Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Code of Conduct Disciplinary Violations

Colleges and universities in the United States have Student Codes of Conduct and Honor Codes, outlining the school's values and expectations for its student body and faculty. College Codes of Conduct vary from one educational institution to another, as do the potential violations and penalties imposed for violations of these Codes. And while there are differences from one school to the next, these frequently asked questions regarding Code of Conduct disciplinary violations apply to many colleges and universities in the country. For information pertaining to the Code of Conduct disciplinary violations at a particular educational institution, contact National Student Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. Help is a phone call away, and Attorney Lento and his team can be reached at 888-535-3686.

What Are Some of the Most Common Code of Conduct Violations?

Every college and university sets forth its own Code of Conduct. And while there are differences from school to school, there are some Code of Conduct violations that are common. Common violations include the following: academic dishonesty and integrity issues; alcohol use; drug use; hazing; rape, sexual harassment, or other forms of sexual misconduct; hate crimes; stalking; domestic violence; and threatening behavior.

What Happens if Someone Is Accused of Violating a School's Code of Conduct?

Procedures for addressing Code of Conduct violations typically begin with the college or university informing the student of the allegation against them. Then, a school official begins investigating the claim by collecting documentation, gathering evidence, and interviewing witnesses. Once the investigation of the allegation is complete, a school official makes the determination as to whether there is enough evidence to support the allegation, and a disciplinary hearing should be scheduled or whether the case should be dismissed.

What Are Some of the Behaviors That May Constitute College Academic Misconduct?

The term “academic misconduct” under a school's Code of Conduct often refers to any behavior that affords a student or others an unfair academic advantage or jeopardizes the learning process at the institution. Behaviors that may constitute college academic misconduct often include—but are not limited to—any of the following:

  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • Self-plagiarism
  • Bribery
  • Dishonesty
  • Falsification of information, data, or records
  • Conduct that disrupts classroom learning
  • Facilitation of academic dishonesty
  • A failure to safeguard one's own work
  • Obtaining unauthorized advanced knowledge of assignments or exams
  • Research misconduct
  • Sabotaging someone else's academic performance
  • Assistance or collaboration that is unauthorized
  • Violating test conditions
  • Circulating or sharing course materials without permission

What Are Some of the Steps in the Disciplinary Process at a College or University?

While each college or university sets forth its own procedures for addressing allegations of student misconduct, many of the steps in the disciplinary process at these educational institutions are similar. The disciplinary process typically begins with the filing of a complaint: an individual alleges misconduct or a Code of Conduct violation. Next, the college or university's designated office reviews the complaint and may contact the person who has been accused of the misconduct to discuss the allegation, particularly if the infraction is mild. In some instances, the allegation may be resolved at this juncture. In cases where the alleged misconduct is more serious, the case is then given to the college or university's disciplinary committee to conduct an investigation into the matter. A formal hearing will then be held (more information on disciplinary hearings in the next question), after which the disciplinary body makes a determination and a recommendation of penalty.

What Happens at a Disciplinary Hearing for a Code of Conduct Violation?

At a disciplinary hearing for a Code of Conduct violation, there are often several members of the university or college's community who make up the disciplinary board. This disciplinary board may include members of the faculty, administrators, and students. The disciplinary board reviews the evidence of the alleged Code of Conduct violation and asks questions of the parties that are involved in the case. The individual accused of the wrongdoing hears the complaint that is brought against them and typically has the opportunity to speak on their own behalf. The hearing may be recorded or videotaped, depending upon the individual school's procedures. Once a review of the evidence and questioning is complete, the disciplinary board decides whether the student has committed the alleged violation. If so, the board then recommends an appropriate penalty for the infraction. The student receives written notification of the punishment and may have the opportunity to appeal the decision and/or the penalty in a designated period of time.

How Is a Student Discipline Proceeding Different from Court?

Disciplinary hearings afford students far less protection than a standard court of law. The student will generally have far less time to respond. The student may have little or no opportunity to gather information from the school or complainant. Evidence rules do not generally apply. Hearing officials may often consider written statements rather than live testimony. Cross-examination of adverse witnesses may not be available, except in Title IX cases. In many cases, the student is not given full due process, and the board members rendering the decision may not be impartial. Rules and protocols for disciplinary hearings are complicated, and students often do not fully understand the issues at hand and the potential consequences of the hearing. An experienced attorney-advisor will effectively advise the student of the process, protect their rights, and help to reach the best possible outcome in a disciplinary hearing.

