Undergraduate Student Issues

Undergraduate life presents a host of opportunities. It also presents a host of challenges. Those opportunities and challenges coalesce into great growth experiences for many students who achieve satisfying outcomes like a degree, job or graduate school, network of new friends, and maybe even a spouse and new family. Yet an undergraduate's challenges and opportunities can also, in some cases, burden, entice, confuse, and conflict, drawing the student into misconduct that the school determines to condemn and punish.

When a college or university charges an undergraduate with misconduct, the school's interests come into sharp conflict with the student's interests. The undergraduate must quickly realize that in a misconduct proceeding, the school is no longer acting solely or primarily in the accused undergraduate's best interest. The school has other interests, like safeguarding its educational environment and promoting its reputation, that it may best serve by suspending or dismissing the student, which is certainly not the student's interest.

To successfully defend and defeat misconduct charges, and avoid them in the future, undergraduates need to understand how the charges arose, what the school may do to resolve them, what the charges' impact may be, and what to do about them. Undergraduates most of all need to appreciate how serious misconduct charges are, how complex discipline procedures can be, and how important retaining national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento is to their future.

Undergraduate Opportunities

Heading off for the first time to college or university is exciting. Undergraduates should be optimistic, hopeful of meeting and enjoying new friends, earning a valued degree, entering a career, and growing in all the other ways one expects from higher education. Strange it is, then, that those very opportunities can each in their own way draw an undergraduate into misconduct. Undergraduates need to learn and remember that opportunities come with constraints and risks, as follows:

  • Freedom's Allure. One of the first and most obvious college and university opportunities is for the undergraduate to do pretty much as the undergraduate pleases. An undergraduate's first term of that freedom can be especially alluring toward behavioral misconduct, including alcohol use and abuse, public drunkenness, drug possession and delivery, and disorderly conduct;
  • Relationship Opportunities. For undergraduates to be able to choose and make their own friends from among a vast crowd of individuals of the same age and life station is a huge opportunity, especially when those undergraduates are free to study, work, eat, sleep, and play in virtually unfettered proximity to one another. Those rich opportunities, though, can be grand enticements to relationship misconduct like hazing, bullying, harassment, discrimination, stalking, assault, and sexual assault;
  • Resource Opportunities. Undergraduates gain access to enormous resources, including classrooms, commons, libraries, recreational fields and facilities, computers, and laboratories and equipment. Undergraduates may misunderstand the appropriate use of those resources, leading to behavioral misconduct like computer misuse, hacking, privacy invasion, vandalism, and trespassing;
  • Program Opportunities. Undergraduates also find abundant opportunities to learn and advance their skills and credentials in collaborative and competitive educational programs, not just in the classroom but in clinics, internships, on-campus employment, and clubs and recreation. The opportunity and pressure to succeed can lead to academic misconduct like cheating, plagiarism, self-plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, and falsification of data or other academic information.

Undergraduate Challenges

While the opportunities of a college or university experience can entice undergraduates into various forms of misconduct, the challenges of college or university can likewise contribute to misconduct charges. Graduates remember that college or university is no bed of roses. All undergraduates struggle to some degree, and some undergraduates struggle mightily. While large numbers and percentages succeed, some undergraduates, unfortunately, succumb to various challenges, in some instances because of misconduct relating to those challenges. Undergraduates need to recognize and avoid these misconduct hazards:

  • Maturation Challenges. Undergraduates do not come to college or university fully equipped, formed, and informed. On the contrary, they go to college or university for growth and maturation. But undergraduates who lack significant socialization may find themselves facing serious misconduct charges over alcohol use and abuse, sexual harassment and assault, classroom disruption, and academic fraud or other forms of cheating;
  • Family Challenges. Many undergraduates have parents who are college graduates and have helped their children prepare for college's challenges. Yet, many other undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college. Lacking family support, appreciation, preparation, and context, they may fall into academic or behavioral misconduct issues;
  • Health Challenges. Mental and physical health is seldom perfect. School stresses can cause mental and physical health issues or aggravate pre-existing issues. Poor mental or physical health can draw students into academic and behavioral misconduct issues;
  • Intellectual Challenges. Higher education is supposed to challenge undergraduates intellectually, drawing them into zones of proximal development where they are unfamiliar with new and sophisticated intellectual norms. The complex and sophisticated intellectual environment of college or university can induce unsophisticated undergraduates into academic misconduct forms like cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, and academic fraud.

