STEM Student Issues

A career in any aspect of engineering, whether it be computer engineering, civil engineering, biomedical engineering, or chemical engineering, requires a considerable amount of time and effort to pursue. Generally, students decide in high school what field they hope to build a career in and begin looking at undergraduate programs that help them further that dream. For some, like those in civil engineering, a bachelor's degree will be the extent of their academics, but for the others, they may find their dreams lead them to master's and Ph.D. programs. Every level of these endeavors comes with its own hurdles and exasperations, which is why it is so crushing for any student accused of violating their school's code of conduct in some way.

If you are accused of violating your school's code of conduct, having an attorney-advisor working on your side will help mitigate the negative consequences. For instance, if your university calls you in for a disciplinary hearing and it does not go your way, or you exhaust the appeals process, it could mean the end of your engineering career before it even begins. You have already spent so much time and money to pursue this dream, don't let an alleged violation of your school's code of conduct prevent you from achieving those dreams. An attorney-advisor will work vigilantly to advocate on your behalf.

Academic Misconduct

Across the country, engineering programs have specifically laid out what they consider to be academic misconduct. Many of these stipulations are similar in nature. Academic misconduct is classified as any behavior that might give a student an academic advantage over other students or create a disadvantage for any other student in the academic community. The most common forms of academic misconduct are cheating, plagiarism, student collusion, and fabrication or falsification.

Cheating

Cheating occurs when a student misinforms an instructor or other school official that grades their performance on an assignment, exam, or project. The instructor or school official is misled into thinking the student has a greater understanding of the material than they do. Additionally, students might also cheat by accessing unauthorized materials during an exam, assignment, or project that allows them to perform better than they would have without it. A student will also be accused of cheating if the university finds out they turned in the same assignment, exam, program code, or project for multiple courses.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a more specific form of cheating. A student does not even need to know that they are plagiarizing, or intend to do so. In fact, acts of plagiarism can be performed because of negligence or be completely unintentional. Students who plagiarize submit work that contains material from another source without referencing the source or using quotations. It is considered a form of fraud where the student uses the ideas, images, or recordings for their assignment, exam, or project as if they were the student's original works. In computer, chemical, and mechanical engineering settings, students can face accusations of copying code, experimental design, or engineering solutions.

Student Collusion

Another form of academic misconduct is student collusion – or collaborative cheating. Collaborative cheating occurs when more than one student acts together to violate the academic integrity code. This type of cheating usually occurs in group projects, take-home exams, or group assignments. For instance, students may communicate during an exam, share exam questions, or complete an assignment for another student. In some instances, students are paid to cheat on an exam or assignment.

Falsification or Fabrication

The final form of academic misconduct most seen in engineering programs is falsification or fabrication. Here, students may completely make up citations or references to support their findings on an assignment, exam, or project. In addition, it may involve modifying academic documents – like transcripts, grades, or other records – or forging the signature of an instructor or other school official on a letter of recommendation or a notice to take a course without achieving the prerequisites yet.

If a university accuses you of cheating, plagiarizing, colluding with another student to cheat, or falsifying or fabricating your findings or a teacher recommendation, you will be subject to a hearing on the matter. During this hearing, a committee will be formed to determine your punishment. Depending on the nature and severity of the act, this punishment ranges from the loss of a letter grade in the course you were found cheating in to complete expulsion from the school.

Title IX

According to federal civil rights law Title IX, a university that receives federal funding must protect its students from any form of discrimination based on their sex, which includes sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. Other violations include retaliating after a Title IX violation accusation has been made or creating a hostile environment for the victim that puts them in fear.

Gender Discrimination

Under Title IX, gender discrimination is defined as discrimination or harassment based on the person's gender, unfair treatment or behavior towards a person because of their gender, gender identity discrimination, sexism, sex stereotyping, or unproportionate athletic programs or activities accessible to all genders in relation to the college's enrollment (i.e., if the college's demographics are mostly woman but all that's offered is men's sports teams or fraternities).

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is categorized as unwanted sexual behavior, unwelcomed verbal, visual, or physical sexual conduct, or harassment of a sexual nature that inhibits a victim's right to an education and involvement in a program or activity.

