Understanding an Attorney’s Role in the Student Disciplinary Process at Colleges and Universities

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Dec 19, 2018 | 0 Comments

Students alleged to have violated the code of conduct at a college or university may be subject to the campus disciplinary process. This process is not intended to resemble formal criminal or civil litigation. The administration conducts a disciplinary hearing where the evidence is discussed and the student has an opportunity to speak. Students may be accompanied by someone for the hearing who predominately assumes a support role. Students may choose to have legal counsel; however, counsel is generally not permitted to take the active role that they may in a court setting.

When Also Facing Criminal Charges

Many violations are considered as academic misconduct. Examples include plagiarism or cheating on an exam. Students in the campus disciplinary process may also face allegations that could be considered as criminal. Examples may include sexual assault or underage drinking. Either way, the process is geared toward protecting the rights and safety of the campus community. Those facing significant criminal court matters should retain an attorney.

Right to an Advisor

A rule-making committee in 2014 updated the Violence Against Women Act. The committee reiterated their belief that parties involved in student disciplinary actions should have support from an advisor. This individual may be a parent, a member of the faculty, attorney, etc.

Advisor Restrictions

Courts traditionally agree that educational institutions may limit the active participation of advisors in hearings. Generally, these hearings are not intended to be adversarial or involve procedural challenges. For example, written provisions at the University of Central Florida state that an attorney may be a student's advisor; however, they cannot “speak on behalf of the student”.

School policies are not reflective of what takes place in practice, however, because an experienced advisor will always be able to obtain favorable discretion on a client's behalf whether through the traditional steps in the disciplinary process such as during an interview or hearing or through efforts taken on a client's behalf that are outside the disciplinary process - for example, through negotiations with the school's student conduct office or Title IX office, the school's Title IX coordinator, and/or the school's attorney or office of general counsel.

Wasson v. Towbridge

In this case, a Circuit Appeals Court ruled that parties in campus disciplinary actions are not required to retain legal representation. Some of their reasoning included:

  • These are not criminal matters
  • The parties are typically “mature and educated”
  • Hearings are generally conducted fairly

Osteen v. Henley

Here, the Seventh Circuit Court explained that students always have a fundamental right to counsel. They are not “entitled to be represented” and attorneys are not to conduct functions such as questioning witnesses. They said that hearings should not have a “prosecutor” acting on behalf of the institution.

Fairness & Resources

The Association for Student Conduct Administration suggests that campus administrators are aware that not all students can afford legal counsel. Many feel permitting active attorney participation may afford those with better resources an unfair advantage.

Importance of Legal Counsel for Students in Certain Programs

Some students subjected to student disciplinary actions are in programs that require exhaustive pre-employment screening. For example, a medical doctor's past conduct is heavily scrutinized. In these cases, students are strongly recommended to hire an attorney to protect their interests.

Student Discipline Defense Lawyer

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the skills and experience to assist students in campus disciplinary matters. He is an advocate for those facing allegations such as cheating, falsification, plagiarism and more. Contact the office at (888) 535-3686 to discuss your situation.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients nationwide. Attorney Lento and his team represent students and others in disciplinary cases and various other proceedings at colleges and universities across the United States. Attorney 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 and his team have sought justice on behalf of clients in courts across the nation. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes 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 nationwide, and he can help you or your student address any school-related issue or concern anywhere in the United States.


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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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