Colleges and universities take academic integrity seriously. You can understand why. A school with a reputation for cheating is going to have trouble attracting applicants. You should care too. Try finding a good job right out of college if your degree is from a school with a reputation like that.
There's a fine line, though, between maintaining an honor code and hounding your students to make sure they're toeing the line. Universities can and do make mistakes. They accuse students who are perfectly innocent, and they assign punishments that far outweigh the actual offenses.
What do you do if you find yourself victimized by an over-zealous professor or an administrator with a chip on their shoulder? First, you make sure you know exactly what you're up against. You find out everything you can about your school's rules, possible sanctions, and judicial procedures. Then, you make sure you have someone on your side who can help you prepare your defense, a qualified, experienced attorney-advisor who can ensure you're treated fairly and that you get the justice you deserve.
What Is Academic Misconduct, Anyway?
In general, “academic misconduct” refers to any behavior that gives you an unfair advantage in obtaining your degree. As North Carolina A&T State University describes it, such dishonesty indicates you have “failed to meet a basic requirement of satisfactory academic performance.”
In addition to this broad description of dishonesty, the Student Code of Conduct goes on to list six specific types of misconduct.
- Cheating: NC A&T doesn't define cheating in concrete terms, but generally, that term refers to the use of any unauthorized materials in completing your coursework. Unauthorized materials can be anything from another person to your textbook to Google.
- Plagiarism: The attempt to pass another person's words or ideas off as your own without giving them due credit. Keep in mind that plagiarism doesn't just apply to text. You can plagiarize images, videos, music, and even computer code.
- Unauthorized actions: This is a fairly broad category. NC A&T offers examples that include destruction of library materials, interference in another student's work, and alteration of grades in an instructor's grade book.
- Aiding and abetting: NC A&T wants you to understand that helping someone else commit academic misconduct is its own form of misconduct.
- Hacking: You're specifically prohibited from using a computer to gain unauthorized access to tests or answer keys.
- Assisting another student in violating the misconduct policy: This would seem to be covered under aiding and abetting, but NC A&T takes the time to mention it a second time.
Finally, it's important to remember that course syllabi often contain additional rules. The general rule of thumb is that an instructor can hold you responsible for any prohibition that appears in this document, and the school will almost always back them up.
The Academic Misconduct Process
As important as knowing the rules at NC A&T is knowing the processes the university uses for identifying and adjudicating instances of misconduct.
The Student Handbook doesn't offer many details in describing these processes. It is clear that instructors have primary responsibility for identifying policy violations, deciding whether or not a student is responsible, and assigning sanctions, and there seems to be very little check on their authority. The policy notes that sanctions are “subject to review and endorsement by the Chairperson or Dean,” but that instructors “may take appropriate disciplinary action, including a loss of credit for an assignment, exam, or project; or awarding a grade of ‘F' for the course” (12).
All offenses remain “on file” for eight years, and this could affect your financial aid package, interfere with your ability to get into graduate school, and even prevent you from finding a good job when you graduate. In addition, multiple offenses “can lead to dismissal from the university.”
NC A&T does offer an appeals process if you want to challenge your instructor's decisions. Again, however, the school is largely silent when it comes to the details of this process. You must submit your appeal within one week of your instructor's decision, and that appeal should be filed with the University Judicial Tribunal chairperson. However, there is no information as to how this tribunal goes about making its decision. In fact, the policy doesn't even identify the tribunal chairperson. Rather, you are advised to contact the Provost to find out who this person is.
In addition to withholding these details, the policy includes some troubling language in spots. Appeals, for instance, aren't for students who “have been mistreated” but rather for students who “feel unfairly treated.” The wording here is significant in that it suggests instructors don't make mistakes. Rather, students misunderstand their instructors' decisions.
Further, the policy clearly states that the University Judicial Tribunal will not accept any appeals filed by a “third party,” including “an attorney.” To be clear, this prohibition does not suggest that you shouldn't contact an attorney. In fact, it serves as evidence that you will likely need an attorney-advisor. Any time a school limits your access to legal representation, it can be a warning sign that administrators intend to restrict your due process rights. In such cases, it's vital you have someone on your side to keep an eye on the school and make sure it treats you fairly and honestly.
Joseph D. Lento, Student Conduct Attorney-Advisor
Students are often reticent to complain when they're accused of academic misconduct. In a way, that makes sense. North Carolina A&T State University doesn't make it easy to get justice, and you might be tempted to simply accept a sanction—especially if it seems light—rather than go to the trouble of defending yourself.
Here's the problem with that thinking: there are no light penalties. All academic misconduct offenses remain in your file for eight years. That means anyone who happens to check your record will discover you have a problem with honesty.
Better to fight for your reputation. Joseph D. Lento can help you do that.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-licensed, fully-qualified defense attorney. That means he knows how to construct air-tight arguments, organize evidence, and cross-examine witnesses. Day-to-day, though, he applies those skills to help get justice for students like you. Joseph D. Lento knows the law and particularly how it applies to higher education. He also knows how to communicate effectively with faculty and administrators. Whether you've been charged with something big, like coordinating a large-scale cheating conspiracy, or small, like forgetting to cite a source in a paper, Joseph D. Lento is ready to help you get the very best possible resolution to your case.
If you've been accused of academic misconduct, contact Joseph D. Lento today to find out what he can do for you. Call 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.