You put everything on the line to attend Washington University in St. Louis—but now face a surprising and frightening charge of academic misconduct. Learn here what may happen and what you can do about it.
WashU's academic-integrity policy prohibits every conceivable form of academic misconduct, encouraging students to ask professors or their assistants for guidance on permitted and impermissible conduct. The policy includes these specific examples, as a non-exhaustive list:
- plagiarism, defined as representing another's work as one's own;
- exam cheating, including using unauthorized materials or assistance;
- copying or collaborating on assignments without instructor permission;
- fabricating, falsifying, or altering research, lab, resume, or other data;
- submitting the same coursework for multiple courses without disclosure;
- requesting a time extension or other advantage using false information;
- altering tests or assignments when submitted for re-grading;
- deliberately damaging work or interfering with efforts of other students;
- stealing or damaging academic materials, or damaging academic facilities;
- submitting another's academic work as one's own; and
- submitting one's own academic work as if it were another's work.
And of course, the university's policy allows for prosecution for "any other form of academic misconduct not covered here."
Washington University's academic-integrity policy authorizes progressively more-severe forms of academic discipline, depending on the misconduct's nature. Lighter charges may result only in a written reprimand. The student may have to complete an ethics workshop. The professor may reduce the student's course grade or, in more serious cases, fail the student in the course in which the misconduct occurred. The university may also place the student on academic probation. In the most serious cases, the university may suspend or expel the student.
Of course, the university may dismiss an unproven charge so that nothing appears on the student's transcript. Yet if the university does sanction the student, then the sanction appears in the student's permanent academic record. And while the university's action directly affects only the charged student's academic standing, academic-misconduct matters can lead to civil court cases for liability. They can also lead to criminal charges. In short, the consequences of academic misconduct can be very serious.
Don't Ignore Charges
Charge notices can frighten and confuse those who receive them. When a student faces misconduct charges, the temptation may be to turn and run—to accept an academic reprimand, suspension, or dismissal rather than face and fight the charges. Withdrawing from the course in which the alleged misconduct occurred is not a helpful option. Washington University's policy provides expressly that the misconduct case still proceeds.
Contesting misconduct charges is especially warranted when the allegations behind them are not true. Accepting false allegations conveys no honor. Honest complainants can mistake the identity, intentions, and actions of those whom they accuse. And some accusers are simply not honest. Ignoring or accepting false allegations may encourage and reward manipulative, vindictive, or psychotic accusers, or may let the real wrongdoers go.
A bigger problem with ignoring or accepting exaggerated, false, overreaching, or unfair charges is the impact that discipline can have on the accused student or staffer. Academic dismissal can mean not only the loss of credits, degree, and career, along with the embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of reputation, but also the inability to enroll in other programs and pursue other careers. Job loss can mean lost income and benefits and barred forever from similar jobs and careers.
While state and federal laws exist to protect student's rights and ensure they receive due process, these rules do not always apply at private universities like WashU. As a result, students at private colleges enjoy fewer rights and protections in many disciplinary processes. In spite of this, accused students at a private institution should e expect their university to adhere to the processes outlines in the school's Code of Conduct. In reality, that will not always be the case, especially if the student does not have a strong advocate to hold the school accountable.
Familiarizing yourself with the applicable process and procedure is critical, and in short, Washington University's academic-integrity policy requires professors, students, and staff to report suspected misconduct. The policy authorizes academic-integrity officers to receive and investigate those reports. Committees within the university's colleges and schools then hear and decide misconduct cases. The university's academic-misconduct procedures expressly grant the accused student these rights:
- to review all written evidence supporting the charge;
- ask any questions at the hearing that the student wishes to ask;
- for the student to explain what happened in the student's own words;
- for the student to present any other evidence against the charge; and
- that the decision not refer to any prior misconduct.
An Attorney-Advisor's Role
Fortunately, help is available. While college and university proceedings need not provide full trial-like hearings, lawyer advocates can still help evaluate and investigate charges, gather and evaluate evidence, and organize and prepare explanations and other presentations of a defense. A lawyer who has substantial skill and experience in university academic-misconduct matters may also negotiate resolutions or, when resolution is not possible and the accused faces an adverse discipline decision, challenge the decision in an administrative appeal.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento at the Lento Law Firm has handled countless college-and-university misconduct cases, defending students and staff members. The Lento Law Firm helps students and staff members at colleges and universities across the nation understand, face, and defeat unfair, unsupported, or exaggerated misconduct charges, and to obtain the best outcome. The Lento Law Firm can help you at every stage of a discipline proceeding, before and after a formal charge, hearing, or decision, ensuring that you have wise counsel along the way. Contact the Lento Law Firm for a case evaluation. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or go online.