistaken, or manipulative manner, use an I* or F* grade for student behavior that is not in fact, academic misconduct. Institutions know that the star system creates exactly that problem. For example, Indiana University's star-system policy, after explaining to the professor the ability to use an I* or F* to alert the registrar of academic misconduct, promptly cautions the professor, “Please note that these values [meaning the asterisked I* or F*] should only be applied in cases of academic misconduct….” Precisely so, but what is academic misconduct?

Ordinarily, under proper procedures for reporting academic misconduct, oral or written complaints of suspected academic misconduct will go to the dean or other official whom the institution has designated to receive, and trained to evaluate, complaints. Those preliminary communications allow the dean or other official to determine if what the professor is reporting is potential academic misconduct. Many such discussions result in no complaint of misconduct. The star system, though, eliminates those preliminary communications. The student suffers the transcript entry before any preliminary review for merit in the misconduct charge.

Delaying Formal Misconduct Procedures. A second problem with I* and F* entries is that they may delay the proper processing of misconduct charges. The institutions know of the delay problem. For example, Indiana University's policy, quoted above, urges the professor entering an I* or F* grade to follow up the I* or F* entry with a proper complaint of academic misconduct, stating that “an incident report must be filed with the Office of Student Ethics for each I* and/or F* awarded.” But when might that happen?

It takes only one keystroke to add an asterisk to an I or F grade. It takes a professor many more keystrokes and much more time to compose and submit through proper channels a complete incident report supporting a misconduct charge. Students receiving an I* or F* grade may, under such a system, have to wait days, weeks, or months for the professor to act, all while suffering the adverse impacts of the starred grade.

Overbroad Implications of Serious Misconduct. The third problem with I* and F* grade entries is that they do not specify the charges' nature or seriousness. They simply allege serious-enough misconduct to cause the starred grade of an incomplete or failed course. All that the school official reviewing the starred transcript, or the outside interested person receiving the transcript for review, knows is that the student may have committed very serious misconduct.

The problem is that the transcript reviewer may assume the worst, perhaps exam cheating or plagiarism, when the actual misconduct may have been much less, perhaps unauthorized collaboration or reuse of the student's own work. Indeed, the starred-grade student may have committed no misconduct at all and is instead only awaiting an opportunity for the school to hear the student on false or exaggerated charges.

An Example of a Stricter F* Policy

Other colleges and universities may maintain I* or F* systems having an even greater negative impact, like Texas A&M University's star system. Texas A&M's star-system policy goes a step further than Indiana University's system, shifting the procedural burden on misconduct charges from the institution to the student. Under Texas A&M's star-system policy, the F* designation goes right on the transcript with the transcript notation “FAILURE DUE TO ACADEMIC MISCONDUCT.” Texas A&M's star-system policy then states:

The student may file a written petition to the [Honor System Office] to have the grade of F* removed and permanently replaced with the grade of F. The decision to remove the grade of F* shall rest with the Director of the [Honor System Office] and is contingent upon the successful completion of the Academic Integrity Development Program (AIDP). The Director's decision is final. A student will remain on Honor Violation Probation until the F* is removed from the transcript. Additionally, the F* grade, or the F that remains when the “*” designation is removed, will not be eligible for any grade forgiveness or replacement action, and it must be considered in the calculation of a student's Grade Point Ratio.

Under this strict star-system policy, students are presumptively guilty without any procedure unless and until they take action to prove themselves innocent. Even if the starred-grade student does successfully petition for the star's removal, the above policy still appears to require the student's completion of an academic-integrity program and also appears to leave the failing grade. The policy's clear presumption is guilt, and lasting guilt, whether or not innocent.

What to Do About an I* or F* Grade

Consult Skilled and Experienced Counsel. What, then, should students do about an I* or F* grade? The answer depends on what the student knows or suspects is the reason for the starred grade. When a student has some information, whether from the professor or another source, about the alleged grounds for the starred grade, then consulting national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento at the Lento Law Firm is a sound course. Attorney Lento works with students accused of academic misconduct to shape a strategic approach to a successful resolution of the charges. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact the firm online.

