Where We Can Help: Student Misconduct at Michigan Colleges and Universities

Are you a student or the parent of student at a Michigan 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 Michigan 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 Michigan protect their academic and professional future, and he can do the same for you. Contact him today at 888-535-3686.

An Overview of Michigan Student Discipline and Student Rights

If your college or university in Michigan has accused you of misconduct, it can seem overwhelming. Whether you're facing a Title IX, sexual misconduct, academic misconduct, or code of conduct violation, the consequences can be severe and may have a significant impact on your future. Most large academic institutions have a team of lawyers at their disposal, and if you try to go it alone or with someone not suited to the task, they can use their legal and administrative heft to stack the odds against you at the school level and potentially beyond.

You might feel defeated if your school has levied charges against you, but you do have rights, and you deserve a fair hearing – especially since you've worked so long and hard to get to where you are. You have a better shot at a favorable outcome if you have an experienced student misconduct attorney-advisor on your side. It is also essential to familiarize yourself with the laws, policies, and procedures related to different types of student misconduct in Michigan, as well as what to expect from your individual college or university.

Academic Misconduct Allegations in Michigan Schools

If you are accused of misconduct at your Michigan college or university, odds are your particular institution has its own code of conduct detailing specific procedures for handling these types of violations. Michigan has several large academic institutions that serve many thousands of students, with some of the most notable being Michigan State University, Oakland University, and the University of Michigan. As the first step in your defense, it is important to understand your school's position on misconduct cases and the type of penalty you can expect to receive if you are found guilty.

Michigan State University

With nearly 50,000 students, Michigan State University (MSU) is one of the largest universities in the United States. MSU was founded in 1855 and has multiple graduate programs that are ranked among the top in the nation. Michigan State University requires all students to take a code of honor academic pledge, which states that students will “practice honesty in their work, foster honesty in their peers, and take pride in knowing that honor is worth more than grades.”

At Michigan State University, the types of misconduct outlined in the academic code of conduct include the following, which are similar at many institutions in Michigan as well as other states:

  • Claiming or submitting the academic work of another as one's own.
  • Procuring, providing, accepting, or using any materials containing questions or answers to any examination or assignment without proper authorization.
  • Completing or attempting to complete any assignment or examination for another individual without proper authorization.
  • Allowing any examination or assignment to be completed for oneself, in part or in total, by another without proper authorization.
  • Altering, tampering with, appropriating, destroying, or otherwise interfering with the research, resources, or other academic work of another person.
  • Fabricating or falsifying data or results.

If you are in violation of any of the terms outlined in the contract, a faculty member at the university will complete an academic dishonesty report. This creates an official record of misconduct within the university that can be viewed by all officials and faculty. Possible penalties for academic misconduct may include the following, which are also similar at many schools in Michigan and across the country:

  • For minor offenses, a reprimand on a student's internal record that does not carry over to the transcript
  • Disciplinary probation
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

At MSU, students may appeal an academic dishonesty report by speaking with the faculty member who filed it. Students may also appeal to the chair of a particular department or request a formal hearing if a satisfactory resolution cannot be achieved. Because penalties for academic dishonesty offenses can be severe and detrimental to a student's education and future career, anyone who has been accused of academic dishonesty needs to remember that they have rights, and these charges can be fought.

University of Michigan

The University of Michigan was founded in 1817 in Detroit and is the oldest in the state. The university consists of a primary campus in Ann Arbor, as well as two regional campuses in Dearborn and Flint. More than 46,000 students currently attend the University of Michigan as undergraduate or graduate students.

Within the University of Michigan system, academic dishonesty is defined as “any action or attempted action that may result in creating an unfair academic advantage for oneself or an unfair academic advantage or disadvantage for any other member or members of the academic community.” The university defines the following types of misconduct as academic dishonesty:

  • Cheating, which is defined as “committing fraud and/or deception on a record, report, paper, computer assignment, examination, or any other course requirement.
  • Plagiarism, which is defined as “representing someone else's ideas, words, statements, or other work as one's own without proper acknowledgement or citation.”
  • Unacceptable collaboration, including passing off the work of another student as one's own.
  • Falsification of data, records, or official documents.
  • Aiding and abetting dishonesty.
  • Unauthorized or malicious interference or tampering with faculty, administrative, or staff offices, including computers.
  • Classroom disturbances that could create an unfair academic advantage for oneself or disadvantage for another member of the academic community.

At the University of Michigan, the instructor will report suspected academic dishonesty to the assistant dean's office, where the allegations will be investigated. Oftentimes a student and instructor will agree on a resolution, but if this cannot be achieved the assistant dean's office may issue sanctions including:

  • A letter of reprimand
  • Disciplinary probation, including notation on transcript
  • Community service
  • Suspension, including notation on transcript
  • Permanent expulsion
  • Withholding of a degree

University of Michigan students found guilty of academic misconduct may submit a written appeal to the assistant dean's office and the academic judiciary committee within two weeks of the date of the resolution letter.

