State University System – Ohio

If you are a student at a university within the state of Ohio, then you likely are required to follow various rules and regulations in addition to typical state and federal laws. If your university receives any public funding of any kind, then they are a part of the University System of Ohio. Universities that are part of the University System of Ohio are expected to follow statewide guidelines on several matters involving students. If you are a student, then it is your responsibility to follow these rules, or you can face various forms of misconduct or even criminal charges. If you are facing a school disciplinary action, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney-advisor right away.

What Is the University System of Ohio?

The University System of Ohio is the grouping of all state institutions of higher education. A state institution of higher education is any college as defined by the Ohio Revised Code Section 3345.12, a community college, technical college, or a university branch established under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 3355. State Universities are a more specific group and are public institutions that are listed under the Ohio Revised Code as follows:

The University System of Ohio is one of the largest such systems in the country. There are nearly 600,000 students within the University System of Ohio. The Ohio Board of Regents oversees the University System of Ohio and determines its rules and regulations. The Board was created in 1963 and is comprised of nine members, two of which are ex-officio state representatives. Board members are appointed by the Governor of Ohio with the advice and consent of the state Senate. The Board of Regents serves the Chancellor, who is a member of the Governor of Ohio's Department of Higher Education. The Department of Higher Education is the highest board that oversees higher education in Ohio.

What Laws Apply to Ohio Universities?

Ohio Universities are governed by the laws found in the Ohio Revised Code at Title 33 and span Chapters 3301-3377. The general powers for state universities can be found within Chapter 3345. These rules and regulations govern every aspect of the operation of universities, from acceptance standards to housing requirements to even the duplication of keys for university buildings.

The Ohio Revised Code outlines the procedures for reporting, investigating, and adjudicating cases of student misconduct at state universities. It also stipulates certain rights that students must be afforded under each procedure. The code applies to any post-secondary institution that (1) has a board of trustees; (2) is authorized by an appropriate section of the Revised Code; and (3) “has as one of its primary functions the teaching of classes which are offered in regular session by such college or university.”

The code does not apply to non-credit developmental education classes such as those offered by the Adult Basic Education Program or those at area workforce development boards. Nor does it apply to secondary schools (pre-college level) that do not have “as one of its primary functions the teaching of classes which are offered in regular session.” Also, fraternities and sororities which rent their own homes off campus and meet there are outside this code's jurisdiction. Finally, traditional colleges and universities with residential programs for minors (under the age of 18) such as Franciscan University (Steubenville, OH) and Ursuline College (Pepper Pike, OH) would not be covered.

How Constitutional Rights Are Affected at a University

When faced with a charge of misconduct or crime at a public university or state school, it is important to remember that your constitutional rights do not stop simply because you have been accused of breaking a rule. In fact, you have additional protections at a college proceeding that aren't available if you are being criminally prosecuted for the same conduct. This section will briefly explain what those protections are and how they work in conjunction with one another so as to balance both your right to fairness from the institution along with any punishments available for offenses committed on campus under Ohio law.

Public universities have been held to the same standards as criminal prosecutors when it comes to constitutional due process protections. Public institutions under the jurisdiction of the Fourteenth Amendment must afford students all of the rights outlined in both state and federal law along with additional procedures so as to provide procedural safeguards deemed necessary for any student accused of wrongdoing. Those additional safeguards depend upon whether you are being charged with a violation of an academic or disciplinary rule. In either event, your case will be handled much differently than if you were criminally prosecuted for the same offense by either a city attorney, county prosecutor, or district attorney.

The laws in place provide procedural safeguards so as to balance your right to be protected from arbitrary decisions by college officials while still affording universities jurisdiction over student behavior on campus so it can maintain order, safety, and discipline among the student body.

As an example of students' rights being safeguarded, the Ohio Revised Code Section 3345.0213 states that there can be no “free speech zones” or other designated areas where students can engage in expressive activities. The rule states that schools may enforce and maintain reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech activities on campus. The previous section of the statute, section 3345.0212, states that no school shall prohibit any individual from engaging in a non-commercial expressive activity so long as it does not disrupt the functioning of the school.

