Misconduct Charges at Columbia Southern University

Columbia Southern University is a for-profit online university based in Alabama. Columbia Southern enrolls about 15,000 undergraduate students and 5,000 more graduate students in bachelor's, master's, and doctorate programs from business and criminal justice to psychology, information technology, and other technical fields.

Like other for-profit institutions of higher education, Columbia Southern University advertises and emphasizes the affordable, flexible, and accessible nature of its program. Those commitments are all good. Students who don't have the time, means, or flexibility to attend more-traditional public or private-nonprofit schools may be able to attend Columbia Southern University or another for-profit online institution.

Low graduation rates, though, are a significant downside of for-profit schools with an access mission. The schools may not always be to blame. Whether a student graduates or not, access schools give students a chance at graduation, which in part justifies their access mission. But accrediting agencies require that all schools, including for-profit online access schools like Columbia Southern, provide adequate educational support and resources to give students a real chance at graduation.

No for-profit school should be sustaining enrollment to line investors' pockets by using sharp practices, like those methods indicated in this report on the bankruptcy of one national for-profit-college chain. The report shows the bankrupt for-profit having to repay the federal government millions for illicitly gained federal loan funds. Some schools unfairly dismiss students for failing to progress or for trumped-up misconduct charges while keeping the loans funding the dismissed student's tuition.

Your experience at Columbia Southern University may have been a good one. But don't let Columbia Southern University ignore its own policies and procedures while treating you unfairly in a dismissal proceeding. National academic-misconduct attorney and advisor Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm wants to educate you about your rights as a student at Columbia Southern University.

Misconduct Policies at Columbia Southern University

Academic misconduct within higher education comes in many different forms and with a long history. Read more here for additional context about college academic misconduct. Student misconduct is a substantial and legitimate concern throughout higher education, including at for-profit institutions like Columbia Southern University, even if institutions often do not follow their own policies. Columbia Southern University's student handbook contains the policies that the university commits to following when regulating student conduct, including academic-integrity, academic-progress, and Title IX policies, and a student-conduct code. Consider here what each policy prohibits and defines as sanctionable misconduct.

Academic Integrity. Columbia Southern University's academic-integrity policy in its student handbook broadly prohibits cheating, plagiarism, and self-plagiarism. The handbook defines cheating as using or attempting to use unauthorized materials … to fulfill scholastic requirements with the intent to defraud, giving as examples contract cheating, submission of another student's work, purchasing assignments, collusion, or submitting an assignment with the intent to defraud. The handbook defines plagiarism as representing the words, ideas, or works of an author without giving proper attribution to source. And the handbook defines self-plagiarism as submitting previously submitted course work without prior professor approval. Possible sanctions for violating the academic-integrity policy include point deduction, assignment failure, course failure, probation, university dismissal, or degree revocation.

Academic Progress. Columbia Southern University's student handbook includes a separate academic-progress policy that requires students to remain in good standing with at least a 2.0 grade-point average in undergraduate programs and 3.0 grade-point average in graduate programs. The school places on probation students whose grade point falls below the minimum. If the student does not raise the grade point to the minimum within the next twelve course credits, then the school suspends the student for progressively longer periods before each reinstatement that does not result in the student earning the grade-point minimum. Columbia Southern reserves the right to dismiss a student based on demonstrated academic performance failing to show satisfactory progress.

Student Conduct Code. Columbia Southern University's student handbook includes a separate student code of conduct that prohibits students from the following actions, sanctions for which can include warning, probation, loss of academic credit, suspension, or conduct dismissal:

  • disrespect of university personnel;
  • inappropriate communication such as harassment, prejudice, stalking, offensive language, threats, abuse, insults, or humiliation made within the university environment;
  • demeaning comments including but not limited to those regarding an individual's religion, race, age, sexual orientation, or making unwanted sexual advances or intimidations;
  • breaches of privacy, hacking passwords or systems, distribution or replication of copyrighted materials, unauthorized distribution of instructional materials, or use of illegal or unlicensed software;
  • intentional breach of university policy or procedures;
  • reproduction of university materials to include course content, assessments, or other materials deemed to be the property of the university;
  • using or purchasing work that is not the student's own;
  • disruptive behavior that hinders or interferes with the educational process;
  • harassment or intimidation that has the effect of creating an offensive educational environment for any student, faculty, or staff member;
  • conduct that is disorderly, lewd, lascivious, indecent or otherwise inappropriate;
  • violation of any local, state, or federal law; or
  • displaying harmful or threatening behavior towards students, faculty, or other university personnel.