Undergraduate Misconduct Policies

You've just seen how the opportunities and challenges of undergraduate education can induce students into various forms of misconduct that the institution stands ready to identify, charge, condemn, and punish. While policies vary somewhat from school to school, colleges and universities tend to identify, prohibit, and punish three forms of undergraduate misconduct: (1) behavioral misconduct, often identified in a student code of conduct; (2) Title IX sexual misconduct that federal regulations proscribe; and (3) non-Title IX sexual misconduct that federal regulations do not proscribe but that the college or university determines on its own to prohibit.

Behavioral Misconduct. Student conduct codes applicable to undergraduates, like the one at Northwestern University, address non-academic issues that nonetheless affect the educational environment. For all the reasons mentioned above, undergraduates may be especially prone to behavioral misconduct. Forms of misconduct common to these codes, like the one at Northwestern, include:

  • unauthorized alcohol and drug use, abuse, possession, and distribution;
  • assault, battery, threatening, fighting, or other non-sexual violence;
  • damage to and destruction of property such as vandalism;
  • non-sexual discrimination, hazing, bullying, and harassment;
  • disorderly conduct such as public drunkenness or classroom disruption;
  • endangering one's self or others through reckless behavior;
  • hacking and other misuse of computers and other information technology;
  • dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation in any school communication;
  • theft, conversion, embezzlement, or other unauthorized taking;
  • breaking in, trespass, or other misuse or abuse of school property;
  • weapon possession, use, or misuse; and
  • retaliation or other interference with the misconduct process.

Title IX Sexual Misconduct. The federal law commonly known as Title IX requires that colleges and universities prohibit certain forms of sexual misconduct in order to receive federal funding. With all the federal money and public prestige that institutions have on the line, undergraduates need to know that colleges and universities take these prohibitions seriously. College and university Title IX sexual misconduct policies, like the one at Ohio State University, uniformly prohibit conduct based on sex that does one or more of the following:

  • quid pro quo sex discrimination conditioning the provision of an aid, benefit, or service of the university on an individual's participation in unwelcome sexual conduct;
  • hostile environment sex discrimination, defined as unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the education program or activity; or
  • sexual violence including sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking.

Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct. Undergraduates also need to know that colleges and universities often go well beyond Title IX's requirements, to prohibit many other forms of sexual misconduct, in policies with vague definitions that the schools may interpret arbitrarily to include what would look to many undergraduates as innocent conduct. What might have passed in high school as immature hijinks may qualify at the college or university as non-Title IX misconduct. College and university non-Title IX sexual misconduct policies, again like the one at Ohio State University, commonly prohibit these other forms of sexual misconduct:

  • non-consensual sexual contact touching private parts;
  • non-consensual sexual penetration of any body part with any object;
  • exceeding the bounds of sexual consent;
  • invasion of sexual privacy, voyeurism, or exposure;
  • non-consensual video or audio recording or distribution of recordings;
  • use of alcohol or drugs to facilitate sexual misconduct;
  • prostitution or solicitation to prostitution;
  • knowingly transmitting a sexual disease;
  • statutory rape (sex with an underage minor) and incest; and
  • any conduct based on sex causing another to fear for safety.

Undergraduate Misconduct Proceedings

Colleges and universities publish elaborate discipline procedures, like those at the University of Texas, to address allegations of undergraduate misconduct. Given their unfamiliarity with higher-education norms and structures, undergraduates can face special challenges in understanding and following those discipline procedures. Do not try to navigate those procedures in any case involving serious misconduct charges without the assistance of national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento, who has helped hundreds of students nationwide defend and defeat false, unfair, and exaggerated misconduct charges.

