Picture this: You're a college student who spends the vast majority of their time in the library, engulfed in textbooks, and in class. You carry a full course load and the stress that comes with it. Suddenly, you receive written notice that you've been accused of misconduct—maybe plagiarism, a remote testing violation, or something as serious as sexual harassment.
Without much time to process what's happening, you find yourself speaking with a case investigator. You haven't had time to formulate a plan, digest the allegations against you, or anticipate what an investigator may ask. You tell a mistruth, whether because you're flustered or think it will help solve your problem. With this lie, you've placed yourself at risk of sanctions harsher than those you originally faced.
If you've made a mistake and told a lie, you need an attorney-advisor's representation—no matter how innocuous your reason for the lie may be. You should also retain an advisor if you've been falsely accused of lying to a university official. Your best move would be to have an experienced attorney in your corner from before any meetings with the school in any capacity, but your next best move is to make certain you take not further steps without experienced counsel.
Universities may be forgiving of an initial offense but may view lying during the investigative process as an intentional, egregious offense. You could face suspension, or expulsion, or worse. Hire attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento to guide you through the disciplinary process.
Forms of Misconduct That Universities May Investigate and Adjudicate
Before a charge of lying during a university investigation arises, there is an initial investigation. Universities generally conduct disciplinary investigations when someone accuses a student of:
- Sexual misconduct
- Inappropriate use of technology
- Destruction or defacement of university property
- Illegal possession of drugs or alcohol
- Threatening acts
- Completing academic work for another student
- Fraud or falsification of documents
- Any other act that violates university policy
Students can turn a fairly minor infraction into a more serious one by lying to university officials. The natural instinct to protect one's reputation—through lying or other means—is reason enough to hire an attorney-advisor. An advisor can talk sense into an accused student, explaining how to mitigate, rather than exacerbate, a problem.
Some students and families don't hire an advisor as soon as they should. By the time an attorney enters the picture, the student may have already told an untruth. Even in these cases, an attorney can be of great assistance, and it would be misguided to not have professional help to try to rectify such a significant concern.
Culture Tells College Students That Lying Is of Little Consequence
In many respects, university students are taught that dishonesty is acceptable—a necessary means of getting ahead, even. Popular culture often glorifies those who cut corners to “succeed,” and real-world news stories only verify this ethos.
The Varsity Blues college admissions scandal exposed how parents of means can purchase entry into elite universities for their children. Sure, those parents have to pretend their child is an elite athlete or allow a stranger to take their kid's SAT for them, but the reward—admittance to the University of Southern California or Yale—is well worth the price.
While some of the guilty parents did face justice, students who read about the Varsity Blues scandal got the message: If extremely successful people think nothing of flouting the rules, why should I follow them religiously?
The defendants in Operation Varsity Blues are hardly the only ones sending the message that lying is an effective means of self-protection or even self-propulsion. Pleading the Fifth is so common among successful Americans that most don't think twice about its deeper implications.
And yet, universities will compromise a college student's entire future because they tell a lie. Countless students face suspension, expulsion, shame, and stigma because they misspeak or have a momentary lapse in judgment. These students deserve an advocate who will fight for a fair outcome.
Why Do Students Lie to University Officials During Misconduct Investigations?
Many college-age students don't fully grasp the consequences of lying—even if the lie is to a university official. Data suggests that high school students lie, on average, 4.1 times per 24 hours. These habits don't simply dissipate when a high schooler enters university.
Maturation takes time, but unfortunately, collegiate disciplinary processes don't allow students the grace to mature. Many disciplinary policies lack the understanding that a student may lie because:
- They are frightened, confused, anxious, and compromised cognitively because of these emotional states
- They believe that telling the truth will lead to overly punitive consequences
- The university has not explained the gravity of lying during a disciplinary investigation
- The university has not explained the student's right to have an advisor assist them—an advisor who would explain the consequences of lying to a university official
Students accused of wrongdoing may be facing an “investigator” for the first time in their life. With little time to prepare and no blueprint for proper conduct, a flustered student may leave out a fact or tell a lie. Young people make mistakes, have lapses in judgment, and act impulsively.
Once a lie goes on the record, a student must focus on mitigating any harm that their lie could cause.
Examples of Lies That Students Tell University Officials During Misconduct Investigations
The nature of a student's lie may depend on the allegations that they face.
Sexual Misconduct Investigation
A student facing allegations of sexual misconduct may lie by:
- Claiming to have never had a sexual relationship with the complainant
- Creating a false alibi for the time that the alleged offense occurred
- Destroying evidence and lying about the destruction of evidence
An allegation of sexual wrongdoing is already very serious. The university may impose even stronger sanctions if it determines that you lied during the course of a sexual misconduct investigation.
