We Defend Students in Indiana Colleges and Universities

Are you a student or the parent of student at a Indiana school, college, or university facing a school-related issue or concern?  Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help. The world of academia is unique, and the Lento Law Firm has unparalleled national experience bringing its problem-solving approach and fighting spirit to address school-related injustice.  Attorney Lento and his Firm have helped countless students and families in Indiana and across the United States at the school level and in court.  Please click on the following links for more information.  Please also see our expanded list of school practice areas.

Joseph D. Lento has helped countless students and others in academia in Indiana protect their academic and professional future, and he can do the same for you. Contact him today at 888-535-3686.

Higher Education in Indiana

Higher education statistics show that colleges and universities in the State of Indiana enroll nearly 400,000 students. Nearly 50,000 more of those students are women than men. About 80% of those students are undergraduate students, while about two-thirds are full-time and one-third part-time. Indiana is home to about 73 colleges and universities.

Indiana Disciplines Students

Colleges and universities in Indiana certainly discipline students. The discipline may be for alleged academic misconduct, Title IX misconduct, other sexual misconduct, or other violations of the school's student conduct code. And unfortunately, Indiana colleges and universities make their fair share of mistakes, disciplining innocent students. One recent article names no fewer than ten lawsuits pending in Indiana's federal courts, in which Indiana college and university students allege wrongful discipline. Those lawsuits involve Indiana University, Purdue University, the University of Notre Dame, Depauw University, Butler University, and Ball State University, among Indiana's many public and private colleges and universities.

Below are Indiana laws, regulations, codes, policies, and procedures that may help you with your Indiana school discipline matter. Trust national college and university defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for your defense of school misconduct charges in Indiana. Attorney Lento combines national experience and premier reputation with knowledge of local Indiana laws.

Indiana's State Laws on Higher Education

Authorizing Public Colleges and Universities. Indiana Code §21-27-1-1 authorizes the establishment of several public colleges and universities within the state, granting each school broad powers, duties, and responsibilities under its own board of trustees. The schools are not supposed to discourage or disparage students. Indiana Code §21-27-1-2 asserts that the state's statutes authorizing public higher education “may not be construed to discourage or disparage the status of students, faculty, and other persons or the valid concerns of the public in matters of policy and of management of state educational institutions.”

Regulating Student Conduct. Yet Indiana Code §21-39-2-2 specifically authorizes Indiana's public colleges and universities to “govern, by regulation and other means, the conduct of students, faculty, employees, and others while upon the property owned, used, or occupied by the state educational institution.” A section below shows that Indiana's public colleges and universities fully embrace their authority to regulate student conduct. Every public college and university in the state has an elaborate student conduct code defining academic misconduct and other forms of behavioral misconduct. They also regulate Title IX sexual misconduct and, in various forms, non-Title IX sexual misconduct.

Preventing Bullying. Indiana's state code gives few specifics on how the state's public colleges and universities should or must regulate student conduct, with one broad exception. Indiana Code §21-39-2-2.1 requires Indiana's public colleges and universities to prohibit bullying. That code section gives a long and remarkably broad definition for bullying. The code's definition for bullying could reach much conduct that students would not typically think warranted school discipline. Indiana Code §21-39-2-2.1 defines bullying to include

“overt, unwanted, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal or written communications or images transmitted in any manner (including digitally or electronically), physical acts committed, aggression, or any other behaviors, that are committed by a student or group of students against another student with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate, or harm the other student….”

Regulatory Restraints. Indiana state law nevertheless attempts to restrain the authority granted to the schools to regulate student conduct. Indiana Code §21-39-2-3 requires public college and university student conduct codes to direct their regulations “to prevent unlawful or objectionable acts that [either] (1) seriously threaten the ability of the state educational institution to maintain the state educational institution's facilities; or (2) violate the reasonable rules and standards of the state educational institution designed to protect the academic community from unlawful conduct or conduct presenting a serious threat to person or property of the academic community.” Students, though, may find their conduct codes to be much broader than that state mandate. Student conduct codes often reach conduct that does not seriously threaten a person or property.

