Ph.D. Students Facing Academic Misconduct Charges

Academic Integrity as an Institutional Norm

Academic integrity is at the heart of college and university programs, especially the highest-level programs like those for Ph.D. degrees. Through high school, students are learning academic norms like honesty, doing one's own work, and giving credit where credit is due. By the time a student reaches the level of undergraduate college or university work, though, schools expect students to know and abide by academic norms, customs, and rules. As the student progresses through the undergraduate program to master's level work and beyond to the Ph.D., the institution's expectations that the student exhibit exemplary academic character grow. Undergraduate students might get away with some degree of freshmen and sophomore shenanigans. Master's level students not so much, and Ph.D. students generally not at all. If you face academic misconduct charges in your Ph.D. program, take those charges seriously. Your school is not likely to treat a Ph.D. student's academic misconduct lightly unless shown exonerating evidence or mitigating cause.

Academic Integrity Policies

Colleges and universities uniformly publish honor codes and academic integrity policies communicating those academic norms for honesty, doing one's own work, and giving credit where due. Those policies, like the norms they represent, extend from undergraduate students through master's programs to the Ph.D. level. Colleges and universities do not hesitate to extend those academic integrity policies to cover Ph.D. programs, where the expectation of compliance is at its highest level, commensurate with the high level of the Ph.D. degree. The University of Alabama, awarding the nation's largest number of Ph.D. degrees in health fields, is a good example. Alabama has a Capstone Creed committing all of its students to integrity, an Academic Honor Pledge committing all of its students to avoiding academic misconduct, and an Academic Misconduct Policy detailing what constitutes violations of those creeds, pledges, and codes. For another prime example, Harvard University, awarding the nation's largest number of Ph.D. degrees in another field, requires all students to adhere to and repeatedly affirm its Honor Code requiring honesty in exams, schoolwork, and all other academic pursuits. Ph.D. students must avoid academic misconduct at all costs.

Examples of Academic Misconduct

The classic examples of academic misconduct involve various forms of cheating and plagiarism. The University of Alabama's Academic Misconduct Policy provides a good example. As to cheating, it prohibits “using, attempting to use or assisting in the use of unauthorized materials, information, study aids, or computer-related information.” As to plagiarism, it prohibits “representing words, data, pictures, figures, works, ideas, computer programs or outputs, or any other work generated by someone else, as one's own.” Typical of other schools' academic misconduct policies, Alabama's policy also prohibits falsification, defined as “presenting as genuine any invented or falsified citation, data or material,” and misrepresentation “falsifying, altering, or misstating the contents of documents or other materials related to academic matters, including schedules, prerequisites, and transcripts.” Ph.D. students must avoid cheating, plagiarism, falsification, and misrepresentation in all forms.

Academic Misconduct Differs from Other Misconduct Forms

Academic misconduct is just one of three classes or categories of misconduct that colleges and universities may treat differently. Colleges and universities also concern themselves with their students' behaviors around issues like alcohol and drug possession, distribution, and abuse, property theft and damage, trespassing and vandalism, and misuse of school computers, facilities, and equipment. Colleges and universities have behavioral codes, often called student conduct codes, that reach and regulate those behaviors. Colleges and universities also have sexual misconduct policies to meet their Title IX requirements and reach beyond those requirements. Ph.D. students must also comply with those other policies, although their relative maturity tends to mean that those other policies are not their primary concern. A Ph.D. student's primary concern is often with the school's academic integrity policy addressing their diligent, difficult, and rewarding academic intellectual work. If a Ph.D. student is going to trip up, the stumble is often around academic integrity, not conduct or sexual issues.

Academic Misconduct Procedures

Colleges and universities also uniformly maintain academic misconduct procedures to hold Ph.D. students and other students accountable to their academic integrity policies and honor codes. Again, the University of Alabama's Academic Misconduct Policy provides a good example. Alabama's policy assigns primary enforcement responsibility to an academic misconduct monitor whom the academic dean appoints. After a conference with the accused student, the monitor can impose a range of penalties against students found to have committed academic misconduct. Students suffering academic misconduct findings and penalties can appeal to the academic dean and may have a second appeal to the provost. But the procedure's import for Ph.D. students is clear: Ph.D. programs expect students to exhibit the honesty and integrity of a scholar of the highest character. And if your school expects that you haven't upheld its academic integrity standard in your Ph.D. studies, your school is likely to vigorously pursue academic misconduct charges.

