Frequently Asked Questions About Appealing College Academic Misconduct Findings

Colleges and universities have good reasons to ensure the integrity of their academic programs. Students, parents and other supporters, accrediting agencies, educational lenders, and employers who hire an institution's graduates all expect that students will earn the grades, degrees, and honors the institution awards them, not cheat their way to those rewards. Colleges and universities fulfill their obligation to detect, punish, and deter academic misconduct through academic-misconduct policies and procedures.

When an institution finds that a student has committed academic misconduct, academic-misconduct procedures typically grant the student an opportunity to appeal that decision. Read here for answers to frequently asked questions about appealing a finding of academic misconduct. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped hundreds of students nationwide defeat college academic misconduct charges or overturn findings of academic misconduct. Attorney Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have the special knowledge, strategic approach, and appellate skills necessary to help students nationwide appeal and reverse findings of academic misconduct.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What Is an Appeal?
  2. Why Should I Appeal?
  3. Why Shouldn't I Appeal?
  4. Does My School Permit an Academic-Misconduct Appeal?
  5. Who Decides If I Get to Appeal?
  6. Where Do I Find My School's Appeal Procedures?
  7. Who Gets to Appeal?
  8. What Academic Misconduct Can I Appeal?
  9. To Whom Do I Appeal?
  10. What Is the Appeal Review Standard?
  11. What Are Common Appeal Grounds?
  12. How Do I Initiate an Appeal?
  13. When Do I Pursue an Appeal?
  14. How Do I Complete an Appeal?
  15. How Much of My Time Does an Appeal Take?
  16. What Can I Do to Win an Appeal?
  17. Will Any Lawyer Do for an Appeal?
  18. What Happens in an Appeal?
  19. What Does a Winning Appeal Brief Look Like?
  20. What Can the Appeal Officials Do?
  21. How Can I Help My Attorney with an Appeal?
  22. Is an Appeal My Last Chance?
  23. What Is the Single Best Thing I Can Do in an Appeal?

What Is an Appeal?

An appeal is a review by a different decision-maker of an initial decision. An appeal is not your first chance at a favorable decision but instead a second chance. In a college academic misconduct proceeding, a hearing officer, hearing board, or conduct coordinator first decides whether the accused student committed academic misconduct and, if so, what sanction the student should face. In an appeal, a student found to have committed misconduct and facing the sanction asks an appeal officer, appeal board, or another conduct administrator (whomever the school's policy identifies) to review and reverse or modify the initial decision.

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Why Should I Appeal?

If your college or university has found that you committed academic misconduct, that finding is likely to have a substantial and potentially severe effect on your education, reputation, and career. Even if the sanction the school has imposed is only a reprimand or suspension, and you seem able to continue your education to earn your degree, the impact of that finding and sanction could seriously affect you in other ways. You may not qualify for honors, transfer to another school, or admission to graduate or professional school. You may lose loans or scholarships. You may even find it difficult or impossible to get internships or jobs, affecting your career. A misconduct finding and sanction may also affect relationships with family, friends, mentors, or others who support you through school. Challenge any finding of academic misconduct if you can. Exhaust all relief avenues with the expert representation of national academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento.

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Why Shouldn't I Appeal?

The instances when you should not appeal a finding of academic misconduct and sanction are probably rare. They may include if the school is willing to remove any record of the finding and sanction once you complete the school's conditions. Even so, though, if you apply for a professional license, government employment, security clearance, or another special privilege, then you may have to disclose the finding and sanction, even if the school has removed it. Don't forgo an appeal, hoping that the matter is so minor that it won't affect you. Instead, consult national academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento before throwing away your appeal. Get expert advice before deciding.

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Does My School Permit Academic-Misconduct Appeals?

Each college or university publishes its academic-misconduct policies and procedures, often in a student conduct code covering other behavioral and social issues, although sometimes in a separate academic-misconduct policy. That policy should tell you whether you get to appeal an adverse finding.

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Who Decides If I Get to Appeal?

Your college or university has a governing board that adopts school policies. That governing board determined your appeal rights when it adopted the student conduct code or academic-misconduct policy. Administrators tend to write those and advocate for those policies, and routinely carry them out, so your school's administrators have a hand in influencing your appeal rights. Whether the school authorizes it or not, administrators, ombudsmen, or general counsels may sometimes exercise discretion to grant you a special appeal, although you will almost surely need expert representation to succeed under those circumstances. Retain attorney Joseph Lento for those special appeals.

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Where Do I Find My School's Appeal Procedures?

Academic-misconduct appeal procedures should appear in the student conduct code or academic-misconduct policy that tells you whether you get to appeal an adverse finding. When the school conveys a finding of academic misconduct in its written decision, it typically also includes any appeal procedures. If you do not see appeal procedures in one of those two places, then promptly inquire of the school conduct coordinator conveying the adverse decision. Retain attorney Joseph Lento to confirm those procedures.

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Who Gets to Appeal??

