The Academy of Art University was founded in 1929 in San Francisco. Today, it is a professional preparatory school with a total enrollment of nearly 7,000 aspiring artists and designers. It is also a private, family-owned, for-profit institution.
Concerns at For-profit Colleges
Unlike traditional private and state colleges, for-profit colleges have a financial incentive to dismiss students who are accused of “failure to progress” toward their degree, often right before said degree would be awarded. At the Academy of Art University, Academic Dismissal kicks in when a student's semester GPA falls below 2.0.
At such times, university hearings and other measures can proceed very quickly, leaving the student confused, bewildered, and not best able to defend his or her interests. Unlike lawyers who focus on criminal and civil matters, advisors from the Lento Law Firm are used to the inner workings of colleges' and universities' internal systems. Students must pay back their loans whether they graduate or not, and the degree—and the increased job and compensation opportunities it may generate—can make a difference of decades in student debt.
What Is Academic Misconduct?
One of the things that make academic misconduct cases so slippery is that not every school defines misconduct the same way or even has the same motives and goals. While traditional private and public universities have the foundational purpose of providing education and promoting research and art, for-profit colleges and universities exist to generate revenue for their stockholders. That can mean taking a far different attitude toward students accused of academic misconduct.
Academic and Other Forms of Misconduct at the Academy of Art University
The Student Code of Conduct at the Academy of Art University states that any activity that threatens the safe and smooth operation of the campus can be considered misconduct. It also specifically cites cheating, plagiarism, withholding shared work from partners, forgery of University documents, impersonating another student, attending classes without payment, sexual and non-sexual harassment, sexual violence and gender discrimination, possession of fireworks or weapons, lewd behavior, hazing, distributing drugs or alcohol, vandalism, and abuse of property, among other items. Many of these items are very sensible and appear in other universities' policies as well, but many are so vague that they could be stretched to apply to almost any student action. The Addendum to the Student Catalog explicitly states that the policies are meant to give students a general idea and are not meant to outline every possibility, leaving a great deal of room for interpretation.
Academic Standing at the Academy of Art University
A student can be dismissed from the Academy of Art University for failure to maintain what the school calls Satisfactory Academic Progress, which usually means a grade point average under 2.0. This can happen even if the student does not commit misconduct or do anything else wrong. Generally, a student must have at least one full semester of Extended Academic Probation before being dismissed from the school. If dismissed, the student can write to the University Grievance Committee giving legitimate reasons for the decrease in their grades. An advisor from Lento Law can help prepare this letter for ideal clarity and effectiveness.
At the Academy of Art University, students are given the right to be told of what incident they are accused, to see the accusations in writing, and a “reasonable opportunity” to present a defense.
If the student is found responsible for misconduct by the Office of the Assistant Dean, that student may receive a formal letter of reprimand, assigned tutorials, workshops, or community service, disciplinary probation, suspension, or even expulsion from the school.
Sexual Misconduct at the Academy of Art University
The Academy of Art University policy on sexual misconduct covers both sexual violence and sexual harassment, including stalking. The University defines sexual harassment as any “unwelcome verbal, nonverbal, or physical contact of a sexual nature,” including requests for sexual favors and indecent exposure, capable of “limiting the student's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or opportunities offered by the University,” but it also covers harassment performed by professors or TAs. For example, a professor who plans to withhold grades or honors unless a student agrees to a date or sexual contact is guilty of sexual harassment under this policy.
However, their policy specifically addresses the effect of the perpetrator's actions, “whether intentional or not.” A student offender may not realize that his or her advances were unwelcome. Society is rife with myths about sex and gender roles. It has taught many of us that men cannot be raped, even though they can. It has taught many of us that men always want sexual attention from women, even though they do not. A female offender may not realize a touch, joke, or offer of sex counts as harassment. An offender of either sex may misread an embarrassed smile as a flattered smile and continue acting inappropriately under the misconception that their attention is desired. An advisor from Lento Law can help iron out misunderstandings and explore options for peaceful reconciliation with minimal pain for all parties.
The student may appeal Department Director's decision by contacting the Student Committee. The student is allowed to show that the action they performed did not truly constitute a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, that there was no proof that they performed the action, that additional evidence has come to light that the student could not have presented earlier, that the administrative process violated the student's rights in some way, or that other students who performed the same action were not punished in the same way.
How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help
An experienced advisor from the Lento Law firm can help the student understand the professor's and Department Director's goals and motives and respond with a clear and effective presentation of the facts. While all cases of alleged academic misconduct can be emotionally draining, students who find themselves facing false accusations are often the most upset and bewildered. An advisor can help a falsely accused student deal with what often seems to be the lightning pace of university discipline by preparing evidence, locating witnesses, and helping the student practice effective delivery. Students who did perform the action in question also need to protect themselves assertively. Confessing and apologizing does not always inspire administrators to restraint. Vindictive professors are as common as fair-minded ones. An advisor from Lento Law can ensure that the offender receives no more than the standard punishment or even explore other options for reconciliation between student and school.
Why It All Matters
We live in a capitalistic society, and in such societies, it is important for the people who sell goods and services, even services like education, to be held to their word to a reasonable extent. For-profit institutions must not be allowed to deprive students of the instruction and credentials that they paid for without cause, or the fair process that they deserve.
Why the Lento Law Firm
Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have defended thousands of students across the United States. The Lento Law Firm's unparalleled experience helping students address school-related issues and concerns have given the Firm the familiarity with university systems that students need to defend their interests and protect their rights and their futures. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3638 for a consultation.