What's At Stake for the Ph.D. Student

Ph.D. students can have everything at stake in an academic misconduct proceeding. Again, the University of Alabama's Academic Misconduct Policy provides a good example. Alabama's policy gives the academic dean or designee the authority to impose every sanction from grade reduction or course withdrawal or failure right up to suspension and expulsion, even for a first offense. Yet the stakes are so high for a Ph.D. student, not just because academic dismissal is a real risk that the Ph.D. student faces. The stakes are especially high because Ph.D. degree holders generally enter fields, like research and teaching, where honesty and integrity are at a premium. Cheaters, even those who have suffered only modest cheating sanctions, don't generally get research or teaching jobs. Thus, any sanction for academic misconduct can derail a Ph.D. student's hopes and plans for a rewarding career and future. If you face academic misconduct charges in your Ph.D. program, you need to resolve those charges without a permanent finding of academic misconduct on your record.

Strategic Approaches to Misconduct Charge Defense

If you are a Ph.D. student facing academic misconduct charges, then appreciate that you have strategic approaches to those charges that can make critical differences in achieving a successful outcome. Don't ignore or minimize the charges. Instead, promptly address the charges with the earnest seriousness, dedicated resources, and diligent consultative approach that you would apply to other critical academic matters. As a Ph.D. student, you've already achieved quite a bit of academic and personal success. You generally know the thoughtful, careful, informed, and persevering approach that success in any serious technical matter takes. Don't treat academic misconduct charges differently, as if they were a mystery that would somehow solve itself. Instead, use your best research, investigation, communication, and consultation skills and strategies to see those charges through to the best possible outcome. Don't ignore but instead, explore. Don't hide but instead consult and confide.

Retain Qualified Expert Attorney Help

Your first and best action as a Ph.D. student facing academic misconduct charges is to get the expert academic administrative attorney representation that Ph.D. academic misconduct charges warrant and that a successful defense requires. As a Ph.D. student, you already know a lot about discipline expertise. You, however, are not an expert in the discipline of academic misconduct defense. Don't overestimate your knowledge and skill in academic administrative misconduct proceedings. Your challenge and opportunity is instead to find the right discipline expert to help you achieve your best possible outcome. Fortunately, you have available to you national academic administrative defense attorney Joseph Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Lento has successfully represented hundreds of college and university students, including Ph.D. students, in academic misconduct defense and other forms of misconduct defense. Don't retain a local criminal attorney who is unfamiliar with academic administrative law, rule, regulation, and procedure. You need an expert academic administrative attorney who knows the norms, customs, rules, language, culture, and conventions of academic misconduct administrators.

Avoid Assigned or Unqualified Advisors

Some colleges and universities assign advisors to students, including Ph.D. students, facing academic misconduct charges. School advisors are almost never attorneys. They also typically have conflicts of interest that work against their ability and willingness to provide you with independent, sound, and effective advice. They are, after all, school employees with ongoing and typically long-term collegial relationships with the school officials who are pursuing the misconduct charges against you. School advisors also have very limited roles in supporting your defense. They typically do no investigation, preparation, drafting, communication, or presentation on your behalf. Other schools allow other students to take on the role of advisor, when fellow students, like school employee advisors, also lack the knowledge, skill, experience, and independence to help you. You may also be tempted to hire a local criminal attorney or other local litigation attorney to assist you. But criminal attorneys and civil litigation attorneys generally lack academic administrative knowledge, skills, and experience. Academic administrative proceedings are very different from court proceedings, operating as they do under different rules and procedures, following different norms, customs, conventions, culture, and language. Don't retain or rely on an unqualified advisor. Get the qualified help you need: an academic administrative defense attorney with considerable experience.

