Graduate Student Dismissals

Graduate school is special. Many have some experience with undergraduate education, if not an undergraduate degree. But many who pursue undergraduate education have had enough of education by the time they're done, whether they complete an associate's or bachelor's degree or not. Many fewer students go on to graduate school because of its higher admission standards and greater academic challenges, despite its higher rewards. When students do begin graduate education, though, they generally do so with strong commitment and resolve to finish. Giving graduate school a half-hearted try isn't a common approach or great option. Indeed, a national report indicates that while undergraduate enrollment is falling, graduate enrollment is going up.

A graduate student's dismissal or threat of dismissal, then, can come as a genuine and deep shock. To gain graduate school admission, students must show strong academics, substantial commitment, and strong prospects for graduating. To face dismissal from graduate school, or face a clear and substantial risk of dismissal, just shouldn't be in the cards. And yet graduate students can and do face disciplinary issues about which graduate students should be aware. Parents and other supporters of graduate students can also help the student who faces potential, or suffers actual, dismissal.

Graduate School Dismissal Authority

Graduate schools uniformly reserve to themselves the right to dismiss students who do not meet their academic standards, conduct codes, and other program requirements. To satisfy accrediting agencies, government and private funders, employers, alumni, current students, and other constituents, graduate schools must hold students to certain standards, at times enforcing those standards with dismissal. The University of Georgia's graduate school policy on probation and dismissal states right up front, “Students may be dismissed by their program at the end of any semester if they have not made sufficient academic progress to warrant continuance of study.” Georgia's graduate school policy, typical of other graduate school policies, then adds a list of other grounds warranting dismissal including:

  • failure to pass comprehensive or other required examinations;
  • inadequate academic progress;
  • failure to meet program academic or professional requirements;
  • failure to adhere to the honor code;
  • Title IX non-discrimination and anti-harassment violations;
  • research misconduct; and
  • violating ethical or professional handbook or society standards.

Limits on Graduate School Dismissal Authority

Law places some limits, though, on graduate school authority to dismiss. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento helps graduate students nationwide hold their graduate schools accountable to those legal limits. Graduate schools at public institutions must, for instance, provide graduate students with constitutional due process, meaning that graduate schools cannot dismiss arbitrarily and capriciously and must give students facing dismissal notice and fair hearing. Graduate schools must also generally follow their own policies and procedures for dismissal, as a matter of contract between the school and student. Administrative law, including federal Title IX regulations, and tort law, including the law of defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, place other limits on what graduate schools can do when dismissing students. Retain attorney Lento to defeat dismissal by holding your graduate school accountable to these limits.

Graduate schools also face institutional constraints on dismissing students. Every dismissed graduate student is another loss of tuition revenue, another mark against the graduate school's retention rate, and another burden on the dismissed student's family, friends, and supporting alumni, employers, and school faculty and staff members. Dismissals also come at substantial personal cost to the student, of which the more sensitive and moral graduate school officials can be acutely aware. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento can often be just as effective in preserving a graduate student's enrollment by advocating these institutional constraints beyond the legal limits to a graduate school's authority.

Causes of Graduate Student Dismissal

Graduate students control some of the causes that can lead to dismissal. Primary among those controllable causes is the overall time, effort, attention, and commitment the graduate student gives to studies. Graduate students must prioritize their studies over jobs, relationships, household responsibilities, and other things that compete for their attention. Graduate students also largely control key behavioral causes for dismissal, like sexual misconduct, violence, property destruction, and alcohol or drug abuse impairing academic performance. While one might assume that graduate schools judge controllable causes harshly, national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento has to the contrary, developed a strategic approach of showing the graduate school that the student at risk of dismissal can correct controllable causes through counseling, training, education, and remediation.

Other causes for dismissal lie outside the graduate student's control. Those causes include physical injury from accidents, serious disease or illness, and mental disabilities and disorders causing depression and loss of concentration and attention. Similar mental and physical disability of a dependent family member may also cause a graduate student's dismissal when the student must prioritize that family member's care over graduate studies. Job loss or other loss of income, loans, scholarships, aid, or other financial support, housing loss, loss of transportation, and for international students, the loss of legal status, can likewise interrupt a graduate student's studies, causing dismissal. Once again, though, attorney Lento has a strategic approach to helping these students convince the school that the outside circumstances mitigate the student's failures, for which the student deserves an additional chance.

While attorney Lento's academic experience helping hundreds of students nationwide avoid dismissal informs his strategic approaches, attorney Lento's litigation skill and experience in academic administrative settings are what enable him to successfully challenge dismissals, the cause for which lie in school errors. Graduate schools generally dismiss students only when convinced that they have good grounds. Yet graduate schools make errors in judgment, sometimes because of administrative snafus, other times because of unreliable witnesses, poor investigations, or biased and conflicted decision-makers. Attorney Lento has the litigation experience and premier trial skills to investigate, identify, and prove false, unfair, and exaggerated grounds for dismissal.