Gather Information. Whether the student knows something of the alleged grounds for a starred grade reflecting academic misconduct or not, the student will benefit from gathering as much information as is available on the nature of the charges and the observations or inferences supporting them. The student's investigation is key. Attorney Lento helps accused students identify, locate, and communicate with the school officials charged with investigating misconduct and supplying notice of the charges. Those officials generally have an obligation to share not only detailed notice but also all evidence supporting the charges. With attorney Lento's proper demand, those officials should also be disclosing exonerating evidence.

Preserve Evidence. Students facing an I* or F* grade should also be preserving any evidence potentially related to the charge. The evidence to preserve includes not only papers, notebooks, outlines, exams, and other print sources but also electronically stored information in computers, smartphones, tablets, laptop,s and other devices, along with email, social-media, cloud-storage, server-storage, and other software apps and systems. Academic-misconduct charges often turn on the documentary evidence, much of that evidence electronic. Losing track of the evidence can mean losing on the charges. Attorney Lento helps students accused of misconduct not only preserve their own evidence but also demand and require that the school, its employees, and any complaining witnesses do likewise.

Invoke Procedures. A starred grade on the student's transcript may mean that the student needs to address and remove the star as quickly as possible, for all the reasons discussed above. Whether the professor assigning the starred grade has made a formal complaint yet or not, the student may, with attorney Lento's representation, be able to initiate or accelerate an informal or formal proceeding that will lead to a favorable resolution of the charges. Colleges and universities publish elaborate procedures for resolving academic-misconduct charges. Often, the key to resolution is to get those procedures moving. Depending on the forum and rules, that action may require a complaint, answer, demand, notice, or negotiation. Rely on attorney Lento to get things moving to get that starred grade off your transcript.

Prepare for Hearing. With national academic attorney Joseph Lento's help, you may be able to quickly clear up misunderstandings that led to your I* or F* and its attendant negative impact. Getting the asterisked grade removed from your transcript may be a straightforward matter. On the other hand, some academic-misconduct cases, especially those involving charges based on false evidence fabricated or exaggerated by others, can require skilled preparation for a formal hearing. Attorney Lento's trial-lawyer skills enable him to prepare to expose the mistaken observations, misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and outright fabrications and exaggerations of professors, students, staff, administrators, or other witnesses presenting false incriminating evidence.

Act Rather than Wait. The academic-misconduct matters that resolve favorably to the accused student tend to be those in which the student takes prompt, firm, and thoughtful action to turn back the charges. Waiting for something to happen is not usually an effective approach when a professor has placed an I* or F* on your transcript, unless you intend to wait for bad things to happen. The above discussion has shown you several very important actions you can take as soon as you discover an I* or F* grade on your transcript. Your prompt, firm, and thoughtful action itself contradicts that you would engage in academic misconduct.

Keeping your educational house in order, including promptly addressing an inexplicable but damaging I* or F* grade, shows that you have the good character and strong discipline to meet all institutional standards and that you don't deserve an unfair, opaque, and nonetheless condemning starred grade. Don't let your institution use a convenient but inequitable starred-grade system to unravel your college or university plans. And remember: you've got the help of national academic attorney Joseph Lento available to you.

Hire a Premier National Academic Attorney

National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento saves the careers of college and university students nationwide from false, fabricated, exaggerated, or mistaken academic-misconduct charges. His unparalleled experience with dozens of institutions across the country, representing thousands of students, has given him unparalleled strategic insight into how to invoke institutional protocols and procedures for the best possible outcome on misconduct charges.

You undoubtedly know from the above discussion and your own insight that academic-misconduct charges can derail your college or university goals. You also undoubtedly know that your education and future career are worth an aggressive defense to academic-misconduct charges. Your best move is to retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento for his premier representation. He backs his skilled strategic approaches with a trial lawyer's skills, for cases involving investigations, and those requiring full hearings, appeals, or subsequent litigation. Thousands of students nationwide have trusted attorney Joseph Lento to successfully defend them against false or exaggerated academic-misconduct charges, and for students who have simply made a poor decision, he has sought mitigation to save their academic and professional careers. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the Lento Law Firm's online service.

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