Has your teacher recently told you that you're not moving through the recommended coursework as quickly or as accurately as they'd like?
Do you have a sneaking suspicion that an allegation of cheating on your academic submissions might be in your future?
Have you received an allegation of misconduct? Whether you know what events led to that allegation or you're shocked, scratching your head, thinking that someone must have made a mistake somewhere along the line, you've got to do something about this, and you've got to do something about it quickly.
While every college student hopes that nothing traumatic and tricky will stand between them and their college degree, the truth is, it can be devastatingly easy to make a mistake (or be the victim of one) that leads to a dismissal or reputation-ruining suspension.
Consider what might happen if your school accuses you of any of the following actions:
- Repeated course withdrawals
- Consistently dwindling grades
- Sexual misconduct
- Theft or violence in the dorms
- Cheating or plagiarism
Now, think about what might happen if that information landed on your permanent student record or transcript — the same documents that a potential future employer (or future school) would pull before an interview.
You don't want that to happen.
At the Lento Law Firm, we want to empower you with information. We'll help you learn everything that a Montana college student needs to know to navigate these tricky code of conduct and academic failure to progress scenarios. Then, when you need any further assistance moving through your school's investigative and adjudicative phases, we'll also be able to provide any legal or defense support you may need.
Bookmark this page for later reference, and then we'll get started with some basic foundational information that every college student in Montana should know.
What Private and Public Colleges and Universities Are in Montana?
Montana's official state nickname is The Treasure State — and it may be that among its treasures are the state's public and private institutions of higher education. You're in good company no matter which school in Montana you go to. Here's a quick overview of the public and private schools in the state:
Public colleges and universities in Montana
- Montana State University
- Montana Technological University
- Salish Kootenai University
- University of Montana
- Stone Child College
The total enrollment at the University of Montana (across a few different campuses) is about 7,000, making it one of the most extensive college systems in this rural, Northern state. This means that the University of Montana's code of conduct sets a standard in many ways. Whenever we feel that referencing a real Montana school's code of conduct would punctuate a point well, we'll use the University of Montana's documentation as a guide. (That said, it's always a good idea to check your own school's regulations, just in case your school has specific expectations.)
Private colleges and universities in Montana
- Carroll College
- Rocky Mountain College
- University of Providence
Before we move further, let's take a moment to address a commonly-held misconception regarding private schools.
Many people believe that private schools don't have to follow the same government regulations that public schools must. While some private schools may enjoy a little more leeway and self-governance in some respects when compared to publicly-funded schools, the vast majority follow the same rules that public schools do.
There are several good reasons for this (including, for example, student safety), but one of the most prominent is money. To remain eligible for federal and state funding, a school will usually follow federal and state rules. Even if a school doesn't require any additional funds at a specific point in time, it'll usually want to leave the door open for that possibility, should the need arise later.
Now that we've established that these rules largely apply to all higher education institutions within the state, let's take a quick look at Montana's various governing bodies and regulations.
Statewide Higher Education Laws and Government Bodies in Montana
- Montana is part of the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. This court may hear cases and issue opinions that could affect how your school can operate from time to time. Keeping an eye on that queue of cases is probably a good idea.
- The Montana University System and the Montana Board of Regents oversee the policies, procedures, and processes of most schools in the state.
- The Montana Commissioner of Higher Education oversees the finances, development, and organization of the higher education institutions in the state. (This is also the governing body that you might make a third-party complaint to if you're having issues resolving a concern within your school.)
With these rules and entities established, let's start talking about what happens when a specific student garners negative attention from their academic institution.
What Is Failure to Progress? (And What Will Happen After a Failure to Progress Allegation at My Montana School?)
“Failure to progress” is a vague umbrella term. You may not know precisely what it means, but you know it isn't something you want to hear your teacher tell you (or pop up in your email inbox).
Your educator has some idea or standard, invisible or concrete, about how quickly you should be moving through the coursework they have set you. If you fail to measure up to that standard, you may be at risk for sanctions.
As this is a category of punishable behavior typically left up to your teacher's discretion, you could be in an awkward position if you don't have a great relationship with your educator. Your school may or may not delve into the issue further or even offer you any support, even if you indicate that you're struggling.
