A college like Miami-Dade is its own self-contained community, and it functions in many ways like a town or city might function. Indeed, with over 125,000 students and 10,000 faculty and administrators, Miami-Dade is as large as some small cities, with an annual operating budget of half a billion dollars to match.
Just like a city, a college needs some system of discipline—a set of laws—in order to function well. Like Orlando, Tallahassee, or Miami itself, Miami-Dade College has to have some means of maintaining order, or life there would pretty quickly descend into chaos.
Of course, no system is perfect. Cities make mistakes; so do colleges and universities. Sometimes the rules go too far. Sometimes the penalties for breaking those rules are too severe. Innocent students, just like innocent citizens, sometimes wind up accused of things they had nothing to do with.
So, just as in any city, if you've been accused, you have the right to defend yourself. Your school has a judicial process that mirrors the U.S. justice system.
If you're on trial for breaking the law, you need professional legal representation to help you deal with it. Bad things can happen if you try to handle a domestic violence charge all on your own. The same is true if you're accused of breaking one of your school's policies. There may once have been a time when you could sweet talk a dean into ignoring a drunken party or wriggle out of a professor's plagiarism charge by offering to clean their erasers. Those days are long gone. Misbehavior these days comes with stiff penalties, sometimes even suspension or expulsion. Campus judicial procedures can often be as complicated as those in any court of law. It's never a good idea to try and take on your school by yourself.
Here's the bottom line: if you're going to avoid trouble at MDC, there are a few things you need to know:
- You need to know the rules
- You need to know what happens if you break those rules or are accused of breaking them
- You need to know what the process is for challenging an accusation
- You need to know how to get help from a qualified, experienced attorney-advisor
Only if you understand the system can you hope to have any chance of defending yourself should you get caught up in it. You're a student at Miami-Dade College, and that means it's vital you know how MDC policies work.
The Miami-Dade College “System”
Knowing what to expect as a Miami-Dade student starts with understanding the school itself.
The first thing you need to know is that Miami-Dade College isn't one school on one campus. Instead, it's a network of campuses, a system. In total, MDC includes eight separate campuses and two “education centers”:
- Eduardo J. Padron
- West Wolfson
- Gibson Education Center
- Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center
Together these several campuses make up the largest educational institution in the United States.
Miami-Dade isn't just large, though. It's also incredibly diverse. MDC enrolls more Hispanic students than any other college or university and has the third-largest Black non-Hispanic enrollment in the country. Education is diverse at Miami-Dade as well. The school offers over 300 different programs of study. While most of the campuses offer bachelor's degrees, all offer associate's degrees, and some only offer these. Most also offer certificates in a variety of specializations as well as dual credit programs for high school students.
Size and diversity may, in fact, be one reason why the school's many campuses are all governed by the same academic and disciplinary policies. While each campus, for instance, has its own president, MDC has a single board of trustees which sets policy for all of them and a single president who runs school operations day-to-day. Thus, while you're almost certain to find important differences between the atmospheres at the Kendall campus, the Medical campus, and the Homestead campus, you'll also find that the same basic rules apply wherever you happen to attend.
Two Kinds of Misconduct
Miami-Dade College divides misconduct into two distinct categories. Each of these has its own rules, its own set of disciplinary procedures for handling alleged infractions, and its own set of sanctions for anyone proven to have committed an infraction.
The first of these two categories is academic misconduct. Broadly speaking, academic misconduct has to do with coursework and all the other activities involved in getting an education.
In addition, MDC has a strict “disciplinary misconduct” policy. These rules govern basic conduct between members of the school's community.
Finally, as part of their disciplinary misconduct policies, MDC singles out “sexual misconduct” for special consideration. These violations are usually subject to federal law and so are dealt with using federal guidelines.
As you might expect, Miami-Dade College, like any other American school, zealously protects its academic reputation. Employers don't hire students from schools that are known for dishonesty and cheating. Students don't apply to schools where graduates can't get hired. Schools without students don't last very long.
Any school that wants to survive, then, must maintain strict rules and assign serious punishments to those who break those rules. In fact, the first entry in MDC's Student Code of Conduct has to do with “Academic Dishonesty.” Here's what that entry has to say.
MDC identifies four specific kinds of academic misconduct: cheating, unauthorized collaboration, plagiarism, and submitting the same work in multiple courses.
- Cheating: The use of unauthorized resources in completing your coursework. “Unauthorized resources” is a broad phrase and can include anything from looking at another student's paper during an exam to asking another student to take the exam for you. Using your book during a closed-book exam qualifies, as does smuggling crib sheets into class or texting your roommate to get answers. In simple terms, if you get your answers from some resource other than your own brain, and you don't have permission to use that resource, you're cheating.
