Where We Can Help - Tennessee Colleges and Universities

Are you a student or the parent of student at a Tennessee school, college, or university facing a school-related issue or concern?  Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help. The world of academia is unique, and the Lento Law Firm has unparalleled national experience bringing its problem-solving approach and fighting spirit to address school-related injustice.  Attorney Lento and his Firm have helped countless students and families in Tennessee and across the United States at the school level and in court.  Please click on the following links for more information.  Please also see our expanded list of school practice areas

Joseph D. Lento has helped countless students and others in academia in Tennessee protect their academic and professional future, and he can do the same for you.  Contact him today at 888-535-3686.

An Overview of Tennessee Student Discipline and Student Rights

Are you a college student currently attending a public or private university in Tennessee? (Or—do you have a student attending college in the Volunteer State?) If so, congratulations. College should be a productive, happy time in a young adult's life. Over the years you or your child spend in college, there's a lot to look forward to. You'll meet people, you'll take life-changing courses, and you'll even get an idea of what you want to do after college.

A lot of your future success hinges on your ability to graduate successfully and get your college degree without any type of damage to your reputation. You might take this for granted: How difficult could it be, anyway, to stay on the good side of your Tennessee college?

As it turns out, it can be easier than you think to attract negative attention. While you're taking your classes and enjoying your time on campus, there's a lot that can go wrong. You may find that you're having a hard time progressing in your courses. You might struggle to keep up with your peers or the amount of work you have to do. You could also get wrapped up in disciplinary matters, such as code of conduct issues or even sexual misconduct processes.

Any of these can have a huge impact on your future. If your school takes disciplinary action, such as an expulsion or a suspension, and notes it on your permanent transcript, you might find that you have a very difficult time getting jobs and applying to future schools in the future.

That's why it's important right now to make sure that you have all of the information you need to make sure you're able to graduate with your head held high. You or your student is working hard to obtain that degree, after all; at the Lento Law Firm, it's our mission to make sure that you're able to enjoy it!

Whether you're experiencing academic difficulties or suspect that you might have an allegation for misconduct in your future, the first step towards a successful resolution is making sure you have all of the information you need at your fingertips. On this page, you'll find the information a Tennessee college student should know.

The Private and Public Higher Education Institutions in Tennessee

No matter which school you're attending in Tennessee, you're in a good place! Tennessee is home to many great educational institutions, both public and private. We'll begin this handy guide with a list of the most popular private and public colleges and universities in the state:

Public schools in Tennessee

  • University of Tennessee (and its many campuses)
  • University of Memphis
  • Tennessee Technological University
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Middle Tennessee State University
  • Austin Peay State University

The University of Tennessee is a large university system in the state (with over 30,000 students!). Since this is the case, when we need an example for a code of conduct explanation on this page, we'll use the University of Tennessee as an example. There's a very good chance that the policies at your school will be similar, but it's a great idea to check out your school's specific policies anyway!

Private schools in Tennessee

  • Vanderbilt University
  • Rhodes College
  • Union University
  • Lipscomb University
  • Johnson University
  • King University
  • Maryville College
  • Lee University
  • Milligan University

There are a few different distinctions between public and private colleges and universities, but there's a common one we'd like to take a moment to dispel right now.

Even though private schools may have to operate under fewer regulations than many public schools, for the most part, private schools still comply with the majority of government regulations (for example, Title IX). There are many reasons for this. A school might wish to remain open to federal funding if it doesn't require any in the first place. A school might simply wish to offer its students a consistent and competitive experience when compared with other schools in the state.

With that said, in the next section, let's discuss the various higher education laws that may influence your experience while you're living and studying in Tennessee.