These examples demonstrate how far universities go to ensure that the constitutional rights of students are protected within the university setting. Students can face a different set of laws regarding evidence when a case is at an administrative hearing versus a criminal hearing. In a criminal case, there are evidence collection laws that are outlined in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. In a misconduct proceeding, school investigators will routinely attempt to collect evidence outside of the constitutional limits if the accused student is not facing criminal prosecution. An important caveat, however, is that the expansiveness of what is considered relevant evidence in a school disciplinary proceeding can work for or against an accused student.

What Are the State Governing Boards that Make the Laws?

Two state boards govern the universities in Ohio: The Board of Regents and the Ohio State University Board of Trustees. While each school has its own board, they do not have the authority to establish or change university standards for student affairs. That power is reserved for the two larger governing bodies, which also review all changes made by individual schools. (Ohio Revised Code Section 3333.046)

To be eligible for membership on either board, a person must be an Ohio voter appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate. Members serve six-year terms that are staggered so that one-third of their number is replaced every two years; therefore, no more than three trustees can ever come from any single congressional district (or part thereof). (Ohio Revised Code Section 3333.041) Once a member resigns, the Governor must appoint another Ohio voter to serve the remainder of the term. Thus, each trustee represents about 210,000 people.

The Board of Regents' primary duty is to ensure that Ohio has adequate numbers and quality of institutions in higher education, including “community colleges supported by strong city or county support.” It has 15 members: one student, two ex-officio (nonvoting) chancellors from regional universities, five trustees elected by university boards of trustees, four appointed by the Governor with advice and consent of the Senate, and three appointed by the Governor to represent business, labor and agriculture interests. The student regent may not vote on any matter before the board but does provide a tie-breaking vote if necessary. The president of the Ohio Senate and state representative from each university district serve as ex officio regents.

At least biannually, the board reviews Ohio's system of higher education and issues reports on its findings. Among other things, it addresses the need for additional facilities, establishes policies for public colleges and universities, approves new programs at existing institutions, and even closes those with “fewer than 300 full-time students.” To help fulfill these responsibilities, boards may establish committees comprised entirely or partially of representatives from outside higher education agencies such as alumni associations, county development commissions, and city councils. In addition to establishing policy related to student affairs matters affecting both state universities and community colleges, the board frequently hires a consultant to research all pertinent factors before making decisions. (Ohio Revised Code Section 3333.04)

Do Individual Universities Have Their Own Rules and Regulations?

Yes, each individual university has its own rules and regulations. As long as the rules and regulations meet the standards required by state law, then each university is free to govern its students according to its specific policies. These regulations are known as the code of conduct for each university. The rules and regulations for Ohio schools within the University System of Ohio are as follows:

Each university operates independently under the guidelines given to it by the state of Ohio. While the rules may vary, the administrative process to handle misconduct claims is generally consistent across Ohio universities.

What Is the Code of Conduct?

The University System of Ohio has several different acts with different guidelines, but the most applicable act is known as the Student Conduct Code. This act outlines many rules that students are expected to follow. Some examples of code of conduct rules include no alcohol on campus, no weapons on campus, and no drug paraphernalia on campus.

All public universities within Ohio are governed by this code, which dictates how cases involving student misconduct should be handled. The code also says that misconduct must be reported to appropriate judicial staff members at the school who will determine whether or not a violation occurred. If these disciplinary officials determine that a violation did occur, then they have the authority to give disciplinary sanctions for each offense-ranging from probation all the way up to expulsion from school with fines if necessary.

How Are Code of Conduct Violations Handled?

The first step of the process, as outlined by this code, begins with the alleged offender being notified that he or she is facing disciplinary action. The school official who brings forth the evidence to prove that a violation occurred will submit a report detailing specific violations and how those violations were alleged to have been committed. After that has been given, then the accused will decide whether they would like to plead guilty or not guilty. If they plead not guilty, then they can request a scheduled trial date right away unless there are extenuating circumstances involved.

In order for a school to prove that any individual has been involved in some type of conduct code violation, it must provide substantial evidence which proves misconduct. Evidence can be collected from a wide range of sources, including eyewitnesses and the person who is being accused of engaging in some type of illegal activity while on campus or while attending one of these schools. Even if the alleged offender(s) admits to committing this infraction against school policy, there might not be enough evidence available for a judge to render a verdict once the case goes through all stages of litigation.

After the trial is scheduled, both parties will have to provide their witnesses, documents, and any other physical evidence within certain timeframes to avoid delays in the process. There are no set timeframes that must be met, however. Both parties are allowed to make agreements about their evidence, though they are not required to do so.