Oakland University

Established in 1957, Oakland University is a private research university in Auburn Hills and Rochester Hills. It has more than 20,000 students currently enrolled, making it the second largest university in the Detroit metropolitan area. Oakland University’s code of conduct requires students to demonstrate integrity, community, respect, and responsibility in their actions and academic work. Violations may include academic dishonesty, falsification, unauthorized access, collusion or conspiracy, or stolen property.

Possible sanctions for misconduct at Oakland University include reprimand, probation, suspension or removal from the university or an organization within the university, expulsion, and revocation or withholding of a degree. Students may appeal a decision within 10 days of receiving a written notification of the decision in their case.

Title IX Misconduct Allegations in Michigan Schools

Another common type of misconduct among college students involves Title IX violations. Most college students have probably heard of Title IX and know it exists to prevent gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment or violence, but the actual rules and regulations of Title IX are complex and constantly evolving. This can make Title IX violations difficult to define and understand without the help of an experienced attorney or legal advisor. In general, Title IX violations include the following types of misconduct:

  • Gender discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sex violence, including rape or sexual abuse or assault, battery, or coercion
  • Retaliation
  • Creating a hostile environment

To ensure the best possible defense against Title IX violation accusations, you will need a skilled Title IX attorney on your side who has an in-depth understanding of how Title IX policies work in Michigan and what you need to do to achieve a favorable outcome.

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in federally funded schools. Title IX applies to public K through 12 schools and public and state colleges and universities, including those in Michigan.

Title IX states that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Federally funded schools in Michigan must protect against discrimination in college admissions, athletics, employment, and financial aid. Sexual harassment and assault are also violations of Title IX.

Title IX Procedures in Michigan

We certainly understand that being hit with accusations of Title IX violations can be devastating and shocking for any college student. Still, it's important to remember that all students who are accused are guaranteed certain rights under federal law. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title IX investigations on all college campuses, including those in Michigan, are required to adhere to the following procedures:

  • Students have the right to a written notice of allegations, as well as the right to an advocate and to submit, examine, and challenge evidence.
  • Students have the right to a live hearing that involves cross-examination by advisors.
  • Students have the right to an impartial finding based on evidence, using either the preponderance or clear-and-convincing evidence standards.
  • Schools must allow both parties an equal chance to appeal findings.

New Sexual Misconduct Legislation in Michigan

Based on new federal Title IX regulations that took effect in 2020, Michigan State University – along with other institutions in the state – have updated their policies. This includes the following considerations:

  • Defining prohibited conduct, including relationship violence, sexual misconduct, and stalking.
  • Clarifying that Title IX regulations also apply to employees.
  • Explaining the process for responding to and addressing reports of Title IX violations or misconduct.
  • Allowing claimants to decide whether an investigation will include a formal grievance process.
  • Explaining available resources, including university-provided advisors.
  • Conducting an equitable and fair investigation and hearing with a realistic time frame.
  • Streamlining investigations and allowing all parties to review evidence prior to the submission of a final report.
  • Setting clear reporting expectations for university faculty and staff.

The new regulations will enhance procedural protections for students accused of sexual misconduct. In response to a formal complaint of sexual harassment, a college or university must provide the accused student with notice of the allegations, as well as adequate time to prepare for meetings, gather evidence, and present at a live hearing with their attorney or advisor present. Additionally, all investigators at the university must be unbiased, and just like in a criminal trial, the student must be presumed innocent until found guilty.

Due Process in Michigan Schools

Schools must give students due process in Title IX hearings. Simply put, due process refers to the state's requirement to respect your legal rights. In particular, they cannot decide upon or enact a penalty until you have heard and understood your charges and been given adequate time and opportunity to defend yourself. Due process ensures that a student cannot be unfairly punished without first going through a specified process to determine their guilt, usually a trial or some other type of investigation.

A disciplinary allegation that can result in suspension or expulsion should entitle a student to more due process than a minor matter resulting in only a written warning. Due process rights come from the idea that a school is taking something important from you, such as a right or a property interest. Due process sounds fairly straightforward, but it can still lead to complex and conflicting decisions in court.

Property Interests

Many colleges and universities argue that the disciplinary process is an educational correction rather than a punitive action. This argument is often an attempt to avoid allowing students procedural due process rights during disciplinary matters. However, the law is clear – students have a right to due process protections at college whenever they have a property interest or a right or liberty interest at stake.

Your education is a property interest. A degree you've earned and the progress you've made towards your degree all have significant value to you. Losing a degree or hours of school credits isn't as serious as going to jail, but it has a significant impact on a student's life and long-term earning potential.

