This week’s blog post about student conduct and what to do when things go wrong comes to us from the student attorneys and advocates at Albeit Weiker, LLP. Their expertise helps families through the complicated legal processes while decreasing the stress and anxiety of the situation with a focus on the family’s well-being.
Oh no! Your college student got a letter from the Student Conduct office. What now?
From underage drinking citations to sexual misconduct accusations, the first few weeks of college are the busiest for college conduct investigators (and attorneys who advise college students facing discipline). If your student is faced with a criminal charge, the natural response is to find a defense attorney. But what should you do if your college student receives a letter from the school’s Student Conduct office?
Getting a “record” early in a college career presents significant issues.
First and foremost, it is stressful to chart unknown territory. Each college has its own set of rules and procedures, and its own practical approach to implementing discipline. Balance that with the general stresses of beginning college, getting to know a roommate, establishing healthy study habits, finding your way… it is tough!
Thinking long term, parents and students often ask, “What impact does a finding of responsibility for [insert poor decision made] or [insert a false accusation] on a student record?” Well, it can mean a period of probation all the way up to expulsion from a university. Ouch!
It is important to not hide your head in the sand and hope it doesn’t happen.
Be prepared to have a conversation with your student about what to do if they are faced with a conduct investigation, for both general conduct offenses and academic misconduct offenses. Students often try to handle this themselves, and later reach out to a parent for help only after the hole is dug too deep. Similarly, because college misconduct cases are such a unique area of the law, it is important to find an advisor-attorney who routinely handles these types of cases. Trust us, your brother-in-law attorney who practices tax law or the aggressive criminal defense attorney will likely not serve your goals in defending or mitigating a charge of college misconduct.
Here are a few general tips from attorneys who have seen real-life success, perfect to use as a starting discussion with your student:
1. Find a Trusted Support Person (or a few)
There are several reasons you should immediately find support when you are facing an allegation of cheating, nonconsensual sexual contact, underage drinking, fighting, vandalism – you name it. First and foremost, it is stressful! The process is probably new and scary to you. Secondly, you need someone to bounce your defense off of. Students often tell me their side of the story, and we say “HOLD UP! That is a bad defense.” Or we respond with, “What about this angle or that detail?” Lastly, depending on your individual mental health status, you may need to seek support from a mental health professional or take advantage of your school’s disability services department to assist you with maintaining your other classes and responsibilities while the process is ongoing. The worst thing you can do is assume you will be kicked out of school, and stop going to classes or completing assignments.
2. Read Your School’s Code of Conduct Thoroughly
You need to know two things: exactly what you are being charged with, and exactly what events will occur on the path to adjudication. Your school’s code of conduct should be available online or through your student portal. If you have questions on your rights as an accused student or what to expect at a hearing, it is best to seek the advice of someone who has gone through this before you and is not affiliated with your school. Yes, I am talking about a Lawyer for Students.
3. Complete a Detailed Timeline of Events
This is key! Prepare a timeline of events leading up to the incident and following the incident, along with supporting documentation if you have it. Your timeline can be written in bullet points, but should account for every event leading up to the incident and include explanations. This will make it easier for you to present your side of the story in a thorough yet organized way when presenting it to an attorney or advisor to assist in preparing your defense, or keeping yourself on point for when you meet with an investigator. Supporting documentation could include text messages with other students, reasons why you joined a GroupMe where answers were shared, how you performed on other assignments, correspondence with professors, history between your significant other and you, phone records, screenshots, (to name just a few ideas).
4. Practice Like You Play
This can be as simple as reciting your timeline to yourself a few times, or as detailed as a mock hearing. When we prepare students to be interviewed or attend a conduct hearing, we ask tough questions and get you comfortable answering. The students who are the most successful are always the students who have prepared and practiced.
5. Exercise Your Right to an Advisor
What’s on the line?
- Your tuition money. If you are suspended in the middle of a semester, there is no right to a refund. If you are expelled three weeks before graduation, that’s a big investment with no return.
- Your future career goals. Were you thinking of grad school? Medical school? Law school? They will ask if you have a conduct record.
- Your future career timeline. If you are suspended for a semester, that is just another semester between you and landing that job.
- Embarrassment. Get ready to call Grandma and tell her to cancel her plane ticket. You won’t be graduating for another year.
Most schools allow you to have an advisor or attorney with you during this process. That person can not only assist you in preparing your defense, timeline, and practice – that person can be your eyes, ears, and brain during a meeting or hearing. Questions will be asked of you, curve balls may be thrown… backup is always a good thing, especially when you are stressed and nervous to the max!
If you are a college student accused of misconduct, we’d love to help you. We frequently represent students all over Ohio, from preparation-only capacity to attending hearings. Click here to visit our web page. Our office phone number is (614) 745-2001.
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