Statewide Higher Education Laws and Government Bodies in Tennessee

  • The Tennessee Higher Education Commission is a governmental body that oversees the various colleges and universities in Tennessee. If you are experiencing issues with your school, you may be able to reach out to this commission to exert some external pressure on your school.
  • The Tennessee Board of Regents curates the effective rules and regulations that apply to most schools in your state.
  • In addition, Tennessee is part of the Sixth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. It's worth keeping your eye on the opinions this court issues from time to time: On occasion, they'll make a decision that may impact the way your school operates.

Academic Issues and Concerns: What to Expect at Your Tennessee School

It isn't the goal of any student to fail to progress at their school. It can take a lot of students by surprise — and even take many a long time to realize what may be happening. It can be relatively subtle: A few low grades, a project or two that doesn't turn out well, and you could be looking at disciplinary action from your Tennessee university.

This may come as a shock. You might think that your school will have your back in a situation where you're clearly working hard, just not making as much progress as might be expected. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. While your school may profess to have resources available for struggling students — such as tutoring, mental health services, or flexibility in course loads or requirements as needed — all too often, the ‘solution' is a suspension or even a dismissal.

If you're exhibiting a failure to progress in one or more of your courses and your educator escalates your case to the notice of the administration, you might have to deal with the stress of an investigation in addition to your already-existing workload. If your school decides to give you a suspension, you could suddenly find that your scholarship or membership on an athletic team is in jeopardy. You'll also be at risk for long-term career or future education ramifications if the note makes its way to your student record.

Your school may have defined parameters for what constitutes academic failure to progress. Your school may also leave this type of assessment in the hands of your educators. Regardless, ostensibly punishable academic concerns typical in higher education may include:

  • The repeated failure to prepare materials for coursework or for lab experiences
  • The repeated failure to complete background activities (such as required reading) for your courses
  • Repeated or allegedly unimproved grades on a series of course exams
  • Repeated incompletes, withdrawals, or attempted withdrawals for courses (particularly those deemed essential to your chosen academic path)
  • The failure to take on a minimum accepted number of credits for your student status
  • The failure to complete course requirements, as determined by your educators or stated in your course curriculum

This is not an exhaustive list. Your educators may be able to provide proof of your apparent failure to make academic progress even if it doesn't seem reasonable to you. If your academic performance can be shown to be substandard, no matter your efforts or explanations, you could be at risk for disciplinary processes.

Failure to progress is not the only reason your school could zero in on your behavior and initiate a code of conduct or academic investigation. Next, we'll discuss other reasons your school could deem its disciplinary processes necessary.

Your Tennessee School, Code of Conduct Infractions, and You

Have you ever taken a look at your school's code of conduct?

Your college or university has a lengthy document that contains all of the expectations it has of each of its students. This document will also contain your school's definitions of different types of punishable behavior and what will happen if your school believes you may be responsible for misconduct.

This document, while hugely important for your successful experience at your school, is not very accessible. While you should be able to find it easily, it's probably not a very good read. It's dense, it's lengthy, it's a little scary, and you might not be that interested in it when your first begin your college career.

If you've never glanced at your Tennessee school's code of conduct, now's a good time to do so. You should be able to find one on your school's website. (Often, it's on the Dean of Students page or in a Student Resources portal.) We'll use the University of Tennessee Code of Conduct as an example for the following section. It's likely representative of normal regulations, expectations, and ramifications in higher education, but you should definitely access your own school's code of conduct. It may contain information that is unique to your academic experience.

Now, we'll go through a brief overview of the most common types of code of conduct infractions.

Sexual Misconduct Violations at Your TN School

Cases of sexual misconduct have been on the rise in American schools for several years. As a result, schools are focusing more and more on sexual behavior or any actions that could possibly fall under a very wide umbrella of inappropriate actions.

Title IX, a federal law that oversees the way American schools investigate and adjudicate sexual misconduct, incentivizes a quick response to any allegations of sexual misconduct. As a result, your school may steamroll over the rights of those students who stand accused of sexual misconduct, even if they're really innocent. This is doubly unfortunate because the stigma of being associated with sexual misconduct (even erroneously) will follow a student over the course of their career.

