Different academic institutions define academic misconduct in different ways. While there is a general consensus that it covers cheating, plagiarism, and sabotage, the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts also includes such acts as "failure to comply with the instructions or directives" as academic misconduct. This last is so elastic and can be interpreted in so many different ways that disproving it can require every edge a student can muster.
Misconduct at the University of Michigan LSA
The University of Michigan LSA prefers to resolve accusations of misconduct quickly, and in fact, most cases take no more than two weeks. For the accused student, this can be either good or bad.
The University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts defines academic misconduct as any action that gives the student performing it an unfair advantage or gives other students an unfair disadvantage. It includes cheating, helping someone else cheat, changing work after it has been graded, allowing or hiring someone else to perform coursework, using phones or other electronics to find answers during exams, cooperating on a course project without giving one's partners credit, cooperating on projects that are meant to be performed alone, altering academic records, altering or misrepresenting attendance, forging a signature on an official University academic document, tampering with college computers and other equipment, falsifying research, plagiarism, and re-submitting a paper from an earlier class, also called self-plagiarism. The University of Michigan also cites disrupting a class for the purpose of stifling free speech as misconduct.
Punishments for Academic Dishonesty and Who Can Impose Them
At the University of Michigan, a professor or other instructor who thinks a student has committed academic misconduct can issue a light punishment if they so choose. This can include a low grade or zero on the test or assignment. If the professor believes a more serious punishment is necessary, he or she must file a formal complaint.
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.
As of 2018, the University of Michigan provides two paths for instructors who suspect a student of academic misconduct. The first is called Instructor Resolution, in which the professor talks to the student about the incident. If the student confesses to the misconduct and agrees with the professor on what the punishment should be, then the matter is considered settled. The instructor sends a report to the Office of the Assistant Dean, or OAD, describing what happened. The OAD almost never asks that the student be given an additional punishment. During Instructor Resolution, the professor or other instructor must show the student all of the evidence they have.
If the instructor believes the misconduct is complicated or if the student does not confess to the incident, then the instructor seeks Office of the Assistant Dean Resolution. First, the instructor reports the incident to the Office of the Assistant Dean. Then the OAD meets with the student, who may have a member of the Honor Council present. The OAD decides whether the student is "responsible" or "not responsible" for the misconduct. If not responsible, then no further action is taken, and the student may drop or continue the course as he or she sees fit. If "responsible," then the OAD gives the instructor permission to choose a punishment for the student. The OAD may also apply college-level sanctions, such as disciplinary probation, suspension, or community service.
At the meeting with the OAD, the accused student may provide evidence, materials, or statements. The student is to be allowed to look at original materials or copies of the evidence provided by the accuser.
If the student does not show up to the meeting with the OAD, then the Assistant Dean is allowed to decide what to do using the evidence alone, without any statement from the student.
The student may appeal the OAD's decision to the LSA Academic Judiciary Committee no more than two weeks after the date on the OAD's resolution letter. The student must state in the letter whether the appeal is for the finding, the punishment, or both. The student is not allowed to appeal based on the idea that the decision was wrong but only by showing that some non-trivial procedural mistake was made, that there is strong new evidence available that the student could not have presented earlier, that anyone involved in the hearing had a strong bias against the student or against the hearing itself, that someone involved in running the hearing committed misconduct, or that there was some violation of the students' rights. The LSA Academic Judiciary Committee almost never reverses the OAD's decisions. It is important to get things right the first time.
Can I Just Drop the Course?
No. The University of Michigan does not allow accused students to drop courses or switch to pass/fail grading until after the matter is resolved. The student is allowed to continue attending the class, but any awarding of academic credit will be delayed, including credits necessary for graduation. If the semester ends before the hearings are complete, the professor enters a temporary grade of "NR" for "no report." This grade will be changed after the committee makes its decision.
The University of Michigan LSA does not always release all evidence related to academic misconduct, not even to the accused student. Specifically, if the student is accused of cheating on an exam, the University may choose not to release a copy of that exam. The University does require the accuser to provide the accused student with copies of all exam or assignment instructions, electronic copies of the assignment, or, in some cases, originals, and supporting documentation. For example, if a student is accused of falsifying a paper, a true paper by the same student may be provided as a supporting document for comparison purposes.
Why It All Matters
Having to disclose disciplinary records when applying for internships, graduate and professional school, and professional employment is expected if a student has been subject to disciplinary consequences at all schools, including of course the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. In the age of Google searches, there may be additional concerns that arise - for example, an accusation of academic misconduct can come back to haunt a student years after the fact, like an unerasable digital shadow. It may not be fair, but it is the world we live in. At the same time, personal honesty and integrity have only become more important. Potential employers, clients, and even potential spouses may take pause at someone who was disciplined for what most people would interpret as lying. The best possible response is to say, "I was cleared of all charges" or "I took responsibility for what I did, and I did so in a way that created a good foundation for us all to move forward."
How an Advisor Can Help
Although the accused is allowed to have a member of the LSA Student Honor Council present at the meeting with the OAD, this person is not there to serve the accused student's interests. The student is allowed to talk to the President of the LSA Student Honor Council in advance of the meeting, but this is only to ask questions and learn about school procedures. Neither does policy state that the council member must help the student prepare his or her statement to the OAD.
Attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help the student recognize and translate the professor's and Assistant Dean's expectations into a clear and effective presentation of the facts. An experienced advisor can help a falsely accused student discover, prepare, and present evidence in clear and persuasive language. If the student has made a poor decision and it is deemed accepting responsibility for misconduct will be in a student's best interests, an experienced advisor can help them deliver that statement in a manner designed to produce the best effect. Connect with attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to help achieve the best possible outcome.