Title IX Violations. Any college or university receiving federal funding must comply with federal Title IX, including its new regulations effective August 14, 2020. Read more here about those recent Title IX interpretive changes. The current federal interpretation limits Title IX's reach to only these three forms of sexual misconduct, each of which Columbia Southern University's Title IX policy also prohibits:

  • sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking;
  • quid-pro-quo harassment (attempting to trade favors for sex); or
  • unwelcome conduct so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive as to deny equal access to education based on sex.

Columbia Southern University's Title IX policy prohibits other forms of misconduct beyond the above strict definitions. Those prohibited acts include threats of physical harm, extreme emotional abuse, other conduct endangering health, intimidation, bullying, and sexual exploitation, including sexual voyeurism, invasion of sexual privacy, recording of sexual activity without consent, prostituting another person, sexual intimacy without disclosing a sexually transmitted disease, incapacitating another person for sex, misappropriation of identity, sexual blackmail, soliciting of minors, sex trafficking, and child pornography.

Misconduct Procedures at Columbia Southern University

The procedures that a college or university employs can markedly influence a disciplinary proceeding's outcome when determining the truth of disputed allegations. Consider the following outline of Columbia Southern University's student-misconduct procedures as to academic integrity, academic progress, the student conduct code, and Title IX violations.

Academic Integrity. Columbia Southern University's student handbook does not clearly state or list any procedures for determining alleged violations of its academic-integrity policy. Its only clear implication is that the involved instructor makes the determination.

Academic Progress. Columbia Southern University's student handbook does not state or list procedures for determining alleged violations of its academic-progress policy. The handbook does state that reinstatement requests after suspension for failure to show satisfactory academic progress go to the registrar and that a Reinstatement Committee decides requests. The handbook does not indicate Committee procedures, nor does it indicate who decides on a student's dismissal for failure to show satisfactory progress. The handbook does state that appeals from dismissal go to an Appeals Board through the Office of the Registrar.

Student Conduct Code. Columbia Southern University's student handbook lists these procedures for determining alleged violations of its student code of conduct. The school's director of student resolution conducts an investigation for evidence supporting any misconduct complaint. That director notifies the accused student of any charge, to which the student must respond at risk of a non-response violation. The director appoints a three-member panel of university employees to review the evidence and student response and decide the allegations. The school places a copy of the decision with supporting fact-finding in the student's file. The student handbook does not describe any hearing, advisor rights, rights to question witnesses, or other procedural protections.

Title IX Procedures. Colleges and universities receiving complaints about Title IX sexual misconduct must follow federal Title IX regulations when determining whether misconduct occurred. Changes to those federal Title IX procedures in 2020 guarantee the accused a hearing at which the accused has the right to attend and cross-examine the accuser and other witnesses to expose false allegations. Columbia Southern University's student handbook mentions only limited Title IX procedures, directing complaints to its Title IX coordinator. Columbia Southern University's Title IX procedures instead appear in another Title IX policy.

Columbia Southern University's Title IX procedures include the Title IX coordinator's initial assessment of the complaint. The accused student may retain an attorney advisor to help the student through the proceeding but not to present or question at any meeting other than the formal hearing, when the advisor may cross-examine witnesses. If the matter proceeds to the university's Formal Grievance Process, then the coordinator appoints an investigator to gather evidence following elaborate procedures and a single Decision-maker. Witnesses must testify at the hearing, or the Decision-maker may not consider their information. The Decision-maker decides applying a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard. An aggrieved student may appeal the decision.

An Attorney-Advisor's Role

Students have a lot on the line when a misconduct charge threatens their enrollment. Not only do students generally lack the skill to navigate complex procedures, but disciplinary proceedings also often frighten, distract, and depress students.

Don't let Columbia Southern University intimidate you with false or exaggerated misconduct charges. Attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm is a national academic-misconduct advisor with the skill and experience to successfully defend against misconduct charges. Columbia Southern University's procedures provide protections that enable Joseph D. Lento to assess allegations, identify evidence to present, identify how to challenge the complainant's evidence, cross-examine witnesses in a Title IX proceeding, and analyze and appeal adverse findings, to defeat false or exaggerated charges.

Don't underestimate the value of an experienced attorney-advisor or the impact of misconduct charges that can affect your reputation, education, and career. Thousands of college and university students nationwide have retained Joseph D. Lento at the Lento Law Firm to defend and defeat misconduct allegations. Joseph D. Lento has the expertise to help you navigate and defeat a misconduct charge at Columbia Southern University and to address all school-related issues and concerns. 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 our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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