Academic Misconduct Investigation
Academic misconduct is one of the more common types of student misconduct. One may lie during an academic misconduct investigation by:
- Erasing text messages to cover up academic collusion
- Disposing of cheat sheets, an advance copy of an exam, or other evidence of academic dishonesty
- Denying valid allegations of academic wrongdoing
You can defend yourself from allegations of academic dishonesty without lying. If you did lie, you will need to defend both the allegation of academic wrongdoing and the subsequent lie.
Violent Conduct Investigation
Someone investigating alleged violence may accuse you of lying if:
- You attribute your own or another person's injuries to a false cause (when they are in fact attributable to the act of violence that you stand accused of)
- You coerce a victim of violence into denying their victimhood
- You attempt to conceal criminal proceedings related to an act of violence
Many universities may expel students who they deem responsible for violence. You will need a capable attorney-advisor in such a case.
Whatever the nature of your initial misconduct investigation, a lie can expose you to harsher sanctions. Before defending an alleged lie, your attorney-advisor will determine whether your actions qualify as lying at all.
What Qualifies as a Lie?
Your school may count both implied and explicit falsehoods as lies. In addition to written or spoken mistruths, your university may issue sanctions for:
- Presenting false documents to university officials
- Coercing someone, including witnesses in a misconduct case, to present false information
- Creating false evidence in a misconduct case
- Committing any other act that constitutes dishonest behavior during the investigation or adjudication process
Baylor University publishes cases of students sanctioned for, in effect, lying to university officials. These cases involve not just misconduct but lying about misconduct under questioning. Specific examples include:
- A student lying about the date that they submitted a contract when a professor questioned them about it
- Students faking illness to avoid taking examinations, then doubling down on the excuse under questioning
- A student falsely claiming to have contacted the IT department for help with an exam, then lying again when a professor questioned them
Students in each of these examples had varying lies, but all had something in common: When questioned about their initial transgression, they failed to come clean.
If you are charged with lying to university officials during a misconduct investigation, then your offense may look similar to those listed above.
Which University Personnel Are You Prohibited from Lying To?
The definition of a “university official” may also be relevant to your case. If your attorney-advisor proves that the person you allegedly lied to was not a university official, then your case may be dismissed on technical grounds. According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), school officials may include:
- Presidents of the university or specific departments
- The university Chancellor
- Board members
- Accountants working for the university
- Human resources professionals
- Information systems specialists
- Support or clerical personnel
- Admissions officers
- Attorneys representing the university
If your lie occurred during the course of a misconduct investigation, then an investigator, professor, hearing board, or Dean of Student Affairs may likely be the “university official” that you're accused of lying to.
How Does Your School Handle Allegations of Lying to a University Official?
Many universities use a hybrid model when adjudicating alleged student misconduct. In this model, an assigned investigator may speak with the person accusing you of lying. The investigator may also speak with you, gather evidence from all parties, and present a report to a Hearing Board. The Hearing Board will conduct a hearing and rule on your case. You may then appeal if necessary. Villanova University and the University of Chicago are two of many schools that use a hybrid model.
The Columbia Law Review (CLR) explains, however, that schools are increasingly adopting new approaches to discipline. An alternative to the hybrid model is the investigative model. Per CLR, the investigative model occurs when:
“A trained investigator or investigators interview the complainant and alleged perpetrator, gather physical evidence, interview available witnesses—and then either render a finding, present a recommendation, or even work out an acceptance-of-responsibility agreement with the offender.”
It is vital that you learn exactly how your school adjudicates a claim of lying to university officials. An attorney-advisor will dive into university literature to determine the course that your case will follow.
What Are the Possible Stages of Your Case?
The hybrid model is the one that we see most commonly for misconduct allegations, including allegations of lying to university investigators. You may have already experienced your school's disciplinary process because you were previously the subject of a misconduct review.
Your school may re-start the adjudication process for an allegation of lying or may merge the allegation of lying into your current proceedings. If your school employs the hybrid model, then you can expect:
Notice of Allegations
Universities generally notify students in writing of formal allegations against them. The notice may provide a date and time for a meeting with a case investigator. It may also provide instructions if you need to reschedule the meeting or require special accommodations.
The Opportunity for an Informal Resolution
Universities spend significant time and resources adjudicating misconduct allegations. Your school may offer you the chance to admit wrongdoing and accept proposed sanctions. When advising you about whether to admit wrongdoing, your attorney-advisor may consider:
- The sanctions that your university proposes
- The strength of evidence against you
- Other circumstances specific to you and your case
You should not accept an informal resolution without consulting your advisor. A quick resolution may be tempting, but the long-term ramifications could be devastating.
An Investigative Meeting
You should bring your advisor along when you meet with the investigator, if permitted to do so. Your advisor will protect you from any further instances of miscommunication with an investigator.
An Adjudication Hearing and Decision
Adjudication hearings generally allow you to:
- Tell your side of the story
- Present witnesses who can speak to case facts
- Present character witnesses
- Question your own witnesses, as well as witnesses who are critical of you
- Present evidence that absolves you of wrongdoing
- Respond to evidence that suggests wrongdoing
An attorney-advisor may lead these proceedings for you. Some universities allow your advisor to be present during your hearing, while others do not. University policy will also dictate the degree of involvement that your advisor can have during the hearing.