Sexual Misconduct

Title IX classifies sexual misconduct as sexual abuse, assault, or battery, unwanted sexual contact, and physical acts where the victim is unable to give consent.

For any engineering student accused of a Title IX violation, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct, the university will take particular steps to adjudicate the matter, including:

  1. Providing both parties with equal opportunity to present relevant evidence and witnesses to advocate on their behalf.
  2. If there are any relevant law enforcement investigation documents, the university will review them.
  3. The university will also gather and examine other evidence relevant to the case that neither party presented on their own.

If your school finds that you have violated Title IX in any way, they will first separate you from the other student or victim. Depending on the nature and severity of the alleged conduct, the punishments will increase from there and may include suspension or expulsion from the university altogether. Additionally, if you are accused of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment, whether on or off-campus, the school is required to report the allegations to law enforcement, who will run a parallel criminal investigation.

Disciplinary Charges

Engineering programs are incredibly time-consuming. Between classes, projects, labs, and studying, you would think engineering students had little time for much else. But the reality is that they, like most individuals in their early twenties, like to find ways to blow off steam. Unfortunately, it's during these instances of stress relief when disciplinary concerns may take place. While disciplinary actions may not carry the same stigma as academic misconduct issues do, they do carry similar consequences which could impact their future.

While not an exhaustive list, most schools consider the following to warrant a disciplinary charge:

  • Assault on another student, faculty, or staff
  • Cyberstalking another student, faculty, or staff
  • Stealing from a common area, classroom, or residence hall
  • Piracy
  • Destroying property (on campus or off)

Academic Issues

Academic issues are separate from academic misconduct or disciplinary issues. Instead of encompassing cheating, destruction, or harassment, these academic progression issues generally involve grades and how a student can progress through a program.  For instance, universities expect students in any engineering program to finish their degrees in a certain period of time.

Usually, the school lays out a very flexible time allotment to ensure the material from prior courses is still fresh in their minds. If a university doesn't think students are making an acceptable amount of academic progress each year, they may prevent them from continuing. Moreover, for most programs, students are expected to keep up a certain grade point average to advance into upper-level courses. If a student mistakenly receives a lower grade in a course (because of bias or a genuine mistake), it could have a disastrous effect on their GPA, barring them from certain classes, labs, or even graduation.

Research Misconduct

While not every university engineering program has a research misconduct stipulation, the ones that do have created specific codes of conduct around what is expected of the students involved in a research setting. These codes of conduct are violated when a student falsifies, fabricates, or plagiarizes their research's proposal, performance, review, or results. If the research misconduct committee investigates the allegations and determines a hearing is warranted, the student could be subject to expulsion, suspension, or academic probation and possibly barred from research projects at the university in the future. For any student accused of research misconduct who wishes to go into a research-centered career after graduation, even just the accusation can have serious negative consequences for achieving that dream.

Career Impact

All engineering programs are extremely competitive, and that competitive nature does not end when college ends. If the school penalizes you for any academic misconduct, Title IX charge, an academic issue, or research misconduct, it will have pretty catastrophic consequences on your career. For instance, let's say you are barred from taking a course at a particular time because the alleged victim is also enrolled in that class, but you cannot take the course at any other time because of other responsibilities or other courses you must take. In this case, you may end up behind on your schedule to graduate with your class. Further, if the school prevents you from taking a particular course or participating in a specific research lab that you know you need to take for your future career, this may bar you from that dream role.

In addition to being kept behind, if your university expels you for the alleged conduct, you may not be able to get admission to any other university engineering program, completely derailing your dream career. No matter the penalty, these accusations will impact your graduate and professional careers. Every graduate degree application or interview will expect you to explain the situation. It may also affect your ability to secure funding for certain projects and will, at the very least, tarnish your reputation.

How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help

It's very important that the moment your school accuses you of any of these conduct violations, you seek out an attorney-advisor to act on your behalf. Attorney-advisors will work diligently to gather evidence relevant to the facts of the accusations and come up with a strategy to help alleviate long-term consequences. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of STEM students across the country face these types of accusations. They will work tirelessly to ensure the university hears your side of the story. Call 888.535.3686 today to schedule a consultation.

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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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