Can I Have an Attorney Present at a Disciplinary Hearing?

Many schools permit an attorney at disciplinary hearings but restrict how much the attorney can do. Attorney cross-examination of adverse witnesses, for instance, may only be available in Title IX cases. Disciplinary hearings at colleges and universities may look quite similar to a hearing or a trial in a courtroom. However, disciplinary hearings are not required to follow court protocols. And while the attorney often does not function in an official legal capacity at these disciplinary hearings, their support in an advisory role can be critical to the outcome of the case. In some Code of Conduct violation cases, “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply to the student facing the allegation, and the entire process can be unreasonably swift, with important steps taking place, and even judgment being reached, before the student has had the opportunity to prepare their case. Fortunately, students have the right to an academic attorney-advisor who can help guide them through the process.

What Does an Attorney-Advisor Do in a Code of Conduct Violation Case?

A skilled college misconduct attorney-advisor will work on behalf of the student and their family to investigate the allegation of misconduct, interview witnesses, collect evidence to support their case, and provide counsel regarding the best way to refute the charges. A qualified attorney-advisor with demonstrated experience fully understands how the student disciplinary process works and will hold the college or university accountable to their own policies and procedures. A college misconduct attorney-advisor protects the rights of the student being accused and ensures due process. The Lento Law Firm has extensive experience advising students who are charged with Code of Conduct violations across the United States, with a long track record of successful outcomes.

What Actions Might Warrant an Accusation of Hazing at a College or University?

Every college or university has its own interpretation of specific behaviors that constitute hazing. However, generally speaking, rituals that endanger an individual's mental health or physical health are considered hazing. Rituals that humiliate or degrade an individual or include removing or damaging property are also considered hazing. Anti-hazing policies at schools are often expansive, however, and even pledges doing push-ups, for example, will be considered hazing at most schools. Any student participating in hazing may face criminal charges in addition to school disciplinary measures. School disciplinary sanction are almost always heavy-handed, and will generally involve suspension at a minimum and often expulsion, if an accused student is deemed responsible to have hazed or participated in hazing in any capacity.

Can Violating a Residence Hall's Rules Be Considered a Code of Conduct Violation?

Yes, violating the rules of a residence hall may be considered a Code of Conduct violation at some educational institutions. Most colleges and universities have Codes of Conduct that address behavior that damages school property, violates safety protocols, is disruptive to others residing in the residence hall, or involves alcohol or drug use. Violating any of the residence hall policies may constitute a Code of Conduct violation and may result in the loss of university housing or expulsion from campus.

What Are Common Procedural Problems When Facing Misconduct Allegations?

Students should also avoid two other common violations that involve procedure rather than substance. One is to ignore the school's notice of a complaint and thereby to suffer default sanctions. You may think the allegations are nonsense and they may in fact be nonsense, but you still need to answer the allegations proving so. Another common procedural issue involves the respondent's retaliation against the complainant. You may think that trying to talk a little sense into the complainant is a good idea. But the complainant and school may instead see your actions as an attempt to threaten or coerce the complainant into withdrawing the complaint. Avoid at all costs anything that could look like retaliation. Instead, retain a skilled academic misconduct defense attorney.

What Is “Bribery” in a Code of Conduct Violation?

Bribery may not occur as much as plagiarism, for example, but when a student is accused, a bribery charge raises eyebrows among school administrators and others. When an individual in an academic environment offers or accepts material items or money in return for an academic advantage, this is considered bribery. Bribery may be demonstrated in different ways. In one scenario, a student offers a professor something, the professor accepts, and in return, the student receives a certain academic grade. In another scenario, a professor offers a student a certain academic grade in exchange for goods, services, or money. In most cases, the mere offering of goods or services in exchange for something can constitute bribery; the other party does not necessarily need to accept the offer for it to be considered bribery. But bribery is subjective, and an individual's intentions can be misconstrued. That is why it is very important that students watch what they say to any professors or academic staff. And if you or a loved one has been charged with bribery at a college or university, contact an experienced attorney-advisor to handle your defense.

What Is Unauthorized Collaboration?

