If you're a student in New Jersey facing disciplinary action from your college, university, or high school, your future career could be hanging in the balance. Schools don't operate the same way the court system does, and a student accused of wrongdoing can be disciplined based only on a preponderance of the evidence. Depending on the offense, you could be suspended or expelled from school, which can have devastating effects on your academic and professional prospects. You could also be facing thousands of dollars of lost tuition—not to mention the time spent working on your diploma or degree.
Many students and their parents are ill-equipped to understand how the school disciplinary process works, and they don't always know who to turn to for help. And yet, the steps you take now could have a major impact on your future. Your best chance of preserving your future is to hire an attorney-advisor with experience in these cases—someone who understands the intricacies of various schools' disciplinary procedures. New Jersey criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento is well-known for his assistance to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students who may be facing serious repercussions due to allegations made against them.
How Your Career Could Be Jeopardized by Allegations of Student Misconduct
Being accused of wrongdoing may seem like an insignificant matter, but considering how quickly an allegation can escalate into suspension or expulsion, even a simple accusation can be quite costly. Facing down a student disciplinary committee is no laughing matter. Occasionally the punishment may be little more than a reprimand, but if the school decides on suspension or expulsion, the repercussions to your future could be profound. Some examples of what you could be facing:
- Thousands of dollars in lost tuition
- Years of academic progress lost
- Challenges re-enrolling in school to complete your education (if you've been dismissed)
- Costly restitution payments (if you caused damage to the school or harm to someone else)
- A permanent notation on your academic record, which could reflect badly with potential employers
- Irreparable damage to your personal and professional reputation
- The possibility of criminal charges (in rare cases)
Students facing allegations of misconduct are often in deep jeopardy because they may not know how to defend themselves properly. Schools tend to punish students quickly for violating their academic protocols or standards of conduct. Sometimes students may be summoned to disciplinary hearings almost immediately after learning they have been implicated in wrongdoing, leaving them little time to prepare. They may not have an adequate understanding of the disciplinary procedures and how to respond. Students could be placed on probation, or worse, suspended or expelled, before they realize what has happened. Failing to follow the right procedures or receive expert advice could put the student's professional future at risk.
How Most Colleges and Universities Pursue Disciplinary Action
Each school will have its own procedures for investigating and punishing misconduct allegations, but generally speaking, most schools have a similar approach that follows this pattern:
Complaint. Most disciplinary actions begin with someone filing a complaint against you. This could be a student or instructor, a school employee, or any other person who has knowledge of your alleged activities.
Notification. The school should inform you about the accusation against you and what you should do to respond.
Review. The school will conduct a review of the allegations and the circumstances surrounding them to determine if the complaints are worthy of taking further action.
Investigation. The school will conduct an investigation of the allegations and determine if there is enough evidence to warrant disciplinary action. This could include interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence.
Hearing. When the school is convinced there is enough evidence to continue with the investigation, they will schedule a formal hearing in which you will appear before a disciplinary board to respond to the complaint.
Penalties and determination. The board or committee will make a final decision as to your guilt or innocence and recommend disciplinary actions, if appropriate.
Appeal. You may file an appeal of an adverse decision before it becomes final.
How Hiring an Attorney Can Help You Avoid Disciplinary Action
Since school disciplinary proceedings aren't court proceedings, they don't follow the same rules as you'd find in a courtroom. Most high schools, colleges, and universities don't allow students to hire an attorney in an official capacity to represent them in student discipline cases. However, students are permitted to have an attorney who acts in an advisory capacity. This attorney-advisor can make a big difference in the outcome of student disciplinary cases, potentially saving the student's reputations, academic record, and future career prospects. Joseph D. Lento is a nationally recognized attorney-advisor for school discipline proceedings.
These are just a few ways that an attorney-advisor can assist a student facing possible disciplinary actions from the school:
- Review the school's policies and procedures with the student, as well as the significance of the allegations, so the student can make informed choices as to their defense.
- Strategize with the student to prepare a compelling response to the accusations.
- Gather evidence and witnesses in defense of the student.
- Assist the student in preparing for disciplinary hearings.
- Review any remediation offers to ensure they actually benefit the student.
- Assist with grade appeals and/or appealing an adverse action by the board.
With the help of an experienced attorney-advisor, an accused student may be able to avoid serious repercussions such as suspension, expulsion, or a negative mark on their academic record. Let's discuss in detail the areas where an attorney-advisor may be able to help students in trouble.