What Types of Misconduct Can Face Discipline?

There are three general types of misconduct that can face discipline in the University System of Ohio, academic misconduct, sexual misconduct, and general misconduct. Cases involving student misconduct can happen on an individual basis or en masse if several students get together and complain about certain policies through protests or other forms of mass action. If there is any group involved in violation complaints made by multiple people, then the case will be handled by a judicial board with students and administrators within the university. These boards are composed of both students and faculty members who will determine whether or not there was enough evidence to prove that violations occurred.

If the hearing takes place and the accused is found responsible for at least one violation, then the appropriate sanctions will be given consistent with university policy. They could include interim suspensions, fines up to $100 per violation, suspension for a semester or more, dismissal from school with no possibility of re-enrollment within five years, and in some cases, even criminal charges.

Academic Misconduct Explained

Students who are found guilty of academic misconduct face severe punishments, which can include suspension or expulsion from the university and may be reported to other universities and employers. Academic dishonesty includes violations such as:

The severity of the punishment for the finding of responsibility depends on how serious the misconduct is and what kind of academic dishonesty is involved: For example, plagiarism might lead to a harsh penalty while using someone else's notes in an exam without their knowledge might result in a lighter one. There is a wide range of punishments that exist for academic misconduct violations.

Students can also face academic misconduct charges pursuant to the school's code of conduct or based on the school's honor code if it has one. Many schools operate pursuant to an honor code that all students agree to follow and uphold. If a student violates the honor code, then he or she can face several sanctions in addition to the school's code of conduct. It is common to see rules overlap between a school's code of conduct and its honor code.

Sexual Misconduct Explained

Sexual misconduct charges at universities across Ohio and the country are governed by Title IX. Title IX specifically prohibits any educational institution that receives federal funding from sex discrimination against any students or employees. There is a specific process for Title IX investigations and hearings. Title IX investigations are usually lengthy and can result in significant consequences.

Universities have the right to charge and consider all persons, including minors, equally responsible for violations of a university code of conduct. This is true even when more than one person is involved in an infraction. When applicable, parents or guardians will be advised of infractions by the University. Parents are not able to represent their kids in a hearing unless they are an attorney-advisor.

There can be more than one victim involved in sexual misconduct cases. When this occurs, schools will attempt to meet with all of the alleged victims and discuss the resolution options available to them and then allow each individual who was affected to decide how they wish to proceed. Schools will typically encourage at least one person involved who is comfortable doing so to come in and discuss what occurred.

Any student found responsible for violating a sexual misconduct policy or Title IX may receive sanctions ranging from a verbal warning up to suspension or expulsion from the university. Some repeat offenders may receive a sanction of suspension or expulsion based on their history of conduct problems even without a violation of the sexual misconduct policy.

General Misconduct Explained

While the first two categories of misconduct are specific, the last category is general in name and application. General misconduct at a school can cover many different areas and can include different types of victims.

General misconduct can include several types of actions and can include:

Universities do not allow alcohol on campus, and having alcohol on campus, especially as a minor, can lead to both misconduct and a criminal charge. You will find that most general misconduct violations are also violations of criminal law in some way. Threatening behavior and domestic violence misconduct violations can be the basis for more serious criminal charges that can potentially land a student in jail.

Universities aim to provide a safe place for all students to learn and congregate. When students are being targeted by other students for harmful reasons such as hate crimes or domestic violence, then universities take specific action to prevent these issues. It is important to understand what type of misconduct you are being accused of so you can understand the laws that apply and the potential penalties if you are found responsible for the violation.

Anti-Hazing Policies

In the past, it was commonplace for university organizations such as fraternities or sororities to require their new members to pass a series of “tests” to prove that they were worthy of joining the organization. These tests often involved heavy drinking or humiliating activities, which could quickly turn dangerous and harmful. While some of these tests are harmless, others can lead to serious physical and psychological harm. In some cases, the pledge seeking to join a fraternity or sorority will drink more than they can handle or may be involved in an accident due to a dangerous situation that can be fatal. In today's college landscape, these tests are known as hazing, and almost all schools have prohibited hazing in some form.