Unauthorized collaboration, unauthorized assistance, and group cheating are common misconduct concerns. Colleges and universities generally encourage students to study and work together in pairs and groups. But professors get to set the rules for individual work versus group work when students are submitting assignments. If the professor specifies that the paper, project, lab report, or other assignment must be the student's individual work, then working with another student, consulting another student, trading ideas with another student, or other forms of collaboration and assistance can constitute academic misconduct, a violation of the professor's rules. Group cheating is a similar concern, where students assigned individual work instead share model answers, research links, problem approaches, or other help with the full class or a group within the class. Read the professor's syllabus carefully. Listen carefully to the professor's instructions about group, collaborative, or individual work. And comply, or you may face academic misconduct charges.

Can Cheating on an Online Exam or Assignment Violate a Code of Conduct?

Yes. The rules don't change simply because the forum is online rather than in person and your work is computer based rather than paper based. Students face just as serious of a misconduct charge if the school suspects online cheating as if the charge involved cheating in the classroom or lab. The risk of online cheating is especially great because of the online environment's confidentiality, flexibility, and fluidity. The online environment can feel as if one is alone, free to do as one wishes, without scrutiny or accountability. But colleges and universities have sophisticated programs and means to track online activity during exams and even through scrutiny of the hidden metadata in electronic assignments. And hoping the school doesn't discover online cheating is always a bad ethic. Play by the rules because they are the rules, not because you suspect you might be caught.

How Does an Honor Code Differ from a Code of Conduct?

Honor codes tend to be vaguely and generally aspirational, whereas codes of conduct are more like specific rules for what a student must do or must not do. The Harvard University honor code, for example, states, "Members of the Harvard College community commit themselves to producing academic work of integrity...." The whole Harvard honor code is only two sentences long. In contrast, student codes of conduct at other schools routinely list dozens of specific do's and don'ts. But be careful making this distinction. Violating the spirit of an honor code, such as cheating on an exam under Harvard's commitment to integrity, may lead to the very same sanctions as violating the specifics of a student code of conduct.

What Are Some of the Penalties for a Code of Conduct Violation?

If it is determined that a student has violated the college or university's Code of Conduct, the penalties imposed may include—but not be limited to—any of the following and more: academic probation, loss of tuition, disciplinary probation, suspension, loss of university housing, expulsion, loss of a scholarship, and permanent inclusion of the violation on the student's record. Depending upon the Code of Conduct violation, the student may also face criminal charges outside of school disciplinary proceedings. Violations of a Code of Conduct can have a far-reaching effect on a student's future, including difficulty transferring to another educational institution, scholarship ineligibility, loss of funds to continue their education, bans on extracurricular activities such as playing college sports, and reduced employment opportunities.

Which Are the Less Serious and More Serious Sanctions?

The sanctions that a college or university may impose for violating the student code of conduct do indeed run a sort of gamut from minor to most serious. That spectrum of sanctions is obviously important to the accused student, especially because relatively minor differences in misconduct findings can result in major differences in the severity of sanctions. Minor sanctions can include a warning, oral reprimand, assignment repeat, lowered assignment grade, or loss of assignment credit. Moderate sanctions can include written reprimand, lowered or failing course grade, loss of course credit, repetition of the course, extra work, and transcript notation. The most serious sanctions can include suspension for one or more terms, dismissal from the academic program, withholding of an earned but not-yet-awarded degree, and even revocation of the already-awarded degree.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Code of Conduct Charge?

You need an attorney when something is at stake, and everything can be at stake when facing a college of university Code of Conduct charge. Academic and professional goals can be severely jeopardized if a favorable outcome is not achieved. A student found responsible can lose internship and scholarship opportunities, can face diminished candicacy for graduate programs or professional school, and can lose professional employment opportunities. To be best served, you need an experienced advocate solely dedicated to your cause. One concern an accused student faces, among many, is that schools will generally supply just enough information to enable you to participate in a misconduct proceeding against you. They must do so to satisfy due process. But just because you know basically what you must do to answer a charge doesn't mean that you will be able to do it well, timely, and effectively. Students generally do not have the advocacy skills necessary to respond to misconduct charges that could result in serious sanctions. And be careful about thinking that you're getting adequate advice. Some schools will supply you with a student or staff advisor. But those advisors generally lack any training or incentive to act as your skilled advocate. Indeed, they may have a conflict of interest that would lead them to take the side of the school. You need a skilled academic attorney as your aggressive and effective representative.