Your school's code of conduct will contain information about what your school categorizes as sexual misconduct, but there's a lot of grey area. Your school may even have multiple policies, such as a Title IX policy and a more expansive Sexual Misconduct policy, under which your school might adjudicate your case. It can all be very confusing (and even traumatizing) for all students involved.

While the specific actions your school loops into its definition of sexual misconduct may vary, some common inclusions are:

  • Dating violence
  • Domestic violence
  • Stalking
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Rape
  • Incest

This is not a complete list. Depending on the environment and standards at your school, you may find that even seemingly innocuous actions (such as making lewd jokes) could merit the attention of your school. It's also frequently the case that misunderstandings and miscommunications result in allegations of sexual misconduct, to the surprise and horror of those accused. If this happens to you, it's imperative that you contact a student defense lawyer immediately. Allegations and investigations of sexual misconduct can snowball out of control very quickly, doing irreparable damage to a student's career in the process.

Academic Misconduct at your Tennessee School

Above, we talked about the consequences of failing to progress in your studies and related academic issues and concerns. Is that the same thing as academic misconduct, or are the two separate?

Academic integrity issues are distinct from failure to progress. In a failure to progress situation, generally speaking, you haven't broken any specific rules; your performance is simply not measuring up to some academic standard. When your school accuses you of academic misconduct, they're saying that you broke a specific rule—one that should be stated in your school's code of conduct. It's entirely possible that students who are failing to progress resort to academic misconduct in an effort to bounce back, but the two groups of offenses are distinct.

Unfortunately, they can merit similar responses from your school. Your school's code of conduct should clarify which actions constitute academic misconduct. The following are good examples of punishable behavior:

  • Unauthorized Collaboration
  • Illicit Access of Materials
  • Destroying School Property (e.g., lab materials or books)
  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • Fabrication of Data

Notably, if your school believes that you have helped someone else commit academic misconduct (even without your assent, e.g., if someone else stole your homework and copied it), your school will likely consider that a punishable offense.

General Code of Conduct Infractions at Your TN University

Sexual misconduct and academic dishonesty are not the only types of code of conduct issues that could result in adverse attention from your school. If you flip through your school's code of conduct, you will probably find types of misconduct that are specific to your school. There are also common types of infractions that simply don't fit into either academic or sexual misconduct. For example, your school may punish residential misconduct (e.g., stealing or violence in dormitories), drug and alcohol use, hate crimes, and even hazing in some instances.

Whether your school has reason to believe that you're responsible for academic dishonesty, sexual misconduct, or general code of conduct issues, it will follow certain due processes (also listed in your school's code of conduct) in order to figure out what happened and recommend disciplinary consequences. In the next section, we'll discuss what occurs after your school receives an allegation of misconduct.

The Processes that Occur After an Allegation of Misconduct at Your Tennessee School

Before we discuss what exactly happens after an allegation, it's important to share the single most important thing that you need to do when you realize that you could be the subject of an investigation.

You need to hire a student defense lawyer. Whether you need help putting together an argument, going through your school's confusing paperwork, filing an appeal, or having your lawyer speak with your school's general counsel to avoid expensive litigation, getting a lawyer as early as possible will make it much more likely that you'll be able to enjoy a successful outcome.

If you believe that you're going to need mitigation of misconduct matters, call a lawyer—now. These situations can become scary and stressful very quickly.

Now, let's talk about what will happen. Whether your instructor has decided to file a report regarding your failure to progress or if someone has made an allegation of sexual misconduct, your school will begin due process by receiving that information and deciding whether to take action.