Colleges and universities offering appeals of academic-misconduct findings tend to restrict those appeals to the accused student who has lost the initial proceeding and faces a suspension or dismissal misconduct sanction. Winners usually have no need to appeal. Policies tend not to authorize the professor or academic department complaining of misconduct to appeal a dismissal of the complaint. Only losing students tend to get a second chance with an appeal.

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What Academic Misconduct Can I Appeal?

Your school's appeal procedures probably permit you to appeal findings of any of the forms of academic misconduct that your school prohibits. Prohibited academic misconduct, a finding of which your school probably permits you to appeal, typically includes the following forms drawn from UCLA's Student Conduct Code:

  • unauthorized use of materials for any academic exercise, otherwise known as cheating;
  • altering answers on a graded exercise for re-grading, another form of cheating;
  • failing to observe instructions for a graded exercise, a third form of cheating;
  • falsifying or inventing any information or citation in an academic exercise;
  • plagiarism using another's work without attribution;
  • multiple submissions of the same work for unauthorized credit;
  • unauthorized collaboration;
  • coercing a grade or other course evaluation; and
  • facilitating another's academic misconduct.

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To Whom Do I Appeal?

While school procedures vary, appeals commonly go to either a trained appellate officer or appellate panel composed of academics (professors and deans) or an equivalent higher-level academic administrator such as a dean or vice president of student affairs. For example, UCLA's Student Conduct Code authorizes a Student Conduct Committee to decide academic misconduct, the Dean of Students to decide the sanction for academic misconduct, and then the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs to review those decisions on the student's appeal. You should expect your appellate official to know plenty about academic affairs, including academic misconduct.

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What Is the Appeal Review Standard?

When an appeal is available, college and university academic-misconduct procedures may limit appeal review. You don't exactly get to start over. Instead, the appeal official may have to defer to some degree to the original decision maker's judgment on disputed facts, reversing that judgment only for clear error, an abuse of discretion, or when no evidence supports the finding. Strict review standards mean that students who appeal a losing decision on academic misconduct need expert appellate advocacy to reverse or modify those losing decisions.

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What Are Common Appeal Grounds?

College and university academic-misconduct procedures typically limit appeals to specific grounds. In other words, you can't just ask the appellate official to decide everything all over. No proverbial second bite at the apple. Instead, policies tend to limit appeal grounds, like UCLA's Student Conduct Code authorizing appeal only when:

  • the sanction is substantially disproportionate to the violation;
  • the hearing deviated from designated procedures in a way that substantially impacted the finding or sanction; or
  • new information or relevant facts arose that the accused student could not have known at the hearing and that may alter the findings.

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How Do I Initiate an Appeal?

Your school's academic-misconduct procedures or instructions conveyed with the adverse decision will tell how to appeal, if an appeal is available. Typically, a student wishing to appeal must notify the school's appellate officer or proceeding coordinator of the appeal in writing. Appellants must also generally obtain whatever transcript or record is available from the initial hearing, analyze that transcript or record, and write an elaborate and articulate appeal argument specifically identifying the reversible error. These steps are obviously not for those who lack litigation, analytic, and writing skills.

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When Do I Pursue an Appeal?

Your school's academic-misconduct procedures or instructions conveyed with the adverse decision will likely state a short time limit within which to formally notify the school's appellate officer or proceeding coordinator of the appeal in writing. For example, UCLA's Student Conduct Code gives the appellant just five days within which to appeal, unless the appellate officer extends that period for good cause.

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How Do I Complete an Appeal?

Your school's academic-misconduct procedures or instructions conveyed with the adverse decision will tell how to perfect (complete) your appeal. Typically, a student who has timely notified the appellate official of the student's appeal must then obtain the transcript or record from the hearing, analyze it for appeal grounds, and draft and submit an articulate appeal brief. These steps are for expert academic appellate lawyers like national academic attorney Joseph Lento, not for those who lack litigation, analytic, and writing skills, or who are unfamiliar with academic customs, norms, and behaviors.

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How Much of My Time Does an Appeal Take?

Very little, if you retain expert representation. The question is a good one. College or university studies take time and concentration, especially when a student has other responsibilities to fulfill, such as family, household, or work responsibilities. Your academic misconduct matter may have cost you a lot of time in its investigation, informal resolution, and formal hearing stages. You may well need to recover and catch up, even if you lost the academic-misconduct proceeding and are struggling with the adverse finding and sanction. Fortunately, an appeal takes very little of the student's time if the student has the expert representation of national academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento. Once you retain attorney Lento and ensure he has access to the decision and the school's transcript or record of the proceeding, he and his team at the Lento Law Firm take over. You really have nothing else you must do, other than to stay in touch. Appellate work is for the appellate advocate, not the lay client. You can turn your full attention to other matters while attorney Lento works for you.

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What Can I Do to Win an Appeal?

Don't attempt to appeal on your own. As smart as college and university students can be, appeal arguments and procedures are not for neophytes. Instead, retain national academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento and his expert team at the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Lento's many years of experience defending students accused of college academic misconduct have taught him the winning appeal arguments and strategies.