Common Student Discipline Issues
Schools can take disciplinary action against students for many different offenses. Sometimes, students don't realize they have broken a rule until they receive notification that they are under investigation or are called to a hearing. Let's take a look at some of the most common reasons students may be disciplined by the school.
Academic misconduct is a broad category encompassing many possible offenses. It usually refers to any action that either gives the student an unfair academic advantage or undermines the learning experience of others.
School policies regarding academic integrity and student conduct are usually found on the school's website or in a Student Handbook. Many schools and programs will also have an Honor Code outlining student expectations for academic and professional honesty. Before students start at a new school, it is important to review the school's policy on academic misconduct, so they don't inadvertently break a rule and wind up facing disciplinary action.
Below are some of the more common types of academic misconduct for which students may face severe disciplinary action.
Plagiarism is the act of copying or incorporating another person's ideas or work without credit to the source. Plagiarism can occur in many different ways, including by accident. However, many schools will not even weigh whether the student intended to plagiarize. It is always considered a serious offense.
Cheating occurs when a student breaks the rules laid out for completing an assignment or taking an exam per the instructions of a university faculty member. For example, you might continue working on an exam after time is called, copy other students' work, bring the answer key into the test room with you, or use source materials your teacher has forbidden.
Falsification of records or data
Falsification refers to any faked documentation, forgery, or misrepresentation of information to the school in order to gain an unfair academic advantage. Falsifying research data, altering grades, providing false information on an application, forging a signature on official documentation, or providing false information in order to be exempted or excluded from classes or coursework—these are just a few examples.
Disrupting Other Students
Colleges and universities often sanction students who disrupt, distract, or otherwise interfere in the classroom, laboratory, or other learning activities. Examples include excessive talking, creating interruptions during class, and verbally harassing other students or faculty.
Any student who offers money or trades something of value for the purpose of improperly influencing a grade is committing bribery. This is a serious offense that could lead to expulsion.
If you do something to sabotage someone else's academic progress, you could face severe consequences from the school. Examples might include altering student records, disrupting the experiments and tests of others, taking actions to prevent others from working, or making modifications to parts of a group project without the permission of the contributors.
Advance knowledge refers to obtaining advanced access to exam answers or other assignments without an instructor's express permission, effectively giving the student an advantage other students don't have.
Many schools prohibit collaboration on academic work without the express permission of the instructor. This includes, but is not limited to, unauthorized collaboration on tests, quizzes, assignments, labs, and projects.
Unauthorized Sharing/Using Academic Materials
Unauthorized sharing refers to distributing or sharing course material (e.g., assignments, lab reports, notebooks, exams) without permission from the instructor. These materials are often uploaded to sites like Chegg and Slader or emailed to others.
For vocations that require a measure of public trust (e.g., pharmacists, doctors, nurses, educators), professionalism is key. For this reason, many schools have also created standards of professional conduct that their students who are training for these professions are expected to know and follow—not only among their classmates and teachers but also with patients or other members of the public with whom they interact.
If the school finds you have not adhered to its professional standards, they may take disciplinary action against you, including reprimands, probation, suspension, or dismissal from the school. These actions could derail your career path for years to come.
Academic Progression Issues
Students are required to meet certain academic standards at all levels of education, including universities and colleges. These standards usually relate to credits earned, grade points average (GPA), and earning a degree within a certain timeframe. Students who fail to meet the minimum academic standards set by their schools may be dismissed due to unsatisfactory academic progress.
Many universities and colleges can track student progress with technology such as tracking algorithms. Some graduate schools also have their own systems in place to monitor students' progress. Many will assemble a "Student Progress Committee" of faculty and/or students to evaluate student performance and recommend solutions for students who are struggling. The committee will recommend remediation or academic probation for students whose grades or progress speed falls below acceptable standards. For students who consistently fail to perform academically, the Student Progress Committee may recommend that they be suspended or dismissed.
Student Code of Conduct Violations
Nearly all colleges and universities have a written Student Code of Conduct. This code is mandatory for every student attending the school. You can find the Code of Conduct on your university's site, or you can request a printed copy from the Department of Student Affairs.