If your school decides it wants to learn more, some version of the following series of events will take place:

  • You'll receive a notification from your school. Your school will detail the allegations against you and provide some next steps. If you haven't already, now is an excellent time to contact a student defense advisor. Although you may be stressed, now is (unfortunately) not the time to rely on your community. Do your best to refrain from speaking with your friends and school staff about your situation, as anything you say could potentially be used against you later.
  • You may participate in an investigation from your school. Your school could look into your past record of behavior, your previous academic materials, speak to your peers and instructors, and even look at your social media.
  • You may have an initial meeting with a representative from your school. If your issue is that you're (allegedly) failing to progress, this could simply be with your instructor. At this meeting, you'll review the allegations against you and have an opportunity to tell your side of the story. In some cases (e.g., if you've cheated on an exam), the school representative may simply recommend a punitive measure at this time (e.g., a failing grade for that assignment).
  • You may have a formal hearing in front of a panel of school representatives. Once your school has enough information, you may receive an invitation to attend a hearing. At this hearing, your school will present its information allow you a chance to present your narrative, interview witnesses, and more. At the end of this hearing, your school should decide whether you should be held responsible for the alleged punishable behavior.
  • You'll receive a recommendation for disciplinary sanctions. If found responsible, after you learn what punishments are on the table, you can then decide whether you're interested in simply carrying out your sanctions, or if you want to try to seek a reconsidered outcome school through the school's appeal process.

Our recommendation? You should never feel like you have to simply accept your fate. Even lesser sanctions can have a huge impact on your future. Let's go over the most common disciplinary measures used in Tennessee schools.

Sanctions

The University of Tennessee's Sanctions page includes the following language, “The Sanctions imposed on a Respondent should be Proportional to the Respondent's misconduct and appropriate for the particular case based on the gravity of the offense.”

Actual sanctions issued rarely measure up to this ideal.

Your school may list a range of sanctions in its code of conduct. These sanctions may include:

  • Detention
  • Written warnings
  • Monetary fines
  • Behavioral contracts
  • Loss of privileges
  • Loss of scholarship
  • Housing changes
  • Course changes
  • Suspensions
  • Expulsions

In reality, for many alleged offenses, the most common sanction you'll face is a suspension. (Or, in the case of serious sexual misconduct, an expulsion.) This may or may not seem like a big deal, but we'd like to make one thing very clear: It is. Even if you think you could weather a suspension, you need to remember that your disciplinary infractions will be noted on your permanent transcript.

You're going to need to be able to share that transcript in the future. For example, if you apply to another school, an internship, or even a job, the people in charge of awarding those opportunities will ask to see your transcript as proof of your educational experience. When they see that you received a suspension (or see the gap in your transcript resulting from a suspension), they will very likely award that opportunity to someone else.

This repercussion can follow you for years after college, closing door after door that might have otherwise been open to you. At the Lento Law Firm, we believe that a past misunderstanding or poor decision should never result in your losing valuable schooling and employment opportunities.

In the next sections, we'll discuss how you might be able to negotiate with your school towards a more successful outcome.

Your Tennessee School's Process for Filing Appeals

Aside from hiring a student defense attorney early on in your disciplinary process and following a few best practices during your school's investigation, an appeal may be your first action to start moving towards a favorable resolution.

Filing an appeal right can be a little tricky, though. Here's a general overview of the steps you'll have to take:

  1. You'll need to act quickly. Depending on your school's specific processes, you may only have a few business days after your hearing (or your school's final disciplinary decision) to make an appeal. Since this is the case, it's a great idea to ensure that you're already working with a student defense advisor by this point.
  2. You'll need to make your first shot your best shot. Typically, you'll only have one chance to file an appeal. After that one appeal, your school's decision will be final. It's in your best interest to make your one appeal as good as is possible. It will need to be persuasive, prompt, and professional.

You'll also need to be ready to act. If your school indicates that it's ready to negotiate after you've filed an appeal, your advisor will need to be able to take charge of the conversation to ensure you actually end up with a better sanction.

If your school isn't amenable to negotiations after reading your appeal and instead reiterates the original sanction, you and your lawyer may need to be prepared to take the next step.

What if It's Time to Sue My School in Tennessee?