The types of actions that typically get labeled as “failure to progress” include:
- Failing to do everything that is required for your course (e.g., as denoted in your course curriculum)
- Repeatedly or consistently low grades in your coursework
- Failing to do the background reading for your courses
- Failing to take an adequate or minimum number of credits for either your program or your specific student status
- Repeatedly withdrawing from courses
- Failing to prepare specific (required) materials for classes or labs
- Frequently earning incompletes in courses
Suppose your educator decides to escalate your case to the school's administration. In that case, you may receive a suspension or expulsion for any of these actions, even if they seem relatively innocuous or easy to explain to you. As failure to progress situations can spiral out of control quite quickly, you need to make sure that you have a student defense advisor at your side the moment you see one coming into focus. Indeed, if your teacher starts mentioning that your work isn't up to snuff regularly, it's a good idea to save those emails or messages and contact a defense advisor to discuss your options.
What Are the Code of Conduct Infractions at My Montana School?
Failure to progress scenarios may be vague and (often) poorly defined, but there are other types of punishable behaviors that should be far more clear and itemized. You should be able to access a relatively comprehensive list of them very quickly.
Your Montana school should have a code of conduct or some document that lists your school's expectations regarding your behavior. (It may have a different name or be included as part of your school's student handbook. If you search the name of your school and the phrase “code of conduct” online, you should be able to pull it up without much difficulty.)
This difficult-to-read, complex document should contain lists of punishable behavior and your school's processes that follow allegations of misconduct. You may also be interested to see that this document includes lists of the sanctions you may be at risk of facing.
While it won't be easy to get through your Montana school's code of conduct, it's worth giving the document more than a quick skim. We're referencing the University of Montana's processes throughout this guide, and your school's procedures may vary. Fortunately, you don't have to go through your school's complicated documentation on your own. Your student defense attorney will be able to help point you in the right direction, translate the confusing legalese your school has in place, and even help you leverage your school's code of conduct to protect your rights and your future.
Now, let's get down to helpful definitions. What are the main types of misconduct found in most Montana school codes of conduct?
There are two main types: academic and sexual misconduct. We'll give a high-level overview of both right now.
Sexual Misconduct at Your Montana School
Under Title IX, one of the Educational Amendments first established in 1972, all schools (private and public) that hope to remain eligible for federal funding must promptly investigate all allegations of sexual misconduct. If they don't, they risk losing their funding.
This is a huge incentive.
Huge enough that many schools may rush through investigations, overlook student rights, and even provide overly harsh sanctions to make it clear that they are abiding by this federal regulation.
But what types of sexual misconduct allegations need to be investigated under Title IX?
Sexual misconduct can include a wide range of actions. The most clear-cut examples include domestic and dating violence, stalking, incest, rape, and sexual exploitation.
However, depending on the environment at your school, the actions that could merit a sexual misconduct allegation could be far broader. If your school has a more conservative bent or stricter rules, for example, simply telling a lewd joke or sending a picture to the wrong person could result in a full-blown investigation (again, to ensure that your school doesn't risk its funding). That's not even the end of it: Since sexual misconduct often involves very tense situations, hurt feelings, and even protective friends, a sexual misconduct allegation could result from a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Even if this is the case, your school will still need to figure out what happened. If your school decides to slap the alleged perpetrator with a sanction — deserved or not — that is a damning action.
If you have a sexual misconduct notation on your permanent record, that could spell a lot of trouble for you…even years after the alleged event occurred.
What Is Academic Misconduct?
Academic misconduct, or academic integrity issues, are the types of issues that often go against a school's honor code. Your school may have required you to sign some kind of honor code when you first matriculated, or it could be included as one of your school's core values.
The types of actions that go against an academic honor code may also be mentioned in your course curricula or warned against by your educators at the beginning of a new class. These prohibited behaviors may include:
- Collaborating with other students (when expressly not allowed to do so, e.g., in a testing environment)
- Destroying school property
- Accessing unauthorized materials
- Sabotaging the work of others
- Fabricating data
Notably, many schools in Montana and across the nation will employ a zero-tolerance, exceedingly strict, and even overly-passive stance on these activities. In particular, if you are involved in the act of cheating without your express consent (think: if one of your friends stole one of your papers and copied it without your even knowing), your school could recommend a steep sanction for all persons concerned — including you, even though you didn't do anything.
In some cases, much like failure to progress scenarios, the school will make some effort to tailor the sanction to fit the supposed crime. You might be required to repeat a course or complete extra assignments. It's important to realize that this in and of itself could be enough of a reason to bring a student defense advisor onboard, as this could result in poor health outcomes for you, adversely affect your reputation, or cause your planned school timeline to change as a result of repeated classes.
However, your educator could also decide to refer you to the administration, which would most likely net you a suspension or expulsion.
Are Sexual Misconduct and Academic Misconduct the Only Issues My Montana School Will Investigate?