Report. College and university procedures encourage misconduct reporting. Indeed, those policies can, in some cases of Title IX or other abusive misconduct, require school officials to report suspected misconduct, even where those officials might prefer not to do so. While the procedures vary, they typically authorize the school's Title IX coordinator, dean of students, conduct officer, or similar official to receive and process reports.

Preliminary Investigation. The procedures generally authorize the school official who receives the report to evaluate it preliminarily to ensure it alleges a violation of school conduct codes on arguably credible evidence. Undergraduates should appreciate that school official's opportunity, in some policies expressly authorized, to determine whether informal resolution between the accuser and accused is possible. Don't, in other words, aggravate an already-bad situation. But also don't admit to misconduct that you didn't commit. Diplomacy and sensitivity, together with a firm stance, may lead to resolution before formal charges, especially when supported by attorney Joseph Lento's wise counsel.

Formal Charges. If the school cannot informally resolve a credible complaint, then the school issues formal charges, notifying the accuser and the accused undergraduate of the misconduct charges. That notice typically includes some explanation of the available procedures. Notice of formal charges is an ideal time to retain the skilled representation of attorney Joseph Lento, who helps the undergraduate evaluate the charges and plan a strategic defense.

Investigation. The school follows charges with a formal investigation by one or more investigators whom the school appoints and empowers to interview witnesses, collect documentary and other evidence, and write summaries and findings in a report. Some school policies permit the accused undergraduate to review and comment on the draft report before the investigator finalizes it, or respond to the final report, both of which are critical services the Lento Law Firm can and often does provide.

Hearing. If the school is unable to resolve the charge based on the investigator's finding, then the case proceeds to some form of hearing before one or more officials whom the school appoints. Federal regulations require more formality in the hearing for Title IX charges, including testimony and cross-examination of live witnesses at the hearing. Title IX currently requires the school to permit the accused student to retain a skilled academic attorney to conduct that cross-examination. Attorney Lento also helps undergraduate students identify, organize, and present exonerating and mitigating evidence, all skills that undergraduates generally lack.

Decision, Sanction, and Appeal. The accused undergraduate should expect to receive the school's written decision on the charges with any accompanying sanction. The responsible undergraduate would promptly read that decision closely and take prompt appropriate action, with counsel's advice. That action may include an appeal of the decision or sanction to an appeal board, committee, or official. Attorney Lento's expert team handles appeals, which require analysis and written summary of the record, identification of error, and written argument for reversal of the adverse decision. Undergraduates generally lack the knowledge, skill, and experience to handle appeals.

Sanctions for Undergraduate Misconduct

College and university misconduct policies uniformly authorize the school to sanction undergraduate misconduct. For the school, the point is not just to identify misconduct. The point is instead to discourage and deter it by punishing and making an example of wrongdoers. Undergraduates may underestimate the school's ability and willingness to inflict severe punishment that derails the student's education. They may think that the school will understand and forgive their transgression as a prime part of the educational process. While some schools may grant some measure of grace for minor misconduct, schools are generally willing to sacrifice the education of one student to preserve the education of other students or promote other college or university interests. The sanctions that college and university misconduct policies tend to authorize, like the policy at the University of Texas, include:

  • oral or written warning;
  • oral or written reprimand;
  • probation;
  • failed assignment, grade reduction, or failed course;
  • canceled course credit;
  • withholding grades, transcript, or degree;
  • dropping courses, barring enrollment, and barring readmission;
  • restitution or reimbursement;
  • suspension from enrollment;
  • loss of rights and privileges to housing, facilities, and athletics;
  • expulsion; and
  • degree withholding or revocation.