If a Michigan public college wants to suspend or expel a student, they can't simply take away a student's property interest in their education arbitrarily. The student is entitled to due process. However, the level of due process depends due a student depends on the severity of the sanction. The greater the sanction, the more due process a Michigan school must give the student.

Liberty Interests

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a disciplinary proceeding also implicates a liberty interest when a person's “good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake.” If a disciplinary proceeding harms a student's reputation and threatens their education, this is enough to involve a liberty and a property interest, requiring due process.

Free speech is also a liberty interest and many state constitutions, including Michigan's, give citizens an affirmative right to free speech. In 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to protect free speech on college campuses by ordering all federally funded institutions, including private schools receiving federal money, to comply with federal laws protecting speech. After that, the Department of Education published new proposed regulations addressing free speech in January of 2020.

In general, freedom of speech is protected at Michigan schools, but in 2019 a federal appeals court ruled that the University of Michigan may be limiting free speech by allowing certain groups to operate on campus. Speech First, a civil liberties group based in Washington, D.C., sued the University of Michigan to halt the activities of the bias response team, claiming the group's activities are illegal because they could stop students from “making statements or engaging in protests that some on campus might find offensive but might be protected under the First Amendment.” This ruling will likely impact how schools in the Midwest implement bias response teams.

Court Litigation Against Michigan Colleges

If it's necessary to take a conflict over alleged misconduct with your Michigan school to court, there are several basic legal grounds for doing so. You may be able to make arguments under Title IX, breach of contract, or violation of due process rights.

Title IX Court Litigation

If you can prove the outcome of a misconduct case was wrong and show evidence of gender bias in the decision or produce statements made by your school that demonstrate gender bias, you may have a valid claim against your school based on Title IX. The application of Title IX is quite broad, and if your school is found to be in violation of Title IX, they will likely be ordered to pay damages as well as your attorney fees.

Breach of Contract Claims

It is also possible to bring a claim against a college or university by arguing that the institution breached a contract laid out by the student handbook, code of conduct, or other written documents detailing disciplinary procedures and other responsibilities the school has to students. In recent examples, several students at first-rate colleges are suing their institutions for breach of contract following the implementation of COVID-19 prevention protocols last year. These students allege that moving courses online created an insufficient learning experience that did not meet their contractual expectations.

Due Process Violations

If a school takes a property or liberty interest related to your education from you, they must give you due process. These due process rights can vary based on whether your claim involves a Title IX case or another type of student disciplinary case. In general, you are entitled to notice of the charges. The notice should be specific enough to defend against the charges, and you must have the chance to plead your case before a neutral arbiter.

Early last year, a federal judge in Michigan ruled that the University of Michigan violated a student's due process rights by accusing him of sexual misconduct and then denying him a hearing and the chance to cross-examine his accuser. In the case, a female student alleged a sexual encounter was nonconsensual, while the male student maintained that it was consensual. There were no witnesses present. According to the court's ruling, since the case was based on credibility, the university is required to hold a live hearing that allows the accused student to cross-examine their accuser.

Administrative Mandamus

Michigan state schools are effectively agents of the state government, meaning you can challenge some decisions of the state through a writ of administrative mandamus. The writ is a request to a superior court to reverse a decision of a state administrative agency that might not have been supported by sufficient evidence.

The court can inquire whether:

  • The state acted in excess of its jurisdiction,
  • There was a fair trial, and
  • There was any prejudicial abuse of discretion.

Statute of Limitations

While litigation claims against colleges and universities nationwide will be quite similar, each state has its own statute of limitations, after which the courts bar you from bringing a claim. The statute of limitations in Michigan for possible claims include:

  • Breach of contract: For a written contract in Michigan, the statute of limitations in most cases is six years.
  • Due process violations: The statute of limitations for due process violations can vary based on the state or federal statutes involved and whether you file a state or federal claim. However, in Michigan, the general timeframe is three years.
  • Administrative mandamus: The statute of limitations for a writ of mandamus can vary widely, but it is preferable to file as soon as possible, ideally within 90 days.

Because the statutes of limitations can vary so widely, it's best to consult an experienced student discipline attorney as soon as possible to preserve any possible claims.

It's Time to Hire an Experienced Student Discipline Attorney-Advisor

When you're looking for an attorney-advisor to represent you in a student discipline case in Michigan, the most important factor will be your advisor's breadth of experience and skill. You need an attorney-advisor with years of experience handling a wide range of student discipline matters, as well as someone with advanced negotiation skills.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience as an attorney-advisor negotiating and litigating against thousands of colleges and universities nationwide. If there is a possible issue or concern affecting a student at a college or university, he's already seen it and resolved it, and he can help you. There is no reason that a misunderstanding or mistake should ruin your chances at a successful career or your future in academia.

When the schools stack their cards against you, you want the help of a skilled and experienced attorney. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or reach out to us 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 our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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