The Power to Discipline. Indiana Code §21-39-2-4 specifically authorizes public colleges and universities to discipline students who violate institutional conduct codes: “The board of trustees of a state educational institution may dismiss, suspend, or otherwise punish any student, faculty member, or employee of the state educational institution who violates the institution's rules or standards of conduct, after determination of guilt by lawful proceedings.” Indiana Code §21-39-2-5 notes that the student's misconduct need not violate any other state or federal law for the school to be able to punish the student. Note, though, that both of these code sections authorize student discipline only “after determination of guilt by lawful proceedings.” Indiana code doesn't say what form those lawful proceedings must take. But the code surely strongly implies due process, which federal constitutional protections guarantee in any case.

The Indiana Higher Education Commission. Indiana's General Assembly created the Indiana Higher Education Commission in 1971 to coordinate programs among the state's public and independent colleges and universities. Although students may complain to the Commission about a college or university's violation of law, discrimination, or other misconduct, the Commission itself states that it has no statutory authority to review an institution's decision on academic misconduct or student discipline matters. The Commission instead refers aggrieved students to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, Office of the Indiana Attorney General, or private retained counsel to adjudicate the matter through the courts after exhausting administrative remedies within the school.

Title IX Interpretations in Indiana

To receive federal funding, colleges and universities in Indiana, like institutions elsewhere, must comply with federal Title IX regulations prohibiting sex discrimination. Indiana colleges and universities, both public and private, receive federal funding. They thus adopt policies and procedures meeting Title IX requirements.

New Regulations. The U.S. Department of Education issued new Title IX regulations effective August 2020. The new regulations were a response to lawsuits, court orders, and public criticism showing unduly expansive and aggressive enforcement of Title IX policies on college and university campuses. One report summarizes that nearly five hundred students had sued their universities over unfair campus discipline. Schools were, in some cases holding innocent students responsible for misconduct that they did not commit. Schools were also rushing to erroneous judgments, depriving students, especially the accused, of a fair hearing. The new Title IX regulations generally offer greater protections to the accused. Those protections include:

  • narrower definitions of sexual harassment, which must now be “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive”;
  • limiting the locations and events at which schools must enforce their policies;
  • requiring participating officials to have Title IX procedural training;
  • ensuring that witnesses attend hearings, submitting to cross-examination, for the decision-maker to consider their testimony;
  • guaranteeing students the right to retain a lawyer to conduct cross-examination;
  • separating the Title IX investigator and Title IX decision-maker roles so that the same person does not both prosecute and decide matters;
  • permitting schools to raise the burden of proof on charges from a preponderance of the evidence to clear and convincing evidence.

Example Title IX Policy. Indiana colleges and universities have updated their Title IX policies and procedures to meet these new regulations. Indiana University is an example. Indiana University updated its Title IX policy effective August 13, 2020, when the new regulations took effect. As the regulations require, Indiana University's updated Title IX Complaint Resolution Procedures separate investigator and decision-maker roles, require witnesses to attend the formal hearing, permit cross-examination of witnesses, and allow the accused student's retained attorney to conduct that cross-examination. Indiana University does not raise the school's burden of proof on the charges. That burden of proof remains a preponderance of the evidence.

Confirming Federal Case. Even before the new regulations took effect, a federal appellate court confirmed, in an Indiana case, the need for greater protection of the accused on campus. In the June 2019 case of John Doe v Purdue University, the student alleged that his school had unfairly and erroneously suspended him for one year over false accusations of sexual misconduct after a dating relationship broke up. The school found misconduct despite the fact that the accuser never testified. Rather than meeting and hearing from the accuser, the hearing panel only had an administrator's letter summarizing the accusations. The accused student also never got to see the investigation report that the hearing panel was supposed to have read to make its decision. The opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the lower court's dismissal, instead remanding the student's case for further proceedings. Students facing discipline in Indiana have a leg on which to stand.