- Unauthorized Collaboration: Again, the key here is whether or not the collaboration is “authorized.” Plenty of faculty at MDC assign group work and collaborative projects. If you don't have permission to collaborate on coursework, though, you're violating policy if you do.
- Plagiarism: The attempt to pass another person's words or ideas off as your own without giving them credit. Like cheating, plagiarism can take a variety of different forms. It can be large, like downloading an entire paper from an online paper mill. It can be something simple, like using a quotation from an article without including a proper citation. It's also worth noting that plagiarism doesn't only apply to the written word. Art can be plagiarized, as can music, film, and even computer code.
- Multiple Submission of the Same Work: You're not supposed to plagiarize yourself, either. That is, you can't turn in the same work to two courses unless both instructors have given you permission.
In addition to these four specific kinds of misconduct, you should know that many instructors include additional rules in their course syllabuses. These might be anything from a ban on cell phones to a ban on baseball caps. The school will usually back faculty as long as the rule is listed in the syllabus. That's why it's so important to read these documents at the beginning of the semester.
Processes and Penalties
At Miami-Dade College, the primary responsibility for identifying and responding to academic misconduct rests in the hands of instructors. However, there is a clear process for doing so.
Faculty must meet in “a timely fashion” with any student they suspect of violating policy. This provides the student with a chance to explain their side of the story. In addition, faculty must direct students to the school's webpage on student rights and responsibilities. Ultimately, though, instructors have the authority to issue sanctions, including:
- Verbal or written warnings
- Additional work or an assignment revision
- Additional assignment on the nature of academic integrity
- A lower grade on the assignment in question, including a zero
- A lower grade in the course, including an F
Of course, if a student accepts responsibility for the infraction and the instructor's proposed sanction, the case is relatively straightforward. The case is closed and “not subject to any further action.”
However, should a student question either the charge itself or the severity of the sanction, they have the right to appeal. The first round of appeal involves protesting to the chair of the department housing the specific course. If this should fail to resolve the matter, students then have the right to a full hearing before the school's Academic Hearing Committee.
At the hearing, students may make statements, present evidence, and call any relevant witnesses. They are then subject to questions from committee members. Faculty also have the opportunity to present their side of the case and are questioned in turn.
Students have important rights under MDC policy, including the right to bring a non-participating observer to proceedings and the right to review all evidence against them. In addition, students have the right to appeal the committee's decision to the Campus President. This official's decision, however, is final.
As communities made up of students, faculty, administrators, and staff, the schools that make up the University System of Maryland must maintain some sense of order, and this involves developing extensive policies to govern how the various members of the community should behave. Put simply, these rules cover any behaviors that happen outside the classroom.
MDC's disciplinary policy is lengthy and complex, with over forty different sorts of rules governing everything from how you can use facilities to what happens if you disrupt class. In general, though, the various rules can be gathered under five broad categories:
- Offenses against persons: In simplest terms, this involves doing physical harm to someone else in the campus community. The exception here is sexually-based offenses, which, again, are dealt with through a separate “sexual misconduct” policy.
- Offenses against the community: Anything that might be labeled “disruptive” qualifies as an offense against the community. This includes things like noise violations, weapons possession, and inciting a riot.
- Offenses against property: Probably most prominent in this category is simple theft. However, vandalism is sometimes treated as a property offense, and trespassing often qualifies.
- Offenses against the college: Offenses against the college might include forging university documents or refusing to comply with university officials.
- Drug and alcohol offenses: As might be expected, all MDC campuses comply with state and federal laws regarding alcohol and controlled substances.
Given just how large Miami-Dade College is, it's no surprise that it maintains an extensive policy that dictates how all offenses are investigated and adjudicated. This helps ensure every student is treated fairly and equally. “Thorough” also means complex, though. For instance, you have a number of important rights under Miami-Dade College's Student Disciplinary Procedures, but it's not always easy to know how to use them to your advantage. This is one reason why it can be so useful to have a qualified, experienced attorney-advisor on your side should you be accused. They can help you successfully navigate the process.
Here's a basic outline of how that process works.
- Investigation: Any time a student is accused of a disciplinary violation, the school conducts a full investigation. Often, this investigation begins with an interview. Note: you have the right to remain silent throughout this interview.
- Preliminary Hearing: At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator holds a preliminary hearing. The Investigator should apprise you of your rights, including the right to remain silent. Then you have the opportunity to explain your side of the situation. Ultimately, the Investigator decides whether or not you should be charged officially with an offense.