While academic and sexual misconduct is the most significant and most easily-definable of the various code of conduct infractions, they're far from the only ones. Here are a few more actions you're likely to see listed in your Montana university's code of conduct:
- Drug or alcohol use: In Montana, it's illegal to drink unless you're 21 or over. Your school will probably employ parallel policies.
- Residential misconduct: As college is, for many, the first time they live away from home, it can be easy for things to get out of hand in a college's living areas. To help ensure that your school's dormitories are safe, your school will probably have a harsh stance against any violence or theft in the school's residence halls.
- Hate crimes: Hate crimes can be hard to define. As a general rule, if your infraction (think: bullying, theft, or violence) can be connected to a specific part of the victim's identity (such as their gender, orientation, race, or religion), your actions could be categorized as a hate crime. Much like sexual misconduct, hate crimes can be particularly lethal for a young person's reputation even if they're discovered years after the fact.
- Hazing: Does your club (whether it be Greek life, sports, social, or anything else) have extensive initiation rituals? Is there any chance that those rituals could cause undue stress or embarrassment to anyone involved? Could anyone get hurt? If so, your school may have prohibited hazing even on a precautionary basis. If hazing is not permitted at your school, being caught in a hazing activity could merit a suspension or expulsion.
Again, you will very likely want to check out your school's specific documentation to ensure you're not missing anything.
Your school's code of conduct will also contain information about what could happen after receiving an allegation against you. We'll talk a little more about what that might look like in this next section.
How Will My Montana School Adjudicate My Misconduct Case?
After your school receives word that you might be involved in a code of conduct infraction (or a failure to progress situation), it'll take some time to figure out what happened. It may do so by launching an investigation into your behaviors.
This can seem unsettling. It is! Your school's investigation may include reviews of your social media profiles and conversations with your friends. You may feel very vulnerable and exposed — which could prompt you to make some decisions that may or may not work in your best interest.
We'll keep this simple for you: Once you learn that you may be the subject of an investigation, there are a few things you should do as quickly as possible.
- Decide to stay relatively quiet about your allegations. Don't post it on social media, don't talk to your teachers and friends about it, and don't apologize, try to explain, or defend yourself if someone else brings up your allegations. Even if your words are well-intentioned, there's a good chance that someone will twist something you say and hold it against you later.
- Start your investigation. While your school's learning more about your alleged behavior, you should compile your database. Put together a timeline of the events that led up to the allegation against you; make copies of relevant texts and social media posts; start thinking about people who may be able to back up your side of the story. When your attorney starts to create your defense, they will need this information to ensure that you can be as accurate and persuasive as possible.
- Contact a student defense attorney! We understand that speaking with a professional this early in the game can feel like you're overreacting. These types of student adjudications can be decided far earlier than you think — often, in the initial investigative phase. Having an advisor around to help you make the most of this phase can wildly increase your chances of experiencing a favorable outcome.
By the time you've handled these startup tasks, you should have received a notification from your school to let you know a little more about what's happening. Your school should give you more information about the specific allegations against you, the part of your code of conduct that you have allegedly broken, and the next steps your school isconsidering. Make sure that your student defense advisor has copies of all of this information so they can start determining the next steps you should take as well!
After this occurs, you'll probably receive an invitation to a hearing in front of a panel of representatives to discuss the evidence and determine your responsibility. (This can vary from school to school and even from case to case; for example, some schools may recommend that a student caught cheating meet with their educator to go over recommended sanctions.)
If a formal hearing occurs, that may constitute your opportunity to defend yourself. Your school may or may not allow advisors into that hearing. If this is the case, your student defense advisor will coach you beforehand, telling you what to say and making sure you're comfortable with what needs to happen.
During this hearing, you may have the chance to hear the collected evidence that your school has against you. You may have the opportunity to speak with any witnesses they have gathered. After hearing this information, your school will conclude your formal hearing by determining your likely responsibility for the central alleged event.
If your school determines that you have responsibility for that event, the assembled representatives may take that time to consider and recommend a relevant sanction that you'll need to carry out before enjoying your status as a student again. This may also occur after your hearing, in which case you'll learn about your school's decision and recommendation by a notification shortly after the event.
If your school recommends a sanction, you have a choice as to whether you carry that sanction out or fight the sanction. (In this case, “fighting” means asking your school to reconsider your sanction and possibly recommend a lighter, less future-wrecking one.)
In the last few sections of this guide, we'll talk about the various ways you may be able to dodge a sanction that could hurt your reputation. First, let's talk about the various sanctions that you could face.