Under Ohio Revised Code Section 3345.19, each institute of higher learning is required to develop and implement an anti-hazing policy that bans students from engaging in hazing activities. The anti-hazing policy must ban students enrolled in the school or those associated with an organization affiliated or sanctioned by the school from engaging in hazing, whether on or off-campus. The anti-hazing policy of any school shall apply only if the hazing takes place between at least two people who are affiliated with the institution. All anti-hazing policies must include the following:

  • Rules prohibiting hazing
  • A specific method to enforce these rules
  • Appropriate penalties for violations of the rules. Penalties can include:
    • Fines
    • Withholding of diplomas or transcripts
    • Loss of ability for an organization to be sanctioned to operate by the school
    • Probation, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion guidelines

Any penalties imposed under an anti-hazing policy are in addition to the penalties imposed for violations of the Ohio Revised Code, criminal laws, or violations of any other institutional rule. Institutions are also expected to provide students education on hazing and are required to implement a program that educates students on hazing awareness, prevention, and intervention. The program is also expected to educate students on the specific policies of the university. Students who do not complete the educational program are prohibited from participating in a sanctioned organization such as a fraternity or sorority. Once they complete the educational program, then they are permitted to join their chosen sanctioned activity.

How Social Media Can Be the Basis for Misconduct Charges

While social media is widely used for many applications, it does not mean that it can be used to do or say anything. What people post on social media can harm them in several ways if they are not careful. A social media post can be the basis for both a misconduct charge and a criminal charge, depending on the facts and circumstances. If a student is being bullied online through social media comments or has had their privacy invaded because of intimate photos being posted online, then those social media posts can be the beginning of a school investigation as well as a criminal investigation. A social media post can be the basis for a charge of hazing, stalking, or harassment.

While it is perfectly legal for schools to provide notice about what could potentially happen if misconduct occurs, it is not legal for any person within an educational setting to intimidate another person into believing that violence would occur if they do not follow through with any requests made of them. This applies even more so in cases where a threat is made verbally or online versus when a threat is made in writing. Social media posts can very quickly disseminate dangerous threats and target individuals for ridicule and humiliation.

With the threat of school violence seemingly never decreasing, social media posts are considered important not only to measure the temperature of a situation but to see whether there are any warning signs that should give school officials and local law enforcement cause for concern. When a social media post makes a credible threat or targets an individual for threat or shame, then that post can be the basis for a school misconduct charge. What you post online can have a significant impact on your life and the life of those around you. It is important to be responsible when using social media, as it can end up harming you in ways that you may not have considered.

Student Rights and Due Process

If you are accused of violating the student code of conduct, then you will receive an email or letter informing you that you have been charged with one or more violations. When a university in Ohio learns of an alleged violation of its sexual misconduct policy, it will take immediate action to protect persons potentially affected by the alleged violation. This may include but is not limited to interim administrative action through suspension or other sanctions, issuance of no-contact orders, or directives for counseling services.

Universities use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in investigations, which means that it is more likely than not that the alleged misconduct occurred. However, to avoid interfering with or impeding an investigation into a complaint or potential violation of law enforcement, the university may hold off on taking action when there are pending criminal charges against the respondent.

Once all investigations and resolutions are completed at a university, students will receive written notification of their outcome within ten days, along with any sanctions imposed by the university for violations of the student code of conduct unless extenuating circumstances prohibit this timeframe from being met. The official notice letter will be sent via school email and will include a summary of the incident, the alleged policy violated, the outcome of the investigation, and any resulting sanctions for violations of the code.

As a rule, it is illegal for public universities within the state of Ohio to expel students from school unless it has been proven that there was sufficient evidence and information provided which proves that the alleged offender(s) committed misconduct. If this does occur, then the appropriate steps should be taken to handle your case as soon as possible if you feel as though your expulsion from school was not justified.

University Laws Against Discrimination

It is illegal for any student at a state university to be discriminated against solely based on his or her race, color, ancestry, or national origin-whether they are an incoming freshman to campus, a current student who has attended classes there previously, or if they have graduated from this same university in years past.

It is illegal for any student at a public institution of higher learning to receive disciplinary action on the basis of their religion, political affiliations, sexual orientation, or gender. It is also illegal for students to be made uncomfortable or feel threatened by certain religious practices that take place on campus-such as having someone try to convert them while they are studying in the library or praying at school events.