How Does College Sexual Misconduct Relate to Title IX?

Sexual misconduct may include sexual harassment, stalking, abuse, rape, and other behaviors. Sexual misconduct brings stiff penalties and may involve Title IX, the federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. If the alleged sexual misconduct falls under Title IX, the college or university is required to implement certain measures that include investigating the allegation, taking immediate action to bring an end to the sexual misconduct, providing remediation for the misconduct, and taking steps to prevent any recurrence of the sexual misconduct.

Is Sexual Misconduct Covered Under the School's Code of Conduct, Title IX, or Both?

It depends on the specifics of the misconduct allegations, but probably both. Schools must prohibit Title IX misconduct. But most schools go well beyond Title IX, prohibiting other forms of sexual misconduct under broader concepts like sexual exploitation. So, a school could charge a specific act under Title IX if the act falls within that law. But the school could also charge non-Title IX misconduct under its broader sexual misconduct policy. Often, though, an act or series of acts can implicate both Title IX and the school's own sexual misconduct policy. Chances are good that a student facing a sexual misconduct charge will face allegations of violating both policies. Because of what is at stake in Title IX and college sexual misconduct case, your interests will be best served by having an experienced Title IX attorney in your corner to make sense of school policies and to work towards a fair process and the best possible outcome.

What Is an Allegation of Stalking? Does It Fall Under Title IX?

It depends. A student accused of stalking may face disciplinary action under Title IX. Many colleges and universities define “stalking” as intentional behavior that may cause an individual to suffer emotional harm due to the repeated action of being followed or being communicated with via phone or other methods. In most cases, the behavior must take place two or more times, and involves contacting, following, monitoring, or observing another student through an action or another method, such as a phone. Stalking may be direct, as when one student follows another, or indirect, as when a third- party acts on behalf of the stalker. An example of stalking is making repeated appearances at a student's classroom or dorm room without being invited or making repeated unwelcome phone calls. Stalking may cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety. As such, colleges and universities may discipline an allegation of stalking under Title IX procedures. It is important to note that the college years are formative years, and some of these behaviors may be unintentional or misunderstood. If you or a loved one has been charged with stalking, it is an allegation that must be taken seriously—regardless of your intent. If a student is found guilty of stalking, this charge can have a long-lasting impact on their future. A college sexual misconduct attorney-advocate can skillfully mitigate the charge for the most favorable outcome in the case.

What Behaviors Constitute a Charge of Cheating at a College or University?

While we might often think of “cheating” as looking over another student's test paper and copying down their answers, there are other behaviors that may constitute a charge of cheating at a college or university. These behaviors include—but are not limited to—the following:

  • Submitting the same work product for more than one assignment without prior authorization
  • Communicating with other students during an exam either verbally, via texting, in writing, or through another method
  • Collaborating with another person on an assignment or exam without prior approval
  • Programming a calculator with unauthorized information prior to an exam or assignment
  • Engaging with a commercial service to prepare a term paper
  • Having others complete a portion of your work for you

What Is the Definition of “Plagiarism” at a College or University?

Plagiarism can take many forms at a college or university, well beyond the old standard definition of copying material and including it in a paper, assignment, or exam without proper citation. With the internet and the access to information that it affords, the definition of plagiarism has been expanded. Plagiarism may include paraphrasing someone else's work or using their ideas, opinions, or insights without a citation. Falsifying, altering, or fabricating information in an assignment may be considered plagiarism. Providing false or misleading information to an administrator or instructor at a college or university may also constitute plagiarism. Keeping course materials from another student by removing those materials, defacing, or hiding the materials is also a form of plagiarism. Theft of intellectual property is another form of plagiarism, which may include accessing someone else's property electronically or interfering with their property electronically.

What Are Some of the Penalties for an Alcohol Code of Conduct Violation at a College or University?

Penalties for an alcohol Code of Conduct violation vary depending upon the individual school's policies that are outlined in the Student Handbook. Generally speaking, penalties for an alcohol violation may include mandatory participation in an alcohol educational seminar or workshop; payment of monetary fines related to the violation; loss of financial aid; loss of scholarships or loans; a formal reprimand; disciplinary probation; loss of participation in extracurricular activities; loss of university housing; suspension; and expulsion from the school. Sanctions for an alcohol violation can be severe and have a long-lasting impact on your education, finances, future employment, and future educational opportunities. An accomplished student misconduct attorney-advisor can assist with your case, building a case that refutes the charge and successfully demonstrates that you are not in violation of the school's alcohol Code of Conduct.