While pursuing litigation against your school may be an effective way to work towards, for example, vacating a finding of responsibility and sanctions, or otherwise achieving a successful outcome, it's also definitely drastic action. After a lawsuit, you won't enjoy a relationship with your school anymore. You'll likely need to apply somewhere else. Lawsuits are also time-consuming and can be expensive. It's worth considering alternative actions before you take decisive legal action.

At the Lento Law Firm, we've seen consistently great results when the Firm's student defense attorneys reach out to a school's office of general counsel on a student's behalf. These lawyer-to-lawyer conversations will very often be able to smooth things over without steep expenses or tough conversations (that you or your student need to be a part of as your lawyer will be your mouthpiece).

Before considering a lawsuit, have your lawyer reach out to your school's lawyers and see what beneficial outcome they're able to work towards. As your student defense attorney recommends, it may be also worth completing the following actions:

  1. Make very sure that you've exhausted your school's processes for appealing your sanctions. Even if you're not sure that it'll actually have any effect on the outcome, it'll show your school that you tried (and serve as a valuable precedent for any further actions).
  2. File a complaint with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. As we discussed above, this commission has some level of oversight and authority over many institutions in the state. Again, whether this provides immediate results or not, it helps show your school that you're serious.

If none of these avenues works for you, talk to your defense advisor about filing a suit. They'll be able to tell if you have the basis for a successful lawsuit since they're already familiar with your case.

Are There Any Other Tennessee Laws That I Should Know About as a College Student?

Yes! From local laws that could affect how you spend your time to statute of limitations laws (that define how long after an event you or someone else can initiate legal action related to that event), there are certainly local TN laws that you should be aware of. They include:

  • Tennessee Laws about Underage Drinking: The state of Tennessee has strict laws on underage consumption. If you get caught possessing or drinking alcohol, you could be at risk for steep punishments.
  • Tennessee Laws about Drinking and Driving: Tennessee has zero-tolerance for driving under the influence.
  • Tennessee Tenant Responsibilities: If you decide to live off-campus while you're a student, you'll need to follow your tenant agreement and pay your rent on time.
  • Tennessee False Identification Laws: In the state of Tennessee, you can't show a false ID to a police officer or use it to purchase alcohol underage.

Statute of Limitations Laws in Tennessee

  • Injury to Person: One year
  • Libel: One year
  • Slander: Six months
  • Injury to Personal Property: Three years
  • Trespassing: Three years
  • Contracts: Six years
  • Judgments: Ten years

Seem like a lot of information? It is. There's a lot to take in! Fortunately, you don't have to go through this alone.

Call Upon Joseph D. Lento, a National Student Defense Attorney-Advisor, for the Information You Need

Current Tennessee students (and parents), take note: There's a reason we're presenting this information. This information is important for empowering your college student to know how to navigate complex disciplinary and academic situations, should they arise when they are in school. As such, this is a great page to keep bookmarked for further reference.

For tricky failure-to-progress issues and misconduct experiences, it's very important that you work quickly and methodically to ensure that your student's transcript remains clear. However, doing this is much easier said than done. Your Tennessee school's code of conduct will be hard to understand. Your student may be stressed and frazzled, particularly if they've been working hard to keep up in class for a very long time. You're going to need to reach out to someone well-versed in these issues for your best chances of success (and for your own mental health).

You're going to need to reach out to Joseph D. Lento.

Joseph D. Lento is a national student defense attorney who is ready to provide his expertise. For years, Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm has assisted students from coast to coast, helping them fight for their rights and keep their reputations clean. If your or your student faces academic probation, a messy misconduct miscommunication, or any type of sticky situation in school, you've got to start early to have the best chances of success. Joseph D. Lento can help you and your family through your school's adjudicative processes. He can provide coaching, assistance with research and obtaining evidence, work with you to create a defense, negotiate with your school, and more.

Don't delay when your student's future is on the table. Instead, call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or simply fill out our online contact form, and we'll get back to you in a timely manner.

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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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