Facing Dismissal From the University of Southern California

Getting into college is an honor, and getting into the University of Southern California is an honor more distinct than most. A degree from USC can set you off on a successful career path or serve as an important stepping stone toward graduate school. You should be proud to be a Trojan.

If there was any justice in the world, you could relax now and get down to the rewarding process of mastering your field of study. Instead, you can expect that the next four to five years will be harder than the ones before. You still have to demonstrate academic excellence, and you have to do it while being held to the highest standards of personal discipline and integrity. The slightest misstep and you could find yourself dismissed from the university and back at square one.

Dismissal can be a crushing blow. It doesn't just mean the interruption of your studies or that you won't graduate from USC. It means all the work you've put in up to this point has been for nothing; it means admitting defeat; it means having to pay back loans on a degree you never actually got.

Don't let that happen. If you're facing dismissal for any reason, you need to fight for your academic future. You don't have to take on that fight alone. National Student Defense attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento knows what you're up against, he knows what's at stake, and he's ready to help.

Reasons for Dismissal

As a starting point, what do you have to worry about as a student at USC? That is, what are the standards and what can get you dismissed from school?

  • Academic Performance: Your primary responsibility as a student is to learn. You can definitely find yourself dismissed if you should fail to meet that responsibility. By the end of your first year at USC, you must have at least a 2.0 GPA. Anything less than this, and you can wind up on academic probation. Failure to achieve a 2.0 during your probationary semester can result in “academic disqualification.”
  • Academic Misconduct: USC doesn't just expect you to excel academically: it expects you to do so honestly. The school's policy on academic integrity explicitly prohibits plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, unauthorized distribution of course material, recording a class without permission, falsification of data, and any other act that might tend to give you an unfair advantage in obtaining your degree. Egregious and repeat violations of this policy can certainly get you dismissed.
  • Disciplinary Misconduct: As a member of the USC community, you're also held to standards outside of the classroom. The Student Code of Conduct bars a whole range of actions and behaviors, and many of these—like drug possession, underage drinking, hazing, and physical assault—can lead to expulsion.
  • Sexual Misconduct: Finally, above and beyond other disciplinary restrictions, USC is obliged by law to take seriously every allegation of sexual misconduct. Students found responsible for violating the school's Title IX policy are almost always expelled.

The Adjudication Process

You know what can get you dismissed at USC. Now, how do you go about fighting dismissal?

The answer depends on your particular situation. If you've been accused of plagiarism, for example, the process of defending yourself often begins with your instructor. A sexual misconduct allegation, on the other hand, usually involves a formal investigation and hearing by trained Title IX officials.

For the most part, though, the judicial processes in all these cases are relatively similar. If you've been charged with underage drinking, for instance, here's what you can expect.

  • Complaints against you originate in the Office of Community Expectations (OCE).
  • The OCE conducts an initial investigation to determine whether or not the complaint has merit.
  • If the OCE decides to proceed with the case, it must provide you with email notification of the charges against you.
  • You have the right to present your case at a formal hearing before a panel made up of faculty, staff, and students. This includes the right to make arguments, present evidence, and call witnesses to testify on your behalf.
  • At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel must decide on your level of responsibility using a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” Basically, if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed an offense, they must find you “responsible” (guilty).
  • Finally, you have an opportunity to appeal the panel's decision, but only under very limited conditions.

Obviously, an attorney can be an asset as an advisor in any sort of judicial proceedings. You want to make sure you choose your attorney wisely, though. Campus hearings aren't like court cases. You need an attorney-advisor who knows the rules of such proceedings and who has experience navigating the process.

Decision Authority

Who decides the outcome of your case will also be based on the exact nature of your offense.

Academic and disciplinary misconduct cases, for instance, are heard by an OCE panel. In contrast, sexual misconduct cases are dealt with through the school's Title IX Coordinator, who appoints a single “Hearing Officer” to oversee the hearing and determine the outcome.

Finally, the Office of Academic Review and Retention is responsible for all issues relating to academic standing, probation, disqualification, and readmission after disqualification.

Appeals Process

Should an administrative official or a panel decide you should be dismissed from USC, you still have one last option: an appeal. Almost all dismissal decisions at the school are ultimately subject to an appeals process. If you've been dismissed for a disciplinary offense, for example, you can ask the Vice Provost for Academic Programs (VPAP) to review this outcome. Likewise, an “Appeals Officer” deals with challenges to dismissals for sexual misconduct.

It is important to remember, however, that appeals don't work the way hearings do. In particular, you have no opportunity to present your case yourself. Instead, your argument must be made in writing and accompanied by clear documentary evidence.

In addition, USC has strict criteria limiting the grounds for appeals. These include

  • The discovery of new information
  • An accusation of bias on the part of an official
  • The revelation that a procedural error occurred during the judicial process

Fighting for Your Future

You're always better off fighting a dismissal than simply accepting it. At worst, you'll wind up dismissed, something that would happen anyway. You might very well succeed in your challenge, though, and that means keeping your academic career on track.

You don't want to take on your school alone, though. There's too much at stake, and the rules and procedures are too complicated to sort through by