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 n