As a student at the university level, conduct is as important as academic excellence. While you are on your journey to becoming a professional and an adult, you may have found yourself in a situation that warrants learning more about student misconduct. Unfortunately, situations arise where a student fails to meet the ethical standards or code of conduct put in place by the school. Being accused of student misconduct can have severe repercussions and extreme consequences.

Schools put in place many rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field when it comes to conduct. One of the most common accusations of a violation of these rules is cheating. Plagiarism is a serious code violation in the academic world and if proven can result in harsh consequences as severe as expulsion from the university.

If you find yourself having to deal with this process, these tips that may help:

First, you should request to meet with the person who accused you.

If you are accused, the first step is to meet with your accuser. Typically this is your instructor. Remaining calm and speaking to your instructor in a respectful manner can oftentimes help the situation before it escalates.

Protesting your ignorance of the rules will not help.

It doesn’t negate the ramifications that may occur later in the process simply because you didn’t know what constituted cheating. Hopefully, you can resolve this by speaking to the instructor.

Most schools have put in place procedures which the university is obligated to follow in order to determine whether academic misconduct like cheating or plagiarism occurred. Your first step should be to read the policies of the university in order to determine exactly what the next steps may be.

Many students believe they can simply “talk their way out of it” directly with the professor. Usually, the policies require the professor to report an academic misconduct violation to the appropriate university authorities.

This is also how the professor sees it: they dislike dealing with allegations of cheating or plagiarism. To them, it’s a headache to deal with the bureaucratic procedures of the university. They dislike even more being put in a position to judge or choose between accusations and counter accusations made by students. It takes time they would rather spend on their teaching or on their research. To many professors, the more quickly they can simply turn your case over to the school administration, the better. This gets you out of their hair.

If that doesn’t work, you can argue your case in an academic grievance hearing

If you feel that you are unjustly accused of student misconduct, most schools provide for some kind of Academic Integrity Hearing Board. The board members will be appointed by the University, and sometimes includes student representatives. They will hear you out and permit you to tell your side of the story.

This is the time to gather any witnesses that can help you. Also consider documentary evidence. Are you accused of cheating by getting data from your phone? Use the telephone company’s records, if possible, to show that you were not using cellular data during the exam! Is there a double standard being applied, as when students are allowed to refer to sources without attribution but only you get accused of plagiarism? Get exams from others that show they engaged in the same actions but were not accused of plagiarism. You can also request the evidence against you and begin to create a statement for your defense.

Typically, the process is triggered by a complaint submitted to the university. Students accused of cheating then typically have 10 class days to file a written request for a hearing to contest the allegations. So if you wish to fight accusations of cheating or plagiarism, time will likely be a factor.

What should you do if you’re charged with Student Misconduct?

Take a breath

Perhaps at the hearing you did not get a positive outcome, and you are now found responsible for academic misconduct. Your first instinct may be to let emotions take over and accuse everyone involved in the process of conspiring against you, of being an ignoramus, or all of the above. But keeping calm and staying level headed will only help you deal with the process of student misconduct. At many universities, the hearing board may not impose the sanctions, which may be determined in another, subsequent hearing. You do not want to make things worse for yourself, especially if you have received an unfavorable decision.

It would be in your best interest at this time to refrain from being defensive and listen to the accuser’s side of the case. After you’ve heard the instructor’s or accusing students’ reasoning behind the accusation, you can weigh the options for either appealing the decision, minimizing the sanctions, or both.

Something to Think About Before You Start College—READ THE FINE PRINT!

As you start researching colleges that you want to attend, it’s easy to get lost in the excitement of everything that schools offer. The downside of a college or university experience is often the specific rules schools set in place to govern campus life. These rules are dictated solely within the college’s parameters. Institutions of higher education, and especially private colleges and universities, can set in place more or less any policies they choose when it comes to regulating student misconduct. Colleges and universities are even claiming the right to regulation their students’ behavior off campus and even in foreign countries when students travel abroad.

When it comes to academic dishonesty or academic misconduct, colleges and universities’ authority is at its strongest. They can define the offense, act as detective, prosecutor, judge, and jury. They can define the consequences for offenders. This makes legal matters involving academic misconduct like plagiarism or cheating difficult to challenge in court. Your best and sometimes only hope to get a good outcome is by getting help in navigating your school’s process before any decision about your responsibility has been made.

Typically, schools will not permit a lawyer to interfere with academic cases. But an experienced education law attorney help you privately. Consulting with a lawyer can assist you with preparing statements, meetings, hearings and appeals. Most schools will provide, at most, an academic advisor or, worse, an administrator, who offers to guide you as an “ally” in the process and help you to answer any questions.

Speak to a Lawyer

Speaking with an experienced higher education attorney can help you in the long run. Even when they can’t be by your side to defend you as counsel in student misconduct hearings (depending on your school’s rules)they can advise help you avoid pitfalls, help draft your statements to the university, and help you gather the evidence you need to defend yourself. Legal advice is crucial when you are accused of such serious offenses. The repercussions of academic dishonesty can obstruct your future career dreams and damage your reputation for years. In some careers, your pathway forward may be permanently barred with a charge of academic dishonesty on your record.

With so much at stake in your adult life, it makes sense to have an experienced higher education law attorney to help see you through it.

Your college years are supposed to be the most formidable years of your entire life. If you are accused of student misconduct, your academic goals can be derailed quickly. By following these tips, you learn what steps need to be taken.

Whether you are at the beginning stages of being newly accused or if you are in the appeal process to overturn an unfavorable judgement, learning the process is crucial. A higher education attorney can help counsel you through the entire ordeal and hopefully help you achieve a favorable outcome.