Of all the stages of the academic discipline process, one of the most critical is the negotiation process.
When engaging with school administration on charges of misconduct—which can range from the less serious (think classroom disruption, challenging a failing grade) to more dire, including Title IX allegations, students trying to do things on their own can very easily put a foot wrong.
The rules around academic misconduct are complicated and in constant flux, especially with the advent of online learning, and every school has its own set of standards. Some universities will work in good faith with students and their advisors, while others are heavy-handed: Students can be only a few weeks from graduation and face the prospect of dismissal from the university.
When it's time to meet with the disciplinary committee, going it alone is risky business. You may be sure you have a strong case, but often there is a lot going on behind the scenes.
In considering dismissal, schools must strike what they perceive as a balance with public perception. There are darker factors at plat at times also. For example, schools are also looking at their own profitability—for example, has tuition already been paid? When negotiating, it's always about leverage.
Factors in Academic Discipline Cases
What affects the outcome more than anything in an academic misconduct case? Skilled and effective negotiators. It's exceedingly difficult for students and their families to understand how intricate and nuanced the process can be, putting them at a real disadvantage when it comes to the prospect of discipline lead to discipline or dismissal.
It's essential to have an attorney/advisor who has deep experience dealing with university and college administrations and their offices of general counsel (the school's attorney.)
It takes many years of hard-earned, highly specific experience to understand the ways a particular school may handle a given case. While this requires a deft touch, it also demands tough advocacy.
“Diplomacy is key in the college and university setting, but not at the expense of advocacy—I've thrown many lefts and rights in the courtroom, the conference room, and in life, and ultimately, the combination that gets my clients results is my tenacity and the fact that I care!”
Joseph D. Lento, Esquire
How can an Attorney/Advisor Help Me?
An attorney-advisor's presence helps keep the school accountable to its own policies, so your due process rights are better protected.
Joseph D. Lento has an excellent track record in assisting students in obtaining a better outcome in disciplinary hearings, often saving them from dismissal and rescuing their careers in the process.
He has particular skill in marshaling facts to serve negotiation strategies in high-stakes, complicated cases in allegations of student misconduct.
Having this support system is crucial because the experienced advisor understands how student disciplinary hearings work. An advisor can help you gather witnesses for your defense, compile evidence in your favor, and advise you as to how best to respond to the charges.
5 Guidelines for Facing Academic Misconduct
With an increasing emphasis on online studies—which makes professors, school administrations, and students alike nervous and scrambling to adjust—the potential for charges of cheating has increased exponentially.
Joseph D. Lento has distilled his exceptional experience into a few key rules for students before they negotiate against allegations of cheating, plagiarism, Title IX violations, and other emerging issues into a few guidelines.
Do not respond to charges of academic violations without first consulting a lawyer.
While you may believe you have a solid case and are guilty of nothing, remember that at this point, the school is not your friend—they are your adversary.
No matter how much the professor, student conduct office, or disciplinary board emphasizes that they are working in your best interests, be aware they may decide to make an example out of your case. Any interaction you engage in with them will be on the record, and you won't be able to go back in time. The key is to stay calm and remain silent on the matter until you can contact a skilled negotiator.
In his many years handling countless cases across the country, Joseph Lento has earned a reputation for successfully handled complex, sensitive, high-stakes negotiations. He has guided students and their parents through the minefield that is the academic discipline process and helped hundreds of students emerge with a clean record so they can move on to employment or post-graduate studies.
Hire a Student Defense Lawyer
When you receive a notice of academic disciplinary action, your first inclination may be to call a lawyer you work with for other corporate or family matters or reach out to a friend who happens to be a lawyer. You may also consider hiring an attorney who is local to the school jurisdiction.
But a decision made in the heat of the moment can seriously backfire down the road.
Because academic misconduct hearings fall outside the purview of the courts, you can hire a lawyer from any jurisdiction. Most important is to find an attorney who has specific experience defending college students accused of misconduct and crimes.
Joseph D. Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States, and when necessary, he has sought justice on behalf of clients in courts across the nation.