What Behaviors or Actions Are Considered Hate Crimes at Colleges and Universities?

According to the United States Department of Justice, a hate crime is a crime that is “motivated by bias against race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.” Colleges and universities may adopt an interpretation of hate crime that differs from the definition put forth by the Justice Department. For the most part, hate crimes refer to any crimes that are motivated by certain beliefs against groups of people. Colleges and universities have strict policies prohibiting any student from participating in hate crimes. Acts of violence that are motivated by bias may constitute a hate crime, and these acts may include any of the following and more, depending upon the particular educational institution. Some of the following acts are obviously egregious and school disciplinary proceedings, as consequential as they can be, will be of lesser concern, but in today's climate especially on college campuses, even unintended and arguably harmless acts or language can quickly be considered hate crimes or speech, subject to potentially severe consequences at the school level.

  • Intimidation
  • Larceny
  • Simple assault
  • Destruction or damage of property
  • Vandalism
  • Burglary
  • Motor vehicle theft
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Sexual offenses
  • Murder
  • Nonviolent hate crimes are also punishable, and Codes of Conduct that are violated due to bias may bring additional penalties at some colleges and universities

Can I Have a Code of Conduct Violation Removed From My Permanent Record?

Some colleges and universities allow former students to apply to have certain violations removed from their permanent record. In most cases, former students are required to wait a predetermined period of time before they may apply or participate in a formal process to request that some records of disciplinary actions be removed from the record. This process can be quite challenging. An experienced student defense legal advisor can provide critical assistance and ensure the most favorable outcome in your case.

What Steps Should I Take if I Have Been Charged With a Code of Conduct Violation?

If you have been notified that you are under investigation for a Code of Conduct violation, there are several steps to take that can help with the outcome of your case. First, refrain from speaking about the allegation to friends, classmates, law enforcement, campus security, or administrators at your school. Keep your circle small and limit your conversations to those with your parents and your college misconduct attorney. As the saying goes, anything you say may be used against you. This also applies to sharing information regarding the allegation on social media. As tempting as it may be to vent your frustration and anger on these platforms, this too may be used against you in your case. Code of conduct violations are serious and should be taken seriously. Do not dismiss the allegation lightheartedly, and do not delay in speaking with your parents and a qualified attorney who has demonstrated experience handling college misconduct violations.

What Is “Abuse of the Student Conduct Process”?

When a college or university student becomes involved in disciplinary hearings as either the accused or a witness, how they respond to the investigation or the disciplinary proceedings may subject them to additional charges. These charges may be referred to as Abuse of the Student Conduct Process, which is defined as the following:

  • Failing to appear as part of the student conduct process or failing to appear as a witness at an official student conduct hearing
  • Falsifying or misrepresenting information at a preliminary briefing or at another meeting as part of the student conduct process
  • Falsification of a student conduct incident report
  • Interfering with the orderly conduct of a preliminary briefing, a disciplinary hearing, or other student conduct hearing or meeting
  • Trying to discourage another's participation in the student conduct system
  • Trying to influence a hearing board member's impartiality before and/or during the student conduct process
  • Intimidating or harassing anyone involved in the student conduct case
  • Not complying with the penalties imposed as a result of the student Code of Conduct violation
  • Receiving unauthorized assistance, falsifying data, plagiarizing, or misrepresenting in an effort to fulfill the requirements of the sanctions imposed for conduct violations
  • Completing all or part of the sanctions that were imposed on another student

Where Can I Get Answers To Additional Questions Regarding Code of Conduct Violations at Colleges and Universities?

At the Lento Law Firm, attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience working with students who are facing allegations of Code of Conduct violations at colleges and universities across the country, with a long track record of successful outcomes. The Lento Law Firm is available to answer your questions and address your concerns regarding your or your student's misconduct allegation, and when you need someone in your corner, attorney Joseph D. Lento will be there to help you though a difficult time. Contact Attorney Lento today and learn how the Lento Law Firm can help with your situation. Call 888-535-3686 today.

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