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Will Any Lawyer Do for an Appeal?

No. Appellate lawyers, a rare breed, have different training, experience, and skill than transactional lawyers (lawyers who do deals) and trial lawyers (lawyers who offer evidence and arguments before judges and jurors). But don't just hire any appellate lawyer, either. Appellate lawyers who do not know the academy and its unusual customs, norms, and behaviors will not have the knowledge or experience necessary to identify and effectively argue your appeal grounds. Instead, retain national academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento. He has both an appellate lawyer's skill and an academic lawyer's knowledge and experience.

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What Happens in an Appeal?

College and university appellate officers typically decide academic-misconduct appeals solely on the appealing student's written arguments. An appellate court might well permit in-person appearances to orally argue what the written briefs show. But your college or university's administrative appeal won't likely permit you or your attorney any opportunity to appear in person. Instead, your academic appellate attorney must prepare an effective appeal brief. That's usually it: the appeal officials decide on the brief.

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What Does a Winning Appeal Brief Look Like?

A winning appeal brief does these several things in convincingly articulate, thorough, and authoritative fashion:

  • clearly identifies the precise appeal issues compelling reversal of the academic-misconduct decision;
  • summarizes the transcript or record with pinpoint citations to relevant evidence, procedural errors, and other anomalies or irregularities compelling reversal;
  • cites, quotes, and interprets the law, rule, regulation, or policy that compelling reversal;
  • analyzes and argues why reversal is consistent with law, rule, regulation, policy, and justice;
  • demonstrates the fairness and equity of your relief from the unjust decision and sanction; and
  • clearly states the form of that relief, explaining why that relief is the only just outcome.

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What Can the Appeal Officials Do?

What a student whose school finds academic misconduct wants appeal officials to do is to reverse that finding. College and university appellate procedures generally authorize exactly that relief, if the student can demonstrate the qualifying grounds for relief. To reverse the finding of academic misconduct would ordinarily mean that the student is back to a clean slate and record, able to continue with studies at the school. But appeal results are not always that neat and tidy. If the original decision found serious misconduct that the appeal officials reverse, those appeal officials might find lesser-included misconduct. For example, maybe the accused student didn't pay another student to write the disputed paper, as the original decision might have found, but perhaps the student plagiarized from another student's paper instead, in an arguably lesser but similar form of misconduct. Academic-misconduct procedures, like UCLA's Student Conduct Code, typically give the appeal officials the authority not just to reverse a finding but to reach other findings, including to increase rather than eliminate or decrease a sanction.

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How Can I Help My Attorney with an Appeal?

The best thing that you can do to help your attorney with an appeal is to promptly retain your attorney while you still have plenty of time for an appeal. You need at the same time to get your attorney the school's decision and cooperate with your attorney as your attorney gets the hearing transcript or other record. Once you have helped equip your appellate attorney with the decision and record, the work is really up to the attorney, not you. Appellate advocacy is for appellate advocates. Your attorney may ask you to review and confirm information, but don't expect to be hands-on in preparing arguments and briefs. Oh, and retain the expert representation of national academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento, who has both the academic experience and the appellate skills, not just any attorney or even an attorney with only the appellate skills. You need a lawyer with both academic knowledge and appellate skills.

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Is an Appeal My Last Chance?

No, not exactly, although it may be your best next chance. In a matter as serious as a charge and finding of academic misconduct, you should exhaust every avenue until you have prevailed or have no further avenues to pursue. If your school finds that you committed academic misconduct and offers an appeal, then take that appeal relying on the expert representation of attorney Joseph Lento. But if you lose an appeal, in special cases, attorney Lento has helped students find other avenues for relief with a college or university ombudsman or general counsel. If you have already lost an appeal, then consult attorney Lento about other potential avenues for relief.

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What Is the Single Best Thing I Can Do in an Appeal?

The single best thing you can do is to retain national academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento. Too many students think that they can muddle through an appeal, either on their own, with the help of a friend, or even with the help of a lawyer who lacks substantial academic and appellate experience. Muddling through doesn't work in appellate advocacy. The school has already found against you. You have an uphill battle in an appeal. To win that battle, you need the best. Retaining attorney Lento is your single best available action.

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Retain a Premier Academic Appellate Attorney

Winning an appeal of academic misconduct is not for the weak of skill or faint of heart. Winning an academic appeal takes special skills and experience as an academic appellate advocate. National academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have those skills and that experience. They know how to take the critical steps like obtaining the appeal record, identifying winnable appeal grounds, and drafting compelling written arguments to convince the appeal officials of the justice of reversing the adverse decision or reducing or eliminating the sanction. With attorney Lento's representation, you can successfully prevail in an appeal of academic-misconduct findings. Don't let a losing decision discourage you. Instead, exhaust all avenues. Retain national academic appellate attorney Joseph Lento today to handle your appeal, by calling 888.535.3686 or going online.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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