He does not settle for the easiest outcome, instead prioritizing his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted pro hac vice as needed when representing clients in courts across the United States, and vigorously negotiates and advocates on behalf of students and their families literally on a daily basis as they address school-related issues and concerns anywhere in the United States.
Write down the events
Start recollecting and recording all details relating to the alleged incident. Include the date, time, potential witnesses, text messages, photographs, and any other facts or details you believe may be relevant.
This includes evidence regarding the allegations—the paper you are accused of plagiarizing, the test results you are accused of buying, any written communication with fellow students or professors.
It's also important to keep the means by which you have been accused. Was it a letter from the school? An email from a professor? Make sure you have this on hand to share with your attorney-advisor.
Get Familiar with Your School's Code of Conduct
Finally, look at all guidelines—both the school's code of conduct and the cheating and misconduct policies outlined in the professor's syllabus. Does there seem to be a disconnect between the charge and the school's specific policy?
These kinds of discrepancies can be powerful tools in the negotiation process and can make or break a case.
Do Not Discuss Your Case with Anyone Other Than Your Attorney
This is critical and cannot be emphasized enough. No matter how innocent you believe yourself to be, keep the charges to yourself. That means no texts to friends, no social media posts, no queries with your name on message boards (yes, this has happened), and no conversations with professors or other school officials.
Parents must also keep the lowest profile possible. Make sure you don't share the allegations in any way possible, no matter how much outrage you feel on your child's behalf.
What happens at a disciplinary hearing?
The disciplinary panel often consists of three or more faculty members or university staff. The panel will review the documentation relating to the alleged misconduct and ask you questions about the incident. The hearing is a critical opportunity to present your side of the story.
You should be well prepared in advance and take the matter seriously. In some cases, the panel may make its decision at the end of the hearing. Some colleges offer opportunities for appeal, though not all.
We must reiterate that, because every college process differs, it is essential for you to review your college's code or handbook to determine the process that applies.
There can be a big disparity between the procedural rights laid out in the formal rules and the procedures that are actually followed in specific cases for accused students. Schools can disregard any part of the process, since the courts are not involved, citing that only the principle of “substantial” fairness must be satisfied, allowing the school to make ad hoc, results-driven dismissal decisions.
This shifting landscape can be confusing—not to mention highly distressing—for the student and the student's family, making it difficult to negotiate effectively without skilled assistance.
What are the potential sanctions for an academic misconduct violation?
Depending on the infraction, sanctions may include:
- academic probation
- a reduced grade
- loss of course credit
- loss of scholarships or financial aid
- loss of student housing
- suspension or expulsion.
The college may note the penalty on your permanent record, which may prevent you from gaining admission to other universities or graduate programs. The penalty can even result in a current employer firing you or you're being automatically disqualified from some jobs.
Because such a charge can bring such long-term consequences, students must enter the disciplinary process with the utmost seriousness and make every effort to achieve the best possible outcome.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer to Fight an Academic Misconduct Charge?
Many students believe (or the school will try to persuade them) that they do not need a lawyer to fight an academic misconduct charge because the academic disciplinary process isn't a court of law.
The school will tell you it is not investigating students for committing a crime, but to assess if the student violated the school's code of conduct and, if so, to mete out an appropriate punishment. But even though it's not in court, this process is an adversarial proceeding—the school is not on your side.
An experienced academic misconduct advisor can help ensure you are in the best position to defend yourself. For example, a good lawyer will gather evidence supporting your defense, coach you on how to persuasively present your side of the story or argue for a less severe sanction.
Some schools will not permit a lawyer to attend the school's hearing, but an advisor can help you determine if the college has treated you fairly and correctly followed its procedures. Your advisor can also guide you through any appeal process, if available, to attain the best possible outcome.
The Stakes are High. You Need a Tough Negotiator
A student's investment of time and effort, combined with financial obligations, makes academic misconduct cases difficult enough. But an unfavorable judgment goes way beyond, extending to the inability to pursue post-graduate studies and limitations on career choices.
Negotiations with school administrations are too important to be left to chance. 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 attorney Joseph D. Lento today and his team today, and let us help secure your academic career.
Contact The Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686.