Collateral Impacts of Undergraduate Misconduct

The above academic sanctions should give undergraduates immediate pause when dealing with actual or potential misconduct charges. A college or university cannot throw an undergraduate in jail or impose a hefty fine, as a criminal court might do. But schools finding misconduct can and often do bar undergraduates from the school's programs, facilities, and benefits. That academic action, though, has other collateral consequences that can be just as serious as the undergraduate's loss of educational rights and benefits. Those potential collateral consequences of undergraduate misconduct include:

  • lost opportunity to transfer to or enroll in another undergraduate school;
  • lost opportunity to enroll in graduate school;
  • lost opportunity to enroll in a professional school;
  • loss of college or university employment;
  • loss of internships, fellowships, and other appointments;
  • loss of university housing and resulting dislocation and costs;
  • lost opportunity to participate in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC);
  • lost opportunity to qualify for other military or police service;
  • loss of athletic training or participation;
  • lost scholarships and acceleration of educational debt;
  • inability to qualify for a professional license;
  • inability to qualify for a vocational certification;
  • lost jobs, careers, and professions;
  • loss of mentors, supporters, networks, and friends.

What Undergraduates Should Do When Facing Charges

With all of those potential impacts, the picture of an undergraduate found to have committed serious misconduct isn't pretty. Undergraduates need to know that they can help themselves when facing misconduct charges. Undergraduates are not helpless in the face of college or university misconduct charges. Undergraduates unfairly and falsely charged with serious misconduct have successfully defended and defeated those charges. Undergraduates facing true charges but having mitigating circumstances have also successfully navigated school procedures to acceptable sanctions that do not substantially impede their educational progress. Taking the following actions increases the undergraduate's prospects for an acceptable outcome. Winning is better than losing. Give yourself a chance.

Respect the Process. Many undergraduates just entering college or university haven't yet learned to respect the institution and its processes, perhaps in part because they haven't yet learned to respect themselves. College or university isn't fun and games. Higher education has a seriousness to it. The undergraduate needs to take the discipline process seriously. Open the email or mail from school officials. Read every school communication promptly, thoroughly, and carefully. And then respond as if your response matters to your future. Take seriously yourself, your position facing misconduct charges, and the value of your future. Undergraduates know that they need to grow and mature. Misconduct charges are a time to grow up and grow up quickly.

Devote the Resources. A second thing that undergraduates need especially to do when facing misconduct charges is to devote their resources to overcoming those charges. Undergraduates can feel as if on an island, alone and without things that they need for survival. Misconduct charges can increase an undergraduate's feeling of helplessness, as if without the things they need to manage the process. An undergraduate, though, is not helpless. Undergraduates have somehow managed their way into college or university, with all its financial, time, and energy commitments. Undergraduates have at least some skill at identifying goals, setting objectives, developing options to achieve those objectives, and acquiring the necessary resources while implementing the appropriate plans. Undergraduates need to take the time, recruit or acquire the finances, and devote the energy and attention to overcome the misconduct charges.

Retain Premier Representation. The single best thing that an undergraduate can do, though, to successfully defend and defeat frightening, confusing, unfair, false, or exaggerated misconduct charges is to retain the premier representation of national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento. College or university misconduct charges can unnerve anyone, not just an undergraduate. Undergraduates may have peculiar disabilities when facing complex and daunting school procedures, like a lack of confidence among adults, transactional experience, and procedural skills. But in attorney Lento, they have all the confidence, experience, and skill that they need to successfully navigate college or university misconduct charges. Attorney Lento has helped countless students at colleges and universities across the nation defend and defeat misconduct charges of all kinds.

With all that students have at stake in their education, a college or university misconduct proceeding can challenge any accused student, no matter the student's circumstances or the nature of the charges. A college or university misconduct charge involves an academic administrative proceeding, one that can mystify even a lawyer who has substantial court experience. Undergraduates facing misconduct charges need a lawyer representative who has substantial academic administrative experience. Retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to represent you throughout your misconduct proceeding. The expert team at the Lento Law Firm can help you successfully defend and defeat college or university misconduct charges. Contact attorney Lento today by calling 888.535.3686 or going online.

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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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