Fundamental Fairness. The Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause requires that public college and university procedures be fundamentally fair when depriving students of liberty or property interests. The Seventh Circuit's opinion in John Doe v Purdue University did more than simply hold that the accused student's allegations stated a claim that the school violated his due process rights and committed sex discrimination against him. The opinion also highlighted and condemned specific procedural unfairness common to student discipline proceedings:

  • not allowing the accused student to see the investigation report was “withholding the evidence on which [the school] relied in adjudicating his guilt” and thus “itself sufficient to render the process fundamentally unfair”;
  • the student's supposed hearing was instead a “sham” when two out of the three hearing officials had not even read the investigative report, so that they decided guilt “based on the accusation rather than the evidence”;
  • the hearing was also a sham because the hearing panelists found the accuser more credible than the accused without speaking with her or receiving her statement; and
  • finding the accuser credible was “all the more troubling” because the accused had “identified specific impeachment evidence,” including the accuser's anger for the accused having reported her suicide attempt.

The Seventh Circuit's decision in John Doe v Purdue University is significant because it predated the new federal regulations. The Seventh Circuit's decision thus stands as authoritative in Indiana even if the current administration soon removes some of the new regulations' protections for the accused, as many expect the current administration to do.

Indiana Contract and Torts Claims

Proving a Property Interest. Despite the above helpful authority, an accused student's claim for federal due process protections can be more difficult in Indiana than in other states. The John Doe v Purdue University opinion just discussed above reiterated the Seventh Circuit's minority position that a college or university student does not have a property interest in earning a degree simply on the fact of the degree program alone. Other federal circuits hold that a student does have a property interest in the sought-after degree and may thus invoke due process protections on that basis alone. The John Doe v Purdue University opinion confirmed instead that within the Seventh Circuit, the student must prove that the institution's discipline procedures broke its contractual promise in some way. The Seventh Circuit interpretations are federal law for Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Students in Indiana have more to plead and prove than students in other states. In John Doe v Purdue University, the student had not alleged any specific promise that Purdue University broke relating to his discipline. Fortunately for the student, though, the student had alleged a liberty interest in pursuing a Navy career. Due process requires either a property interest or a liberty interest. A liberty interest, like pursuing a special career, can be enough for procedural protections against student discipline in Indiana.

Proving a Contractual Promise. With skilled lawyer representation, a student may still plead and prove the school's contractual promise for protections against unfair discipline. Purdue University, for instance, publishes a Conduct Process for resolving misconduct charges. When a college or university publishes student policies and procedures, those policies and procedures can become part of the institution's contractual promise to the student. Purdue expressly states that it designed its Conduct Process “to provide the student certain procedural safeguards.” Those safeguards, which may constitute contract promises at Purdue, include the following:

The student is given the opportunity to hear the information that led to his/her charge; rebut statements made by witnesses; and present witness statements or any relevant information in the student's own behalf. The student also shall be given the opportunity to respond to any new information gathered during an investigation subsequent to the conference. The decision of the OSRR shall be based solely on information introduced at the conference and obtained during subsequent investigations. The finding shall be rendered by the original OSRR officer, who shall be present for all testimony and investigations by the OSRR office.

Indiana Tort Claims. Students facing false allegations of misconduct and other embarrassing and humiliating disclosures may also have Indiana tort claims. Prompt administrative relief within the school may well be the preferred course. Swift dismissal of the charges and prompt reinstatement to the school may be far better than court relief occurring months or even years later. But promptly asserting tort claims can influence a school and its officials to conform their behavior to acceptable norms and, in some cases, to provide prompt student relief. For example, Indiana tort law recognizes claims for defamation including both the oral slander and written libel forms. Even a false Facebook post could, in Indiana, constitute defamation for which the one making the post would be liable.