College students facing accusations of violating terms of the Student Code of Conduct may be at risk for severe penalties. Although some code violations are also criminal offenses, most of these offenses won't be prosecuted in a criminal court. However, that doesn't mean the student should rest easy. Any significant violation, regardless of legal implications, can have a significant impact on the student's academic standing as well as their professional and personal futures.
Because of all that is at stake, it is important to get expert advice as soon as you are accused of violating the Code of Conduct. An attorney-advisor can help you successfully navigate the complexities of the school's disciplinary process.
While Codes of Conduct can vary from school to school, the most common code violations include the following:
Students can face a range of alcohol and drug-related violations, including underage alcohol consumption, drug possession, drug use, and distribution of drugs. Students who provide alcohol to minors may also be punished by colleges.
Sexual assault charges on campus may also be considered criminal offenses, so if you're accused of such, it is important to hire an experienced Title IX lawyer (see below) who has experience in these types of disciplinary cases. The school may also have separate rules regarding sexual harassment independent of Title IX.
Assault and Battery
If you're accused of assaulting someone physically—or in some cases, even threatening to do so—you could be facing serious repercussions from the school.
Many colleges and universities impose serious penalties for hazing. This includes rituals that humiliate or degrade other students, cause property damage, or endanger someone's mental or physical health. Students who engage in hazing may face school disciplinary action—and occasionally, criminal charges.
Many schools pursue disciplinary action against a student who has allegedly committed a hate crime—namely, an attack against another due to their race, religion, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, etc.
Misuse of school computers and/or cybercriminal activity is considered a serious security breach, and students accused of engaging in such activity could face expulsion.
Title IX Violations
Title IX offenses are considered a separate category of discipline in colleges and universities because the federal government sets the standards for how these offenses are to be addressed. Specifically, Title IX is legislation that protects students from acts of sexual harassment and discrimination on campus. Any educational institution receiving federal funds is required to comply with government rules regarding this law and enforcing discipline of sexual offenses on campus. When someone refers to Title IX violations, they are referring primarily to the statute 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).
"No one in the United States may be denied or excluded from any educational program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance on the basis of their sex."
Reinterpretations of this clause have led to more stringent policies regarding sexual misconduct and discrimination at colleges and universities throughout the country. Title IX regulations mandate that schools have specific compliance practices in place before they can receive federal funding. Here are some examples:
- They must address allegations of sexual misconduct promptly and definitively.
- They must have a designated office and appoint a Title IX Coordinator to handle sexual harassment and assault claims
- They must spell out their standard of proof for evaluating the evidence against an accused student.
Students are also protected by Title IX regulations against retaliation when they file complaints regarding sexual misconduct.
Sexual misconduct allegations can jeopardize a student's reputation and even prevent them from pursuing a career. Because sexual harassment is such a sensitive and emotional topic—and because anyone can file a complaint for any reason—even an innocent mistake or a misunderstanding could place your academic future at risk. When it comes to disciplining students, colleges and universities are even stricter about enforcing Title IX violations than they are with regular code violations. An alleged Title IX violation could easily lead to expulsion if the hearing committee does not rule in favor of the student.
Because Title IX complaints are handled under a separate office under separate rules than other student violations, your best bet in responding to these accusations is to hire an attorney-advisor with specific experience in Title IX complaints.
Fraternity and Organization Misconduct
The school's Code of Conduct doesn't just apply to individual students but also to student organizations (e.g., fraternities, sororities, clubs). This means not only can these student organizations be accused and penalized for violating the rules, but any students involved in them could likewise be implicated and punished. These are just a few examples that might be included in the university's regulations regarding organizational misconduct.
Unregistered Events Involving Alcohol Consumption
Schools have strict policies concerning organizational events that include alcohol consumption, especially due to the risk of underage drinking. Sometimes, student organizations may not file the necessary paperwork to register their events with the school, especially if alcohol will be made available to students under age 21. Failing to register an event could land your entire organization in serious trouble.
Hazing is a serious crime, and many states have their own laws against it. Fraternities and sororities sometimes include these illegal hazing practices as part of their initiation rituals—and if reported or detected, the organization and students involved can face severe penalties.
Other Violations of the Law
A student organization that violates the law, or compels its members to do so, may face serious disciplinary action by the school. Furthermore, any information that is discovered during a school investigation may be shared with law enforcement.