- Notice of Charges: If the Investigator believes there is cause to charge you with a policy violation, they must issue you a formal Notice of the Charges. This notice should describe the nature of the offense as well as the possible sanctions you face. In addition, it should provide you with a full list of all your rights, including the right to an advisor, the right to cross-examine witnesses against you, and the right to examine all evidence in the case.
- Pleas: Within three days of receiving Notice of the Charges, you are asked to enter a plea of “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” If you should admit to the offense, the process enters a “penalty assessment phase” where you may offer evidence to mitigate the seriousness of your violation. At the end of this phase, an administrator determines the precise nature of your sanction.
- Formal Hearing: If you should plead “Not Guilty,” you are entitled to defend yourself at a full hearing before either an administrator or the full Campus Disciplinary Committee. You may make arguments, offer evidence, and call witnesses to testify on your behalf. In addition, you have the right to cross-examine any witnesses against you
- Finally, should you be found guilty, or if you disagree with the severity of the sanction, you have the right to appeal. You must do so within ten days. In addition, appeals must be in written form and must identify the specific mistakes you believe were made in the case.
Miami-Dade College utilizes a variety of different sanctions in response to disciplinary offenses. These include:
- Community Service: Mandatory campus community service as assigned by the Dean of Students or the Campus Disciplinary Committee.
- Restriction of Privileges: Loss of privileges such as access to campus facilities, including parking. This can be temporary or permanent.
- Restitution: Monetary reimbursement or repair services for damaged property.
- Disciplinary Probation: A period of time in which you are monitored to ensure you don't violate school policy further. Often another sanction is issued—such as suspension or expulsion—but is not enforced as long as you do not commit any further offenses during your probation period.
- Disciplinary Censure: A formal warning that you have violated school policy. Not as serious as disciplinary probation, but you could still be subject to harsher penalties should you commit additional violations during the term in which you are censured.
- Suspension: Separation from the university for a given period of time. Once this period has elapsed, you may re-enroll.
- Dismissal: Complete expulsion from the college. You aren't allowed to attend classes or even to be on one of the MDC campuses. After a specified length of time, you may be able to reapply, but readmission is subject to “approval of the Campus President.”
Sexual misconduct is among the most serious kinds of allegations any student can face. These types of offenses aren't just governed by school policy but by federal law. Over the last fifty years, Title IX has dictated how universities respond to sexually-based offenses
A Brief History of Title IX
For almost five decades, U.S. schools dealt with all allegations of sexual misconduct using rules and procedures set down in Title IX. Most sexual misconduct cases are still treated as Title IX cases, though since 2020, some types of misconduct have been designated “Non-Title IX” misconduct.
Title IX is a federal law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1972. Its original purpose was to prohibit sexual discrimination in federally funded education programs, including public colleges and universities. In the beginning, then, Title IX applied primarily to schools themselves. That is, it outlawed practices such as giving admissions advantages to male students or barring women from certain kinds of classes or degree programs. However, the use of the law has shifted significantly over time. For example, the term “discrimination” was redefined to mean “harassment,” a term that refers to a wide range of misconduct, from simple verbal harassment to stalking, dating violence, and even rape. As these terms were redefined, the purpose of Title IX shifted. Instead of holding schools accountable, the law is now most often used to investigate and adjudicate student misconduct.
Of course, few would question the value of eliminating sexual discrimination or sexual harassment. Nevertheless, as it's currently used, Title IX has become increasingly controversial. The root of this controversy has to do with the fact that schools aren't set up to decide complex issues of criminal law, the kinds of issues that often attach to serious offenses like date rape. Chemistry professors know a lot about chemistry. Usually, they know very little about the law, though. To address this problem, the U.S. government early on provided schools with a great deal of leeway in how they dealt with these cases. Unfortunately, that leeway led to a number of new problems. Among these, respondents weren't always afforded the due process rights they deserved.
The Trump administration set out to improve Title IX in 2020 by issuing what it called the “Final Rule,” a set of guidelines for how all Title IX cases should be handled. One of the more important aspects of the Final Rule was its guarantee of several due process rights to accused students. Respondents now have the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney. They have the right to be treated equally to the Complainant in all matters. They also have the right to be presumed “Not Responsible” (innocent) until proven “Responsible.”
At the same time, it created some new problems. For instance, the Trump administration limited schools' authority. The Final Rule narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” and restricted universities' jurisdictions. In response, many schools took exception to the new guidelines, arguing that they infringed on their own autonomy and that they abrogated victims' rights. Many of these schools created entirely new procedures for dealing with what became known as “non-Title IX” sexual misconduct, or sexual offenses no longer covered under the law. Some chose to use the same procedures in both types of cases. However, it's important to note that non-Title IX offenses are not subject to federal law. That means schools can implement any judicial processes they want in dealing with them.
