Graduate Student Professionalism

Although graduate programs vary in their fields, they all integrate professionalism principles into their curriculums. U.S. News & World Report, known for its college and university rankings, names the top six graduate programs as business, law, medicine, nursing, engineering, and education. All six of those graduate programs, and many others like engineering, social work, psychology, accounting, and public health and administration, encourage or require their students to conform to some form of professionalism and ethics codes, principles, or standards.

Graduate School Professionalism Sources

Graduate schools draw on different professionalism codes and principles depending on the school's specific profession. Law schools follow the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Medical schools follow the American Medical Association's Code of Medical Ethics. Accounting programs adopt the American Institute of CPAs' Code of Professional Conduct. No matter the graduate degree program's specialty, that profession is likely to have its own professionalism code or principles, one that the school necessarily adopts to prepare its graduates for professional practice.

Graduate schools offering several different graduate degrees in different fields, like the one at Auburn University offering well over one hundred different graduate and doctoral degrees in fields from accounting to wildlife sciences, also adopt broad professionalism principles covering all graduate degree programs. Graduate schools thus look externally to professional associations and internally to their own values and commitments to generate the professionalism codes and principles to which they expect their students to conform.

Graduate School Professionalism Instruction

Graduate schools don't just adopt professionalism codes and principles but also teach professionalism, integrating the subject into their curriculums. Law schools teach the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct in a specific course while also instructing in ethics in clinics and internships, so that law students and graduates can pass the required Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam. Medical schools teach medical professionalism in lectures, discussions, patient presentations, reflective journals, cross-disciplinary studies, and clinical rounds. Accounting professors teach accounting ethics in case studies and through current events, including ethics in graded assessments. Top business schools increasingly focus on teaching business ethics in required and elective courses, and case studies.

Graduate schools know that they must teach their students professionalism for their graduates to qualify for licensure and perform competently. Graduate school, particularly in the helping professions like medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law, and social work, but also in the hard professions like engineering, business, and accounting, include clinical education. Graduate school isn't solely about head knowledge. It can be primarily about applied knowledge. Graduate students thus participate in rotations, residencies, clinics, internships, and other service learning where unprofessional conduct could have real, substantial, and harmful impacts on patients and clients. Supervisors and directors in those clinical programs monitor students closely, not just for competent practice but also for professionalism.

Graduate School Professional Misconduct

Professional misconduct and behavioral misconduct are similar and may overlap in certain cases, but they have a fundamental difference. Behavioral misconduct tends to involve actions that interfere with the academic program, like alcohol and drug distribution on campus, sexual misconduct toward another student affecting the learning environment, and destruction or misuse of school property. By contrast, professional misconduct tends to involve actions that show the graduate student is a risk to the patients, clients, employers, or public who will depend on the student's professional service. Conviction of crimes of violence or dishonesty, unrelated to the academic program and thus not directly affecting any student's studies or the educational environment, are a classic form of professional misconduct. We don't expect professionals to be dangerous or dishonest.

Unprofessionalism violating graduate school professionalism codes and principles can also come in different forms, depending on the student's specific graduate program. Thus, a medical student's professional misconduct may involve patient abuse or neglect, treating without consent, treating while impaired, or unauthorized disclosure of confidential patient information. A law student's professional misconduct may involve misrepresenting or failing to disclose controlling legal authority, unauthorized disclosure of client confidences, unauthorized practice of law, or a drunk driving conviction demonstrating disrespect for the law. An accounting student's professional misconduct may include falsifying or concealing financial data or failing to pay taxes, file tax returns, or otherwise demonstrate financial fitness. Each profession has its own responsibilities, the professional norms and customs for which differ, meaning each has its own forms of professional misconduct.

Graduate School Professional Procedures

Graduate schools tend to follow the same procedures for resolving charges of professional misconduct as the college or university follows for resolving behavioral misconduct or academic misconduct charges. Some graduate schools have their own discipline procedures, while others refer expressly to college or university procedures. In either case, graduate schools begin by notifying the student in writing of the unprofessional conduct in which the school alleges the student engaged. A school official, often a dean of students or director of student affairs, investigates the allegations, interviewing witnesses and gathering documentary or other evidence.

School officials may attempt informal resolution of the charges involving anything from the student's confession, apology, remedial instruction, and probation, up to the student's withdrawal. Charges that don't resolve informally proceed to a hearing before school officials. The hearing may involve the presentation of an investigation report, testimony from and cross-examination of witnesses, the submission of witness statements, exhibits, and arguments. The hearing officer or panel writes and shares findings, which an aggrieved student may typically appeal. Sanctions for professional misconduct run the same gamut that sanctions for academic or behavioral misconduct employs, from warning, reprimand, corrective training, and probation, to suspension or dismissal.

Fighting Graduate School Professionalism Charges

Graduate students should see from the complexity and litigation-like nature of professional misconduct procedures that they should retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento in any instance in which they face charges of unprofessionalism placing their graduate program at risk. Don't fight professional misconduct charges alone. Academic administrative proceedings can be both subtle and complex. The institution has its own interests, which are not always obvious to graduate students. The institution also follows academic and professional norms and customs with which, and employs vice presidents, provosts, deans, directors, proctors, and others with whom, the graduate student may be unfamiliar. Attorney Lento has unparalleled experience helping countless graduate students nationwide defend and defeat professional misconduct, behavioral misconduct, and academic misconduct charges. Retain attorney Lento and 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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