Indiana also recognizes invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress as tort liability claims. Invasion of privacy can include making distressing public disclosures of private conduct, around which one has a reasonable expectation of privacy. False accusations of student misconduct, especially sexual misconduct, may damage character and be defamatory. But even true disclosures of consensual intimate conduct can distress an accused student, giving rise to invasion claims. Invasion of privacy can also be a Class A misdemeanor in Indiana when involving certain orders. These tort rights and claims can keep accusers and school officials from harming an accused student. They can also give the already-harmed accused student grounds on which to negotiate appropriate relief.

Limitations Periods in Indiana. Those who seek to enforce their rights in the courts must do so within specific periods that state law defines. Under Indiana Code §34-11-2-11, the limitations period in Indiana for bringing a contract claim based on a written contract is ten years. That limitation period would apply to a student's breach of contract claims based on violations of a school's written contract promises. Indiana Code §34-11-2-7 shortens to six years claims based on oral contracts. Indiana Code §34-11-2-4 provides a two-year limitation period for libel, slander, invasion of privacy, and similar actions for “injury to person or character.”

Indiana Public Universities

Indiana University is a public research university with over 40,000 students on its main Bloomington campus. Indiana Code Title 21, Article 20 establishes Indiana University. Indiana University enrolls many more students at branch campuses in Indianapolis, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Kokomo, and other state locations. Indiana University maintains a broad Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct. The Code's Responsibilities section defines academic and other misconduct. Indiana University maintains a separate Student Sexual Misconduct Policy with separate Title IX Complaint Resolution Procedures. Indiana's Title IX policies and procedures comply with the new federal Title IX regulations effective August 2020.

Purdue University is a land-grant public university enrolling approximately 38,000 students on its main West Lafayette campus. Indiana Code Title 21, Article 23 establishes Purdue University. Purdue enrolls another 30,000 students at satellite campuses around the state, notably in Indianapolis. Its lengthy Student Conduct Code addresses academic and other forms of student misconduct. Purdue maintains a separate Title IX Policy and separate Title IX Procedures conforming to new August 2020 Title IX regulations.

Indiana State University is a public university in Terre Haute offering over 100 undergraduate degrees and 75 graduate and professional degrees. Indiana Code Title 21, Article 21 establishes Indiana State University. Indiana State maintains a Code of Student Conduct defining both academic and non-academic misconduct with separate Title IX Policy and Procedures.

Ball State University is a public research university with its main campus in Muncie and satellite locations in Indianapolis and Fishers. Indiana Code Title 21, Article 19 establishes Ball State University. Ball State maintains a Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities proscribing many forms of student misconduct while incorporating a separate Title IX Policy, Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy, and Student Academic Ethics Policy.

Other public colleges and universities in Indiana include the University of Southern Indiana outside Evansville, Vincennes University in Vincennes, and Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Expect any public college or university in Indiana to have its own student conduct code and a Title IX sexual misconduct policy and procedure complying with federal regulations.

Indiana Private Universities

The University of Notre Dame located in South Bend is Indiana's flagship private university, enrolling just under 9,000 students. The University of Notre Dame maintains Standards of Conduct that include academic and non-academic forms of student misconduct. It also maintains a separate Policy on Discriminatory Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Other Sex-Based Misconduct, addressing both Title IX and non-Title IX forms of sexual misconduct.

Other notable private colleges and universities in Indiana include the University of Evansville, Franklin College, and Valparaiso University in those cities, Marion University and Butler University in Indianapolis, Depauw University in Greencastle, Taylor University in Upland, and Wabash College in Crawfordsville. Each of these schools maintains student conduct codes plus Title IX policies and procedures satisfying regulations for federal funding.

Retain Expert National Academic Lawyer Representation

If you face a college or university misconduct charge in Indiana, don't attempt to handle the matter alone, without expert help. And don't rely on a representative who lacks the extensive knowledge and experience that you get when retaining national academic lawyer defense counsel. Instead, do the smart thing. Promptly retain national college and university defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for your defense. Know your legal rights in Indiana. Rely on and enforce those rights with the best available lawyer representation. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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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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