You will receive a decision about your case, usually a week or less following your hearing. If you disagree with any aspect of the decision—interpretation of facts, sanctions, finding of responsibility, or otherwise—then you may be able to appeal.
Most universities allow appeals when:
- The imposed sanctions are automatically eligible for appeal
- New evidence has emerged that could have affected the university's ruling on your case
- The handling of your case was improper
- Sanctions are overly punitive based on the alleged offense
You are typically able to appeal any suspension or expulsion. Universities generally require appellants to file their notice appeal within days of their case decision. Having an advisor who is ready to appeal may be critical to your appeal's success.
University-Issued Sanctions for Lying to a University Official During a Misconduct Investigation
You never know what you'll get when it comes to university sanctions. A ten-year investigation into academic fraud at the University of North Carolina—a case involving professors, administrators, regular students, and student-athletes—resulted in no sanctions. Conversely, a stellar student accused of lying may receive sanctions as serious as expulsion.
Students facing possible penalties from their university should generally brace for the worst. The range of university-issued sanctions for lying during a misconduct investigation may reflect those of Texas A&M University (TAMU). TAMU grants its Honor Council the power to:
- Expel students from the university
- Suspend students
- Place students on probation
- Fail students on an assignment or in a course
- Order students to attend developmental programs
Critically, TAMU's disciplinary policies note that “The usual penalty for a second offense is separation from the university.” If you're accused of lying during a misconduct meeting and are deemed guilty of the original misconduct, then your school may consider the lie a “second offense.” You may, at the very least, face suspension.
Additional Problems That Can Arise If You're Found Responsible for Lying
Academic sanctions often extend to most corners of a student's life. This is especially true when you're facing suspension or expulsion. Sanctions that appear inconsequential, such as a reprimand in your academic file, can:
- Deter prospective employers from hiring you
- Deter graduate programs from accepting you
- Diminish an otherwise impressive academic record
Being denied for graduate school or missing out on professional opportunities can cause significant harm. The angle of your career trajectory may fall. Your earning power may suffer. You may not achieve the professional goals that you have envisioned. These issues may extend to your personal life in various ways.
This is not dramatized speculation. The weight of student debt and immense competition for jobs means that your college career is under the microscope. You must understand the gravity of misconduct allegations in order to launch the necessary defense.
Do Not Assume That Your School Will Afford You Due Process
Even if you've been falsely accused of lying to a university official, you must put forth a vigorous defense.
There are documented cases of students being booted from major universities without due process. University of Virginia (UVA) student Christopher Leggett was accused of cheating, then accused of lying about the cheating. UVA expelled Leggett without trial. A panel eventually found Leggett not guilty, but only after he'd been expelled.
Christopher Leggett's story shows what can go wrong during collegiate disciplinary procedures. You have a right to due process, but due process is not a given. If you fail to defend yourself and secure an acceptable case outcome, then you may face the consequences for the remainder of your life.
What Is a College Attorney-Advisor?
A college attorney-advisor defends students from alleged wrongdoing—in this case, lying to university officials. Effective advisors familiarize themselves with:
- Their client, as a person
- The facts of their client's case
- The specific allegations levied against their client
- The applicable university's adjudication process
- The range of sanctions for alleged misconduct
- Defenses that a university may accept
As the name suggests, you want an attorney-advisor with legal training. Just as important is the advisor's experience. You should consider whether the advisor specializes in student defense, has experience handling cases like yours, and is passionate about protecting students' rights.
Do You Need an Attorney-Advisor for Your Case?
You can decide if you need an attorney-advisor for your case. Know that an attorney-advisor can:
- Leverage their past experience in handling your case
- Explain, based on their experience and research, what you can expect from the disciplinary process
- Gather evidence, speak with witnesses, and create a comprehensive defense
- Deal directly with parties involved in your case
- Advise you throughout your case
- Represent you during your hearing (if they are permitted to)
- File and complete your appeal
Life goes on when you are accused of lying to university officials. You have existing responsibilities that require your attention, but you must also prepare the strongest defense that you can. By hiring an attorney-advisor for your case, you cover all of your bases.
The value of an attorney-advisor may be immeasurable. What price do you put on a strong defense, dismissal of the allegations against you, or avoidance of serious sanctions?
Attorney-Advisor Joseph D. Lento Is Prepared to Help
The Lento Law Firm offers nationwide student misconduct defense. Regardless of which school you are facing discipline from, attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. He and his team are likely already familiar with your university's disciplinary processes, as student discipline defense across the United States is the Firm's focus day in and day out.
While your university may mean well, its conduct office and administrators are not your lawyers. You deserve an advocate whose sole responsibility is defending you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his dedicated team will be your advocates throughout the disciplinary process.
Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. If you prefer, you may submit your case to us online. We are available 24/7 to speak with you.