When you're getting ready to go to college anywhere in the United States, your first thought might not be that you need to check your school's code of conduct.
After all, when you think of college, you don't necessarily think about code of conduct infractions. If you're picturing the way that you're going to spend time in college, you're likely thinking about hours in the library, game nights with friends, and fun weekend road trips. You might be looking forward to pledging a fraternity or sorority, attending dances, and making lifelong friendships.
You should also be looking forward to earning your degree. In this day and age, getting a degree has never been more important. Unfortunately, there can be a surprising amount of obstacles standing between you and realizing that goal. You're likely aware of the amount of academic work that you'll need to put in. It probably doesn't come as a surprise that you're going to need to study, ace your exams, and pass your finals in order to graduate on time.
It may be more surprising to consider that your behavior is also integral to getting you across that graduation stage. Colleges across the nation are cracking down on instances of student misconduct. When students commit infractions that break the student code of conduct, administrations tend to respond with harsh punishments that can make it more difficult to get a degree. Worse, these punishments can also make life much harder for years after you graduate from college.
That's why it's key that you examine your school's code of conduct. This document is a lengthy collection of your school's various behavioral regulations. It should represent your school's expectations about what you should (and shouldn't) do while you're a student. Following these rules will result in a simpler college experience. Breaking them could result in unpleasant disciplinary sanctions.
At the Lento Law Firm, we believe that disciplinary sanctions shouldn't stand between you and your goals. That's why we've put together these state-specific pages discussing how to handle code of conduct issues. On this page, we'll provide an overview. We'll start by mentioning the different types of code of conduct issues your school may find problematic.
What Are the Most Common Types of Code of Conduct Concerns?
Very generally speaking, there are three different groups of code of conduct issues that your school will likely consider punishable behavior. These include:
Academic misconduct or academic dishonesty issues. These may involve offenses to your school honor code or actions that go against the rules that your instructors have in your classroom. Some common actions that are often classified as academic misconduct include plagiarism, cheating, destruction of school property, and unauthorized collaboration. Sometimes, these types of actions can merit a failing grade or a similar academic sanction. Other times, your instructor will refer you to your administration for adjudication. It's worth noting that your instructor will likely consider you responsible for academic dishonesty if you help another person with this type of infraction.
Sexual misconduct. Your school will probably have a very harsh stance on sexual misconduct of any kind. While your code of conduct should list out the actions that fall under this category very specifically, your school could consider any type of sexual behavior or contact that occurs without the express consent of all involved punishable under this label. A key nuance here is the type of policy your school uses for sexual misconduct infractions. For example, your school may adjudicate these offenses under the code of conduct or a distinct Title IX policy. The latter may afford heightened protections for you if you're accused, so it's worth finding out what your school's regulations and practices are.
The other category of code of conduct issues is a large umbrella type: General code of conduct infractions. This large group may include such actions as:
- Possession of alcohol or drugs. Your school's regulations will likely mirror the laws in your state. Typically, your school will frown on any use of alcohol by a minor and any use or possession of controlled substances on campus. These may include (recreational) prescription drugs, steroids, narcotics, and more.
- Hazing. If any social or sports group at your school has introductory rituals that can tend to be more intense (e.g., escalating to a lot of embarrassment, pain, or destruction of property), your school may ban them entirely. As a result, participating in one of these hazing rituals could result in a code of conduct offense and resulting disciplinary action.
- Residential misconduct. When many students enroll in school and move into a dormitory, it's the first time they're living on their own. This can be a difficult transition. To keep everyone as safe and happy in the dorms as is possible, your school will likely have a code of conduct clause specific to dorm life. This may include a ban on assault, stalking, personal property destruction, and other unsafe behaviors.
- Hate crimes. If the victim of an action can claim that the action (e.g., a fight, a prank gone wrong, property damage, etc.) was in some way connected to their age, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, that action could be labeled a hate crime. Being associated with a hate crime can do irreparable damage to a student's reputation—damage that could influence their future for a very long time.
This is not an exhaustive list; your school could consider additional behaviors punishable. In any case, your school's processes for handling code of conduct infractions will begin when your school receives an allegation connecting you to a prohibited event.
What Happens After My School Receives an Allegation Against Me?
After your school receives an allegation against you, it'll begin its due process. The most important things you need to know at the beginning of the code of conduct process are as follows:
- Don't speak to anyone. It's natural that you're scared or overwhelmed, but, unfortunately, you can't really trust anyone else on campus right now. Anything you say even to a friend or a trusted faculty member could be used against you, so it's important to remain quiet—even if you're tempted to defend yourself or say that you're innocent.
- Start (quietly) gathering information. The moment that you know you'll be involved with a code of conduct dispute, you need to start making sure you have all of the evidence you possibly can. You'll need it later! Start putting together a relevant timeline of events, make a list of possible witnesses, and collect any bolstering information (social media posts, emails, etc.) that you can.
- Contact a student defense attorney. Navigating code of conduct processes can be tricky, and the stakes are higher than you think. You're going to want a professional on the case as soon as you possibly can.
Remember: Cases can be won or lost in the investigative stage. As your school launches its own processes, make sure that you're doing everything that you can to make this work well for you!
What Will My School's Due Process Be Like?
While your school's procedures may vary slightly from the norm, you can expect some version of the following:
- An investigation. Your school will take some time to learn as much as it can about what happened.
