University or College Code of Conduct: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You
At some point before your arrival on campus or during freshman orientation, someone suggested that you get acquainted with your school's code of conduct. It may be published online – or be outlined in a lengthy chapter within the student handbook. Either way, the onus was on you to become familiar with it.
Nearly every institution of higher learning across the country – as well as more than a few abroad – has its own code of conduct. That code is there to support your school's commitment to fairness, honesty, and integrity. You can think of the code a bit like a body of laws for your campus. It is a formal set of ethical, professional, and legal standards that every member of the campus community, from students to part-time university employees, are expected to follow. The code of conduct details the regulations and responsibilities surrounding the issues that are most important to campus life, from your more classroom-related policies regarding academic honesty to dormitory life issues like overnight guests and alcohol use. It's important you understand those expectations so you don't inadvertently violate any of the terms.
Many schools operate almost as like it's a separate town or community, especially larger campuses that may be home to thousands of students. But, that said, colleges and universities don't have the power or resources to enforce their code of conduct the same way a county or state might enforce their laws. That's not to say that a code of conduct violation isn't a big deal – if you find yourself accused of a violation, there could be big consequences. Schools do have the ability to enforce penalties ranging from loss of a financial package to expulsion.
If you or a loved one has received a notice of violation, it's important to take it seriously. This isn't something you can just brush under the rug. And since every school handles their judicial proceedings just a little bit differently, you always benefit when you get the advice of an attorney-advocate with many years' experience in college or university code of conduct matters.
Rights and Expectations
Often, the first indication you have been accused of a violation is a notice you find in your physical mailbox or perhaps in your student email inbox. This is called a notice of disciplinary action or notice of violation. Generally, this contains some details about the allegation as well as the time and date of a disciplinary hearing. This is a bit like a court appearance – the place where you will hear the evidence behind the code of conduct allegation and get the opportunity to tell your side of the story.
But what many students don't realize is that campus judicial proceedings don't guarantee the same rights and protections as you would have in your standard court of law. While schools are expected to have consistent procedures in place, they have a fair amount of leeway when it comes to what kind of evidence can be presented. They may also have more flexibility than the regular courts when it comes to your rights regarding privacy, self-incrimination, and representation. In fact, your notice may go so far as to say something to the effect that you don't need an attorney to answer the contained charge. It's important that you realize that these subtle differences can often have a profound impact on the outcome of your case.
Your acceptance to college is something to celebrate. You've put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears – not to mention tens of thousands of tuition dollars – to work toward a degree. With so much at stake, it's critical you get the advice of a trusted advisor with experience in college code of conduct cases. When you have an experienced attorney-advocate by yourself, you can rest assured you will have the kind of expertise that will help you not only navigate your school's practices and procedures but build the strongest possible defense.
Threats in Person or Online
Your words carry weight. And threats, defined generally as words or actions that any reasonable person might interpret as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm upon a person or damage to personal property, can have serious consequences in the university or college setting – whether they occur in person or are made in some sort of online forum. Using harsh words to warn off a classmate who may be flirting with your significant other or adding a veiled comment to an online student forum about how a certain professor should be dealt with could, in certain cases, both be construed as threats. Remember: the bar is what a "reasonable person" would take as a threat of personal violence or property damage. That often leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Most colleges and universities have specific rules regarding making threats to faculty members, administrators, employees, or fellow students. It's a big no-no – and what you might have thought was obviously a joke on that text message or social media post may not be taken that way by the recipient. And those remarks you made in anger to your suite mate? That, too, could be taken as a threat. That's why it really is so important to always consider your words, even in the heat of the moment.
In an era marked by school shootings and other school-related violence, your college or university will take any allegations of threats quite seriously to ensure the safety of the entire campus. But it is easy to see where a misunderstanding of a statement or online message could lead to an allegation. There is where the expertise of an experienced attorney-advocate can help. They can advise you on what type of evidence can best support your defense – and make sure a simple misunderstanding doesn't lead to suspension, probation, or another serious penalty.
What Should I Do If I Am Accused of a Threat Violation?
If you receive notice that you are being charged with a threat violation, first and foremost, don't respond with emotion. You may think you can manage the allegation by trying to talk to the person who made it – or explain the situation to your dean – but neither is ever a good idea. Instead, reach out to an experienced attorney-advocate who knows the in's and out's of code of conduct enforcement and university judicial proceedings. With the right lawyer in your corner, you will be able to tell your side of the story, with corresponding evidence, to ensure you get to the best possible outcome.
Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm has successfully defended countless students across the nation who faced various code of conduct allegations, including threat violations. To schedule a confidential consultation with Joseph D. Lento call (888) 535-3686 or contact us online.