Grounds for Graduate School Dismissal

The best approach for challenging dismissal indeed depends on the grounds that the graduate school puts forward. The University of Georgia graduate school policy quoted above lists only a few of the many grounds that graduate schools commonly cite for dismissing students. Those grounds fall into three categories, academic, behavioral, and professional. The academic grounds for dismissal can be the clearest, insofar as academic programs tend to evaluate using numeric scoring. Minimum standards are easier to define and discern when they have a number attached to them. Some academic judgments, indeed nearly all of them, still have subjective elements to them, but common grounds for academic dismissal from graduate school include:

  • repeated failures to prepare for graduate school classes, labs, and clinics;
  • repeated failures to complete and submit assignments and coursework;
  • repeated failures to take and pass course and cumulative exams;
  • repeated withdrawals, incompletes, and failures in attempted courses;
  • failing to make satisfactory academic progress toward graduation;
  • cheating on exams, plagiarism, and unauthorized collaboration; and
  • other academic misconduct violating clear rules for assignments.

While graduate students are more mature, skilled, and experienced than undergraduate students as a whole, graduate students can still exhibit behavioral problems. Behavioral grounds on which graduate students may suffer dismissal include:

  • alcohol or drug abuse and gambling or pornography using school facilities or equipment;
  • Title IX sexual misconduct including sexual violence, harassment, or quid pro quo favors, as federal law defines;
  • non-Title IX sexual misconduct such as voyeurism, indecent exposure, and solicitation to prostitution;
  • non-sexual threats and violence including assault, battery, stalking, fighting, and possession or display of guns or other weapons;
  • property damage or theft including burglary, robbery, conversion, embezzlement, and vandalism;
  • trespass and misuse of school facilities and equipment, including computer hacking and cyberbullying.

Graduate schools also expect students to conform their conduct to professional norms, often contained within elaborate codes or model rules such as those published for accountants, physicians, nurses, and lawyers. The professionalism grounds on which graduate students may suffer dismissal vary with the specific profession but may include:

  • conviction of crimes of dishonesty or violence;
  • fraud, misrepresentation, or other financial impropriety;
  • accumulation of and default in substantial financial debt;
  • false or misleading information on the graduate school application;
  • material omissions from the graduate school application;
  • misuse of professional authority or position for undue gain;
  • invasion of privacy and breaches of confidentiality;
  • substandard clinical performance causing loss or injury;
  • failure to attend to the care, condition, and matters of clinical clients;

Common Impacts of Graduate School Dismissal

Graduate students should not take the risk of dismissal lightly. Graduate school dismissal can have broad, deep, and lasting impacts. The immediate impact is the loss not only of the degree the student expected to earn but also the credits the student had already earned. Unless the student is somehow able to gain reinstatement or transfer to another graduate school, both of which can be unlikely depending on the dismissal grounds, earned credits are gone. Admission to another graduate school to restart in the same or different degree program may also be much more difficult, even if possible at all. Graduate schools generally expect disclosure of prior dismissals for that very reason, to hold against the applicant student.

Dismissal from graduate school can also mean the loss of scholarships, aid, loans, or other financial support, and trigger or even acceleration of educational debt for repayment. Graduate students may also lose housing, transportation, and healthcare that the graduate school had provided. The graduate student also loses the job and career the student expected to pursue after graduation, using the graduate degree. All these losses can also affect family, friend, mentor, and network relationships on which the graduate student depends. Dismissal is not a pretty picture. The impacts are so significant that the risk warrants retaining national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento for his expert advocacy and representation.

How to Avoid Graduate School Dismissal

Graduate students have several critical things they can do to reduce the risk of dismissal. A graduate student facing dismissal must give the matter the highest priority, promptly reading and appropriately responding to every communication, meeting every deadline, and allocating the time, money, and other resources to defeating dismissal. Retaining national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento enables the graduate student to discern hidden options, gather and present exonerating and mitigating evidence, invoke protective procedures and appeals, and advocate and negotiate with the graduate school for an alternative to dismissal. Avoiding dismissal can also involve accessing remedial programs, counseling services, medical services, or financial services, and invoking graduate school remedial policies, of which the graduate student was not aware, but attorney Lento is well informed.

Options After Graduate School Dismissal

Some graduate students suffer dismissal despite taking sound steps to avoid it. An initial dismissal is not, though, the end of the road. Most graduate schools provide some form of appeal of a dismissal, meaning that the graduate student who retains national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento has the opportunity to make a compelling presentation for the dismissal's reversal by a different decision-maker. Do not attempt an appeal on your own or with the help of a lawyer unfamiliar with academic appeals. Academic administrative appeals require special skills in identifying, proving, and advocating reversible error, in an appeal brief or similar technical writing.

Beyond an appeal, a graduate student who has suffered dismissal may find relief from a university ombudsman or general counsel, if able with attorney Lento's help to show extraordinary circumstances warranting that relief. If instead, the student's dismissal must remain, attorney Lento has helped students negotiate dismissal terms with colleges and universities that leave the student with the best record for proceeding to another school or otherwise moving forward with an education and career. As serious as it is, dismissal is not the end of the student's world. Attorney Lento knows how to help students position themselves for success, whether by reversing dismissal or notwithstanding dismissal.

Retain Expert Academic Attorney Representation

The risks and impacts of graduate school dismissal surely warrant proceeding with the best available academic attorney representation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento's expert representation, and the expert services of the skilled and experienced team at the Lento Law Firm, have helped hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students nationwide avoid, reverse, and overcome school dismissal. Retain the expert team at the Lento Law Firm today 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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