- A disciplinary hearing. You may receive an invitation to a formal hearing before a panel of school representatives. At this hearing, your school will review all of the information, speak to any witnesses, hear your story, and come to a decision regarding your responsibility for the alleged infraction.
- A recommendation for sanctions. Based on their decision about your responsibility, your school representatives will also decide what type of sanction you'll need to carry out in association with the alleged infraction.
Your school may or may not allow you to take an advisor with you into your hearing, but it's important to realize that it's still extremely worth it to work with a code of conduct advisor. They'll be able to coach you through the process, make sure you're comfortable delivering the information you need to discuss, and go over your school's code of conduct with you in detail so you can be confident that there aren't any surprises in front of you.
Additionally, your school will simply take you a lot more seriously if they're aware that you have a professional attorney with you.
What types of sanctions could I face for a code of conduct infraction?
Here's the thing: Your school's code of conduct will have a long list of the types of sanctions that you could experience as a result of your alleged behavior. Your school may indicate that the type of sanction you experience will depend on the nature of your offense.
The punishments they may say you can expect could include:
- Some type of educational sanction, e.g., writing a paper or attending a seminar on campus violence or sobriety
- A ban on privileges or extracurricular activities (e.g., playing on a sports team)
- A loss of your scholarships, if applicable
- A loss or mandatory change in your housing situation, if applicable
- Probation, either academic or disciplinary
- A suspension or an enforced period of time in which you're not in school
- Expulsion or dismissal from the university itself
Even though your school may list out all of these punishments as possible contenders, in many instances, the most likely minimum sanction that will be imposed when an accused student is found responsible is suspension. In cases involving sexual misconduct, you likely will be looking at a dismissal. These are concerning for many reasons, not the least of which is their effect on your transcript and disciplinary records.
If you receive a suspension (or expulsion), you won't be in school for some period of time. As a result, there will be a gap on your transcript. Later in life, when you go to apply to a needed internship or a top-tier job opportunity, you're going to need to produce your transcript—and explain away that gap.
The person you explain this to will not be impressed. You probably won't get the opportunity after that conversation.
At the Lento Law Firm, we know it's important that this offense doesn't overshadow your future or harm your reputation. That's why it's important to act now to ensure that your transcript is clear!
After your school recommends sanctions, your next step may be to file an appeal with your school.
How do I file an appeal?
While the specific mechanisms that you will use to file for an appeal at your school could be dependent on your school's processes, it's very likely that you'll complete some version of the following steps:
- First, you'll come up with a compelling reason for your appeal. You'll need to give your school a basis for reconsidering your case. Typical examples of strong bases for appeals could include new evidence coming to light or clear (and demonstrable) evidence that shows your school did not follow its own processes during your adjudicative process. Your student defense advisor can review your case and help you come up with the most persuasive argument for your appeal.
- You'll need to write a cohesive argument summarizing all of the evidence you have. Again, your student defense advisor should be very helpful at this juncture.
- You'll need to file your appeal with the appropriate school representatives. Often, this person is the Dean of Students, but your school's code of conduct should have the specific contact information you need.
- You'll then wait for your school to assess your appeal and come to a decision. Importantly, this decision is one that will be considered final, whether your school appears amenable to negotiations or remains firm on its previous stance.
This relatively stressful process is only compounded by the fact that all of this needs to take place within a very short timeframe after your formal hearing. You may only have five business days to pull this together. For this reason, it's strongly recommended that you're already working with a student defense attorney by this time.
What happens if my appeal is unsuccessful?
If your school decides to deny your appeal, you do have a few further actions available to you. These might include:
- Contacting the board of education in your state and filing a complaint with them. As an external authority, they may be able to help your school realize that it's time to reconsider your case. If this doesn't work, completing this governmental complaint can also serve as bolstering information for the next step.
- Ask your student defense advisor to reach out to the office of general counsel at your school. Very often, having your lawyer speak to your school's lawyers can smooth out the entire issue very effectively. This is often the best way to go about things!
- If none of that works, it may be time to consider litigation against your school. This can be a dramatic step, but it will get results if nothing else has worked. Your student defense advisor can help you determine if this is the best course of action for you.
While this may seem like a lot of information, the key takeaway is simple: Work with a professional attorney as early in your case as possible to see the highest possibility of success (and reduced stress)!
The Lento Law Firm is Here to Help You Protect Your Reputation and Your Future
If you've received an allegation connecting you with a code of conduct infraction, you might feel overwhelmed.
More than that, you might be in need of help managing the code of conduct violation process. Your school's likely sending you scary documents and inviting you to stressful meetings. It's important to know that you don't have to do this alone. In fact, you shouldn't. Here's a key fact: The most important thing you can do to make sure that your disciplinary processes go well for you is to reach out to a student defense attorney as early in the process as possible.
While this may seem like an overreaction, it isn't. Your future is on the line, and it's worth protecting. You also want to have a professional on your side before your school's adjudicative processes spiral out of control, as they're apt to do without any notice or warning.
Fortunately, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm are here to help you with anything you might need—from the investigation through the appeals process and more. For years, attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped hundreds of students all across the nation defeat misconduct charges, negotiate for lower sanctions when necessary, and keep their transcripts clean. Whether you need help managing your school's investigation, getting ready for a hearing, writing the perfect persuasive argument for an appeal, or having someone speak to your school's lawyers for you, attorney Joseph D. Lento will be there to make it happen.
Don't shoulder this burden by yourself. Instead, reach out to Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today. The number is 888.535.3686.