Pursue a Resolution Rather than Conflict Approach

Your second strategy for your best defense to Ph.D. program academic misconduct charges, after retaining a highly qualified academic administrative attorney, is to authorize, pursue, and support a resolution-oriented rather than combative and conflict-oriented approach. Your first instinct may be to hire a local trial lawyer to pound tables threatening to sue your college or university. Combative approaches may work well in business disputes, criminal cases, or even family law cases involving unreasonable opposing parties who will only do what others force them to do. But that's generally not the case with school officials who typically have a higher degree of education, job security, balance, and independence. Ph.D. students facing academic misconduct charges shouldn't rely on adversarial stances that give the school little to do but fight. Ph.D. students should instead encourage and support their academic administrative attorney's cordial, diplomatic, resolution-oriented approach. National academic administrative attorney Joseph Lento is not only extraordinarily skilled in such an approach but also has the reputation and relationships that school officials trust in negotiating resolutions.

Cooperate with and Support Your Retained Attorney

By retaining an experienced academic administrative attorney, you will have taken your best step toward a favorable resolution. Ensuring that your academic administrative attorney is taking a resolution-oriented, proactive, and diplomatic approach increases exponentially your prospects for a favorable resolution that will allow you to complete your Ph.D. degree without a blemish on your academic record. But you have another role in helping to prepare and equip your expert academic administrative attorney to represent you most effectively, whether your matter resolves early and informally, as any Ph.D. student should hope, or your matter proceeds to a formal hearing and even beyond through appeal to Office of General Counsel resolution. Your academic administrative attorney will know how to investigate, prepare, and present your matter. But your academic administrative attorney will also need your information, documentation, and other support. You know best what happened from your perspective. You will need to respond promptly, fully, and accurately to information requests and other requests from your academic administrative attorney.

Trust in Favorable Resolution

Another strategy that places a Ph.D. student facing academic misconduct charges in a better position is to trust in the favorable resolution of those charges. Academic misconduct charges are not the same as findings of misconduct. Charges are only allegations. Allegations are often wrong, unsupported, exaggerated, or unfair when considering mitigating evidence. Even if you have already suffered academic misconduct findings and only have an appeal left, attorney Lento and his expert team at the Lento Law Firm may well be able to help you. Indeed, even if you have already exhausted appeals, attorney Lento has helped many students regain their good standing to complete their education through contact and negotiation with school Offices of General Counsel or similar oversight offices. Trust in a favorable resolution of your academic misconduct charges. Exhaust all avenues for relief rather than giving up and assuming that you can do nothing about unjust charges and unduly punitive sanctions.

Value Your Ph.D. Degree

One more strategy that places a Ph.D. student facing academic misconduct charges in a better position is to value your Ph.D. degree. If you still believe in the value of your Ph.D. degree after receiving academic misconduct charges, then you are more likely to devote the needed time, attention, effort, and resources to your defense of academic misconduct charges. National Science Foundation information indicates that U.S. institutions award only about 50,000 research doctorate degrees annually, a small fraction of the approximately two million undergraduate degrees awarded annually. A Ph.D. degree places its holder at the forefront of the knowledge economy with abundant gravitas and transferable skills. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that Ph.D. degree holders have the lowest unemployment of all education levels, less than half that of undergraduate degree holders. PayScale shows doctorate holders earning forty-four percent more than master's degree holders. Ph.D. degrees promote not only higher income but also greater career advancement, opening doors to teaching, research, and leadership roles that are simply not available to others. You had a good reason for pursuing your Ph.D. degree. Don't let academic misconduct charges discourage you.

Premier Academic Administrative Attorney Available

National academic administrative defense attorney Joseph Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm are available nationwide to defend Ph.D. program academic misconduct charges. Your college or university location does not matter. Attorney Lento has successfully represented hundreds of students at colleges and universities across the country. Nor does the nature of your academic or other misconduct charges, or the nature of your Ph.D. program, matter. Attorney Lento has successfully represented students facing misconduct charges of all types, in fields and disciplines of all types, and at all levels from undergraduate through Ph.D. and professional school programs. You can and should trust attorney Lento to achieve your best possible outcome, just as hundreds of other students have wisely trusted attorney Lento. Attorney Lento has the substantial experience, strategic approach, and considerable skill and sensitivity to best represent you. He has also recruited, trained, and maintained an expert team of attorneys, legal assistants, investigators, and consultants to assist in that effective representation. Call 888.535.3686 / 888.J.D.Lento or go online to share the nature of your case. Retain attorney Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm now.

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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 the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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