Finally, it is worth noting that current Title IX rules are still subject to revision. The Biden administration is looking for ways to overturn the Final Rule and has already advised schools on how to exploit loopholes in the guidelines. As long as Title IX remains a hot political topic, more revision is likely, and you can expect the law will be rewritten many times over the years to come.
Title IX Procedures
Current Title IX guidelines require universities use a two-part process to handle allegations. The first of these is an investigation. This is then followed by a hearing. Here are some of the more important details concerning Title IX procedures:
- All MDC campuses must have a Title IX Coordinator. This Coordinator sets school policy and decides which allegations warrant a full investigation. Anyone may report sexual misconduct. However, only a Complainant (alleged victim) or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint to open an investigation.
- If you are under investigation, MDC is obligated to provide you with a Notice of the Charges. Notice should identify the Complainant and provide details about the allegation. In addition, it should remind the respondent of their rights under Title IX. Among these, you have the right to be presumed innocent, the right to an advisor, and the right to review all evidence against you.
- Next, the Coordinator appoints an Investigator to gather the facts of the case. This person meets separately with both sides in the case. They collect any physical evidence, such as dorm logs, video, clothing, and text messages. They also interview any potential witnesses to what occurred.
- Once the investigation is complete, the Investigator submits a written summary of their findings. Both sides have ten days to review this document and suggest any revisions.
- Once they receive the final Investigative Report, the Coordinator sets a date for a hearing and appoints one or more Decision Makers to preside over this hearing.
- The hearing offers an opportunity for both sides to present their cases. This means you may submit evidence and call witnesses. Title IX also gives you the right to cross-examine the Complainant and any other witnesses against you. Of course, the Complainant has the same rights.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, Decision Makers determine whether or not you are Responsible for a Title IX violation. In doing so, they use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” Far less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” this standard asks only that Decision Makers believe it is “more likely than not” you committed an offense.
- If the Decision Makers find you responsible, they also recommend sanctions.
- Finally, both you and the Complainant have the right to appeal the outcome of the hearing. However, you must file any appeals within ten days of being notified of the hearing outcome. In addition, appeals may only be filed for very specific reasons: the discovery of new evidence, procedural mistakes, or bias on the part of a Title IX official.
Again, many schools have begun to investigate non-Title IX sexual misconduct under their own procedures, and these don't always provide respondents with the same due process rights. However, for now, all MDC campuses only investigate incidents that qualify under the law. All other incidents are referred to local law enforcement as applicable.
Miami-Dade College lists a variety of penalties for sexual misconduct, the same penalties, in fact, they use for other kinds of disciplinary misconduct. These include everything from restitution to restriction of privileges. However, in practice, the minimum penalty in such cases is almost always suspension. The far more common outcome is expulsion.
Obviously, suspension and expulsion can have long-lasting repercussions. Any punishments that disrupt your academic progress are serious in and of themselves. However, these sanctions can also impact your entire future. Your transcript may very well include a notation about these sanctions and the precise nature of your infraction. Any disciplinary violation, but especially one for sexual misconduct, can prevent you from enrolling anywhere else, effectively putting an end to your academic career. Given the statistics about the importance of a college education to finding a good job, a suspension or expulsion might not just interrupt your education. It could do permanent damage to your entire professional career.
Facing an accusation, any kind of accusation from your university can feel daunting. Miami-Dade is a large school with institutional weight behind it. It's full of faculty—highly educated men and women—who have vast experience making sophisticated academic arguments. Most of us get nervous just asking our professors a question, let alone defending ourselves against a school's complicated policies. In short, it's good to have a plan in place now, before you're charged with an offense, as to how you would go about handling it.
What do you Do?
Here are a few suggestions on what that plan might involve.
- As a starting point, take every accusation—academic, disciplinary, or sexual—seriously. The impacts of a responsible finding can be serious, and they can extend well beyond any sanction the school may assign you. In this day and age, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to escape your past. Even the smallest accusation can do lasting damage to your reputation. If the MDC decides you plagiarized a paper, and that decision shows up in your permanent file, your financial aid could be in jeopardy. You could have trouble when it comes time to apply for fellowships, internships, and graduate school. You might even struggle to find that all-important first job out of college.
- Likewise, it should go without saying that you should never simply accept the charges against you or the sanction you've been given. Whatever penalty you're facing, there are always hidden penalties as well. It may seem like just accepting your professor's accusation that you cheated on an exam is far easier than trying to argue your case in front of a committee. Given what's at stake, though, no accusation is minor. You have the right to protect your reputation. You have the right to fair sanctions. However, you have to take advantage of those rights for them to mean anything. You must raise questions; you must push back against unfair treatment; you must be willing to fight for your future.