Disciplinary Actions for Student Organizations
The college's particular structure for disciplinary proceedings will determine how student organizations are investigated and disciplined. The evidence standard for most schools in determining organizational misconduct is the "preponderance-of-the-evidence" standard. If they believe the violation is more likely than not, they can hold the school responsible.
Each college or university has its own regulations regarding what sanctions and penalties may be applied for organizational code violations. Common penalties may include any/all of the following:
A fine may be assessed against the student organization.
Mandatory Attendance of a Corrective Course
The organization's members and/or leadership may be required to participate in a class that addresses the misconduct.
Loss in Privileges
A college or university may decide to limit the access of an organization to school funds or school-owned spaces. The organization might be prohibited from sponsoring guest speakers or fundraising efforts.
Loss of Housing
If an organization occupies campus buildings or housing provided by the school, the organization could lose its occupancy privileges and be required to move off-campus.
The school may require the organization's leader to step down.
This is similar to probation for individual students in that it places temporary restrictions on the organizations as a corrective measure for a specified length of time.
Student Organization Suspension
An organizational suspension basically bans the student organization's activities on campus for a certain period of time—usually a semester, but sometimes longer.
Dissolution, Removal, or Expulsion of the Organization
The most severe penalty, this punishment means the organization is no longer permitted at the college or university, and all organizational activities must cease immediately. The organization may also be required to return any funds allocated by the university for their use. In some cases, students participating in the organization may also face serious disciplinary action, possibly expulsion.
Just as an attorney-advisor can help individual students accused of misconduct, they can also be of assistance for student organizations who are facing disciplinary action from their school.
How Individual Students May Be Affected by Organizational Misconduct
If you're a student who is part of a student organization accused of (or disciplined for) misconduct, you might assume the consequences extend only to the organization itself. In fact, the alleged offenses could have serious repercussions for you, as well—even if you were not directly involved. The school reserves the right to discipline individuals who are implicated in the misconduct, and organizational disciplinary actions could also appear on your academic record, affecting your ability to apply for graduate schools, job opportunities, and so forth. Students participating in such organizations would do well to exercise caution if they see their organization breaking the rules.
Graduate School Disciplinary Issues
Many graduate programs at colleges and universities have their own policies in place for academic standards and student conduct. If a grad student finds themselves accused of academic or personal misconduct, they can be subject to disciplinary actions that include probation, suspension, or expulsion.
A graduate student is in a very different position than an undergraduate when it comes to disciplinary actions. Graduate students expelled or dismissed from their program will find it far more difficult to re-enroll, and having any kind of negative mark on your academic record at this stage can greatly limit the career opportunities afforded to you. Hiring an attorney-advisor can greatly improve the grad student's chances of avoiding serious consequences.
High School Disciplinary Problems
Even in high school, a student's academic record can have a significant impact on their future career prospects. High schools tend to mete out harsh discipline academic misconduct violations, as well as serious disciplinary violations such as assaulting students or teachers, vandalism, theft, drug/alcohol offenses, or bringing weapons to school.
High school students who are accused of wrongdoing often don't know what their rights are—and neither do their parents. High schools often require a minimal burden of proof to hold students accountable, and discipline is issued swiftly—meaning sometimes a parent or student has only days to prepare a defense. A suspension or expulsion from high school can be very disruptive for students, and any notation on the student's academic record can impact their ability to apply to college, get scholarships, or get hired.
An accused student could be expelled with little warning if the school believes they are guilty. It is important to get an attorney-advisor involved as soon as possible to avoid the worst.
Medical School Disciplinary Questions
Medical school students are generally held to very high academic standards while maintaining intensive course schedules mixed with clinical experience and regular interactions with the public. Even the most committed medical students can struggle to keep pace, and sometimes they are tempted to cut corners in order to do so. Academic progression issues are quite common with medical students, and since many classes in medical school are pass/fail, grade averages can be deeply impacted by a single class or assignment. Medical students also frequently face investigations and disciplinary hearings over accusations of academic or professional misconduct. A medical student's future can be at risk if they make a mistake, have problems at home, or simply misunderstand something.
If a student is dismissed from medical school, it can have a serious impact on their career prospects. It also could result in years of tuition loss and massive student debt. An attorney-advisor can help medical students protect themselves against potential disaster if they act quickly upon learning of any allegations against them.
