At Vanderbilt University, the Honor System is a formal institution that applies to every aspect of academic life. Academic integrity is a cornerstone of the university's education, helping students develop creative thinking, intellectual maturity, personal accountability, and respect for honesty and truth. All students have to sign their exams, papers, and assignments with an honor pledge, and various Honor Councils investigate suspected violations of the Honor Code.
Law students at Vanderbilt must also adhere to an Honor Code for the Law School specifically, which also has its own Honor Council. With a system as permeating and deeply enshrined as Vanderbilt's Honor System, you can be certain the university and the Law School will take any suspected violations of academic integrity very seriously. Law students must adhere to these policies not only for the sake of their academic careers, but also to demonstrate their readiness to practice law.
When law students at Vanderbilt have an academic misconduct or Honor Code violation on their record, it may make the Law School unable to certify their moral character and fitness to the state bar association. Without passing the character and fitness evaluation, law graduates might not be admitted to the bar.
If you're a Vanderbilt Law student facing an Honor Code violation, you should consider retaining the services of a specialized student defense attorney.
Law Student Misconduct at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt Law has its own Honor Code that all enrolled law students must follow. The Law School also has an Honor Council to oversee the Code and investigate potential infractions. The Honor Code only pertains to academic matters; the Graduate Student Conduct Council has jurisdiction over non-academic misconduct among graduate students at Vanderbilt.
Violations of the Vanderbilt Law Honor Code
The Honor Code lists specific behaviors that would amount to violations, although the list is not comprehensive:
- Use of unauthorized materials
- Unauthorized collaboration
- Discussing an exam with or near a student who has not yet taken the exam
- Destruction of materials another student needs for an academic endeavor
- Misleading an employer
- Abusing the Honor Code (misrepresenting facts to the Honor Council, interfering with an Honor Council violation, or misrepresenting an Honor Code violation)
- Conduct expressly prohibited by an instructor
- Behavior that provides an unfair advantage of one student over others
How the Honor Council at Vanderbilt Law Handles Academic Misconduct
If you're accused of a violation of Vanderbilt Law's Honor Code, the disciplinary procedures will move through three phases: investigation, hearing, and trial.
Anyone can bring an allegation of academic misconduct to the Honor Council. Once the Council receives an accusation and permission to start an investigation, one member will begin gathering evidence and witnesses. Before the investigation is over, the Council will notify you of the allegation against you and invite you to speak with the Council member assigned to your case.
Once the investigation is over, the Council member who did the investigation will present their findings to the Honor Council's President, Vice President, and Secretary. Two of these three members must find it likely that you violated the Honor Code for the case to move forward to hearing.
At the hearing, the Counsel for the School will try to establish probable cause that you violated the Honor Code, and you may make a statement in response. The Hearing Committee can also ask you questions. You may have an advisor present during the hearing and throughout the Honor Code violation procedures, but this advisor must be either a member of the student body or an Honor Council member. If you retain an external attorney, they cannot be present with you during meetings, the hearing, or the trial.
The Hearing Committee will determine if there's probable cause that you violated the Honor Code and if there is, the next step is the trial.
The trial differs from the hearing because you'll have the chance to present evidence and call witnesses at the trial. You can cross-examine witnesses, as can the Counsel for the School and the Trial Panel. You'll also have to present a summary or closing argument. After the evidence and summaries, the Panel deliberates. At least five of the six Panelists must vote “guilty” for you to receive a “guilty” verdict. If they found that you have violated the Honor Code, the Trial Panel will reconvene to impose sanctions.
Sanctions for Misconduct at Vanderbilt Law
If the Trial Panel determines that you've violated the Honor Code, the Panel can choose one or more of the following sanctions:
- Written reprimand
- Loss of credit for the academic work involved
- Loss of credit for the course involved
- Inability to participate in Career Services or other professional programs
- Suspension from Law School
- Expulsion from Law School
- Probation determined by the Trial Panel
When the Trial Panel imposes a sanction, it must consider all the facts and circumstances of the case, including the flagrancy of the violation, the degree of premeditation, and whether the violation was self-reported, among other considerations.
Are Appeals Possible?
There is a process for appealing a verdict of the Trial Panel, which the President of the Honor Council must inform you of if the case will go to trial. It's important that you understand the appeal process and follow it as closely as possible if you receive a “guilty” verdict from the Trial Panel. Plea bargains are also allowed at the trial.
Contacting a Student Defense Attorney-Advisor for Help
The procedures for handling an Honor Code violation at Vanderbilt Law are long and complex. If you've never gone through such disciplinary proceedings before, you will likely be overwhelmed and unprepared. This is not unique to Vanderbilt Law, as law school disciplinary proceedings are fundamentally a unique animal, characterized by intense and rigorous proceedings compared to other academic institutions.
A student defense attorney-advisor, while unable to be present during your questioning, hearing, or trial, can coach you on what to say and help you prepare your defense strategy. As importantly, the investigation that takes place in advance of a prospective hearing is itself extremely critical in terms of the ultimate outcome, and an experienced attorney-advisor can help you best navigate such proceedings. You do not want to face such academic misconduct allegations at Vanderbilt Law alone because too much is at stake, and the Lento Law Firm can help.
Joseph D. Lento helps law students, as well as graduate and undergraduate students across the country defend themselves against academic misconduct charges and honor code violations. If you want to protect your future as a lawyer, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your options.