Students are allowed to have an attorney-advisor represent them in any misconduct proceeding with a university. A student can also choose to represent themselves. Students cannot be appointed a public defender in misconduct cases because the student has to be charged with a criminal offense to be given the right to counsel at public expense.

What Are a Student's Appellate Rights?

In student misconduct cases, the person alleging misconduct is known as the petitioner, while the person being accused of misconduct is known as the respondent. Both the petitioner and respondent have the right to appeal the decision of a hearing board. Appeals generally allege that a rule or procedure was not followed appropriately by the original board and their representatives. Appeals are not a second chance to have a new hearing but are reviews of the case and how the law was applied to the case to see if a different outcome would have occurred had the law been applied in a different way.

Appeals will be heard by the university appeal board that is designated by a school to hear appeals. Each school will handle appeals differently, but students are generally afforded a short period to inform the school of their intention to appeal and their reasons for doing so. Appeal boards meet in closed, non-public sessions to determine whether to grant appeals. The determination is made by a majority vote.

If a student loses his or her appeal with the university appeals board, then he or she may be able to appeal that decision to the vice president of student affairs or another designee for a final determination. This person will review whether there is a defect in the proceeding or if the sanction was extraordinarily disproportionate. Whatever decision the vice president of student affairs makes is final, and there will be no other appellate rights left regarding the matter.

What If There Are Criminal Allegations?

Sometimes the allegations made in a university setting can also be the basis for criminal charges. If the alleged activity violates a local, state, or federal criminal law, then there is a significant chance that criminal charges can be authorized against the accused student. If that happens, then the student will be facing multiple legal processes that each carry their own punishments.

As an example, if a student is accused of hazing, then he or she can face misconduct charges under school policy as well as criminal charges under state law. Ohio is one of eleven states where hazing can be charged as a felony, so it is important to understand how the cases can affect each other.

Under the Ohio Revised Code at Section 2903.31, the reckless participation of the hazing of another or a school official recklessly permitting the hazing of another is a criminal misdemeanor of the second degree. A second-degree misdemeanor in Ohio is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750.

If the hazing involves the coerced consumption of alcohol or drugs and serious physical harm results to that person, then those involved can be convicted of a third-degree felony. Third-degree felonies in Ohio are punished by a period of 9-36 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

As you can see, the student being accused of hazing can face serious penalties that affect both his or her academic future as well as freedom. Make sure you understand the ramifications of any allegations made against you and have the appropriate legal help.

How An Attorney-Advisor Can Help

If you are facing an allegation of misconduct at your school, then an attorney-advisor can help you in several ways. Some of the most important ways that an attorney-advisor can help you include:

  • Separation: The first thing that a representative such as an attorney-advisor can do is put separation between you and the university or other agency investigating you. Statements that you make to investigators or other school personnel can be used against you in an administrative hearing, civil actions, and criminal proceedings. It is important to minimize the contact when appropriate, so you don't say something that can get you into trouble.
  • Investigation: An attorney-advisor can also help you defend your misconduct case all the way through to any administrative hearings. In formulating your defense, an independent investigation that is led by your attorney-advisor can uncover valuable evidence that can be used to help your case. This can include an investigation of the place where the misconduct allegedly occurred, along with an investigation of anyone that was potentially present or has any relevant information.
  • Negotiation: An attorney-advisor can help you negotiate a resolution to your misconduct case. This would include a negotiated settlement and sanction that would potentially resolve the case in the most minimally harmful way possible. If an investigation demonstrates that the case against you is strong, then a negotiated settlement might be your best option.
  • Representation: An attorney-advisor can defend your misconduct case at a school hearing to help you potentially avoid all sanctions if the school is unable to meet their legal burden and prove their case against you. It is imperative that you are fully prepared for this type of hearing and understand the rules that govern administrative misconduct hearings if you plan to be successful.

An attorney-advisor may be able to help you in these and other ways. Make sure you get the appropriate legal help if you are facing allegations involving your school or university. If you have legal questions, then call us at the Lento Law Firm today!

Why Hiring the Lento Law Firm is the Right Choice

If you are a student who has legal questions related to a misconduct allegation at a university in Ohio, then it is important to seek the advice of an experienced attorney-advisor. Attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team have helped hundreds of students in Ohio and across the country with various legal issues. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to learn why hiring Attorney Lento and his team are the right choice to help you with your case.

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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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