International Student Disciplinary Questions
International students must abide by the same standards of academic honesty and personal conduct that domestic students do—but if they are accused of wrongdoing, the stakes are actually much higher for them. If an international student is suspended or dismissed from school, their F-1 student visa is revoked and their SEVIS status is terminated, which means they have to leave the country immediately unless they can re-enroll in classes quickly. If they fail to re-enroll (which is common) or fail to leave, they could face deportation and be banned from returning to the country to complete their education. For some of these students, an attorney-advisor becomes a lifeline to help them avoid dismissal.
Students who don't make enough academic progress or whose grades fall below accepted standards will often be prescribed remediation by the school as an alternative to dismissal. Each school has its own remediation policies, but remediation efforts may include retaking exams, retaking an entire course, taking separate remedial courses, or repeating a full semester or school year.
If properly planned, remediation can help a student get back on track academically. However, some remediation programs do more harm than good. Here's why:
- Sometimes students are forced to take remediation without considering other options or adapting the program to meet their needs. Students can end up being overwhelmed and even more unable to keep up.
- Sometimes student grades can be incorrectly calculated or based on teacher bias—putting them in remediation territory even though they aren't actually underperforming.
- Some schools treat remediation simply as a precursor to dismissal, so they don't tailor the program to help the student. This effectively makes the remediation a fraud.
Other Possible Harmful Effects of Remediation
While remediation is better than being dismissed from school, it can still be hurtful to the student in these ways:
- Students' other work may be affected due to the time required for remediation.
- If the student has a timeline for completing their degree, added remediation may make it difficult to qualify for graduation on time.
- Additional tuition may be required for remedial courses.
- Remediation may be noted on the student's academic record, making it more difficult to qualify for residencies, scholarships, or future employment.
Before accepting a remediation plan imposed by your school, it is best to consult an experienced attorney-advisor to make sure the program will actually help you. There may be other alternatives to dismissal that you haven't thought of or that the school hasn't offered.
Most schools allow students to appeal a bad grade or adverse disciplinary decisions.
Appealing a bad grade. You can appeal a bad grade by submitting evidence to support your claim. If you can demonstrate that the grading was unfair, inaccurate, or inconsistent with school protocols, it might help you avoid academic probation, remediation, or dismissal for poor grades.
Appealing a disciplinary action. You have a brief window of time (usually only 5-15 days) to appeal a disciplinary action before it becomes final. Most appeals are made to avoid probation, suspension, and dismissal. Appeals are usually considered by a separate committee for reasons such as biased treatment, procedural errors, or the introduction of new evidence that could have exonerated you.
Given the short time frame for appeals, and since the decision on appeals will be final, it's your last opportunity to avoid serious consequences—and you only have one chance of getting it right. Hiring an attorney-advisor to help you can make the difference between success and failure.
What to Do When You Are Accused of Wrongdoing by Your School
Even if the accusations or complaints against you are unfounded, it's still dangerous to appear before a college panel without consulting an attorney-advisor. Professors, colleagues, and administrators may believe the allegations against you even before they conduct an investigation, and in most schools, the standard of proof is very minimal. To avoid serious consequences and to protect your future, take the following steps will increase the chances that you succeed after being informed of an accusation.
Get in touch with a qualified attorney-advisor immediately.
A competent legal advisor with experience in similar cases will increase your chances of coming through the disciplinary process unscathed. Your advisor will help you navigate the process and protect your rights as well as your reputation.
Gather evidence that supports your case.
Don't assume that the burden of proof is on the school or that you'll be exonerated if you're innocent. If you have compelling evidence that can be presented to the panel, your chances of changing the outcome are higher.
If you have witnesses that can support your claim, it may be possible to lessen the impact of allegations. They may have valuable information that can help you defend yourself in a hearing.
Watch what you say.
You must be vigilant during the hearing and investigation. It is important to take every precaution to prevent a seemingly innocent statement from leading to further complications. It is best to avoid discussing the details of the investigation with others as even their hearsay could be used as evidence. It is also wise not to text people about the case or to post on social media about it, as anything you say on these platforms could be used as evidence against you.
New Jersey Attorney-Advisor for Student Discipline Cases
Students who are facing any potential sanction due to academic misconduct or any other form of misconduct have too much to lose to face the school disciplinary process alone. New Jersey defense attorney Joseph D. Lento is a nationally recognized expert in student defense cases and has helped thousands of students across America avoid severe repercussions from their schools. Protect your future by taking action now. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to learn more.