- Never talk to school officials without first seeking an attorney's advice. You are probably used to seeing your school as your home. That makes sense. Your school gives you a place to live. It feeds you and educates you. Up to this point, faculty and administrators have had your best interests at heart. Once you've been accused of violating policy, though, the nature of the relationship can change dramatically. Your college isn't on your side anymore. Anything you say can, and probably will, be used against you. Consulting an attorney before you talk ensures you don't do any damage to your case.
- Tell as few people as possible about your situation. It can be useful to have a friend or two to confide in. Otherwise, however, limit who you talk to about the charges against you. Even in the best-case scenarios, telling others can create problems for you in your campus community. In the worst-case scenarios, what you say can wind up as evidence against you.
- Know your rights. Your school isn't a court of law, and it doesn't have to abide by all the rules a judge does. Nevertheless, you do have rights. An attorney can advise you as to exactly what these are in a given situation. More importantly, they can monitor your case to make sure MDC treats you fairly.
- Take charge of the situation. Even if you hire an attorney to serve as your advisor, you still need to be involved in preparing your defense. That means writing out your version of events, preserving evidence, and tracking down witnesses. An attorney can help you select and organize this material, but they can only work with the information you provide. You never know when something you fail to mention could be the very piece of evidence that could win your case, so you must make sure you tell your lawyer everything.
- Protect your mental health. All accusations of misconduct can be nerve-rattling. Even if you've just been accused of failing to cite a source, it can feel like your very identity is at stake. If you've been accused of something more serious, you may feel like your whole world has been turned upside down. At times like these, it's vital you hang on to your sanity. You can't hope to win your case if you're stressed out and incapable of helping in your own defense. In general, then, you want to keep your life as normal as possible. That means going to classes as usual. It means exercising. It means giving yourself breaks. It can also be useful to visit a counselor or therapist, someone who can help you develop positive strategies for dealing with stress. You can get through this challenge, but only if you keep yourself healthy.
Finding the Right Representation
Miami-Dade College allows you an advisor in almost every kind of misconduct case. In fact, when it comes to some kinds of misconduct, such as sexual misconduct, you are guaranteed an advisor, and this advisor may be an attorney. Even when the school doesn't allow you to bring legal representation to a meeting or proceeding, though, you still need a qualified, experienced attorney who can serve as your advisor in either an official or unofficial capacity. An attorney can help you draft documents, help you prepare to answer questions, and make sure the school doesn't violate your due process rights.
You may be tempted to choose a family or local attorney to serve as your advisor. A local attorney might seem like the most convenient option, and if your attorney knows you, you may feel more comfortable talking about personal matters with them. Unfortunately, these lawyers typically aren't equipped to handle college misconduct cases.
Often, hometown lawyers believe university cases can be solved with simple solutions. They may think that just retaining legal representation will be enough to convince the school to back down or that a letter or a brief phone conversation can solve whatever problems come up. Maybe that was true once. Today, however, there are no minor conduct violations. Colleges and universities treat every kind of misconduct as serious, no matter how small it might seem. They investigate every potential violation, and they impose severe penalties on all but the most minor infractions.
In short, the typical attorney simply isn't prepared to handle your misconduct case. You need a lawyer who specializes in university disciplinary matters, one who knows exactly how schools operate and who has experience serving as a formal advisor.
Finding an attorney for your case, then, requires more than just finding a list of nearby law offices. How can you know for sure whether or not a lawyer is right for your case? Make sure you ask any prospective counsel these three questions:
- How many student misconduct cases have they dealt with?
- How successful have they been in defending student misconduct cases?
- What specific strategy do they have in mind for defending your case?
How Joseph D. Lento Can Help
Joseph D. Lento is an attorney, but he isn't just any attorney. He's a nationally recognized attorney who specializes in student misconduct defenses. Joseph D. Lento built his career helping students just like you protect themselves from over-zealous universities and their draconian sanctions. Whether it's academic misconduct or date rape, Joseph D. Lento has the knowledge and experience to help you deal with your particular case.
Joseph D. Lento is empathetic to your situation. He's worked with hundreds of students and their families, and he understands what you're going through. A misconduct defense can be stressful, and Joseph D. Lento will do everything he can to ease the burden on you. Make no mistake, though. Joseph D. Lento is tough as nails when it comes to making sure your rights are respected, and you're treated fairly. You can expect him to stand by your side and fight on your behalf from start to finish.
If you or your child attend a University System of Maryland school and you've been accused of any kind of misconduct, don't wait to act. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form