What Sanctions Could I Experience at My Montana School?
This information can be found in your school's code of conduct. Flip through that document to the sanctions section (which could be named something like “student discipline” or “punishments” or “penalties”). You'll likely see a long and admittedly intimidating list of possible options your school could pursue.
This list might include:
- Loss of privileges
- Mandatory course or housing changes
- Behavioral contracts
- And more!
It may comfort you that most of these sanctions aren't things you have to worry about. It's far easier for your school to slap you with a suspension than figure out a behavioral contract, which means that a suspension is the most common choice for your penalty.
The bad news is that a suspension is not a preferred outcome.
A suspension, by definition, causes a gap on your transcript. That might not seem like a huge, obvious deal, but it'll speak volumes to any future schools or interviewers assessing you as a candidate for admission or employment. That gap on your transcript will go before you for years, closing doors that would have otherwise remained open.
If the more specific details of your disciplinary experience make it to your permanent student record, e.g., you were suspended for alleged sexual misconduct — that's a reputation ruiner.
You've got to work now to avoid suspensions and permanent notations on your record to avoid that outcome.
Here are a few ways you may be able to do just that.
How Do I File an Appeal at My Montana College or University?
Filing an appeal is likely the initial way that you can start to reverse or renegotiate any unwanted sanctions. Your school may even include directions for doing so as part of the final notification they send you at the culmination of the adjudicative process.
To file an appeal, you'll create a persuasive argument designed to get your school to rethink your sanction. Your defense advisor will help you develop the most compelling argument for your case. You'll then submit the appeal to the relevant authority (typically the Dean of Students) and wait for their reply.
To make matters more complicated: You'll likely only have a few business days to craft your appeal — and you'll only get one shot. If your school's representative decides not to re-open negotiations, it may seem like you're out of luck.
That's when it might seem like it's time to pursue more severe actions.
Is It Time to Sue My Montana School?
Are you starting to consider a lawsuit against your Montana school?
While a lawsuit could be highly effective — and, if it seems like that's the best route for you, we certainly have the resources to help — we generally advocate a more straightforward strategy initially.
Lawsuits are expensive, and they are relationship-terminating. We've found that you can save some money and stress without burning bridges by taking an alternate route. At the Lento Law Firm, we often seek out conversations directly with the school's office of general counsel to see if a lawyer-to-lawyer agreement can be reached.
This strategy is very often successful, and it can be much more pleasant. Before jumping to legal action, see whether your student defense attorney would consider this route. If it doesn't work, your defense advisor will still be the best source for more specific information about your next steps.
What Other Montana Laws Should I Know About as a College Student?
Keeping the following regulations in mind would likely be a good idea:
- In Montana, drinking under the age of 21 is illegal. The state also has a harsh, zero-tolerance stance against drinking and driving.
- In Montana, you must adhere to the stipulations of your tenant agreement if you live off-campus. (This includes making timely rent payments.)
- In Montana, you cannot show a fake ID to a police officer or use a fake ID to purchase alcohol.
Statute of Limitations Laws in Montana
- Injury to Person: Three years
- Libel: Two years
- Slander: Two years
- Fraud: Two years
- Injury to Personal Property: Two years
- Trespassing: Two years
- Contracts: Eight years
- Collection of debts: Three years
- Judgments: Ten years
Frankly, if you're overwhelmed by all of this information, that makes sense. Luckily, Joseph D. Lento is here to help make the entire process easier to stomach.
Are You a Montana College Student? Call the Lento Law Firm for a Strong Defense
Whether you face failure to progress allegations or more formal misconduct proceedings, you may feel stuck figuring out your future solo.
This isn't what you signed up for. Very likely, this isn't even your fault. It may seem like the world's against you, and there's not much you're going to be able to do to come out of this situation with your head held high.
Fortunately, that isn't the case.
With a professional and experienced student defense attorney at your side, you'll be able to go through your adjudicative experience with confidence. When navigating challenging conversations and tense hearings, you'll know exactly what to say. You'll have a knowledgeable person you can trust, helping you make decisions throughout this challenging time.
Joseph D. Lento has spent years helping students in your precise situation work towards successful outcomes. He can help you investigate your allegations, pull together a strategic defense, and even help you negotiate with your school for a reduced sanction so you can protect your reputation (and your peace of mind).
Interested? Give Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm a call today, and he'll start working with you shortly on your adjudicative case at a Montana institution. The number is 888-535-3686; alternatively, you can always reach out to us online to receive a timely response.
Are you a student at a Montana college or university facing a school-related issue? Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Click on the following links as applicable for more information: