Top Ten Things a Student Can Do After Being Accused of Violating a College or University Rule

(1) Read your college’s or university’s policies and procedures. Pay attention to what the college must do. What must they give you? What must they tell you? When must they do something? If you can, download the current policies and procedures and save them. Universities have been known to change the rules during the process without telling you. Where can you find these? Obviously, look on the school’s website. Look for policies such as the Code of Conduct or honor codes. Find out your rights. Download the current student handbook that also has policies in it. If you are in a specific program at school, download that handbook too. More information is always better than too little.

(2) Know your deadlines and know where you are in the process. Are you being investigated? Has a formal complaint been charged? Everything you can learn where you are is important because you want to know how much time you have to act. If you have a deadline you cannot make, don’t just miss it. Ask for an extension of time before the limit runs out.

(3) Consider talking to the school-assigned advisor. After you have read your college’s procedures, talk to someone familiar with its process. This will usually be an advisor or someone similar appointed to you. Make sure anything you say is private and cannot be used against you.

(4) Be wary of speaking to the accuser or school officials too quickly. If a professor has accused you of something, he or she already believes you have done something wrong. Yes, rarely, a sufficient explanation to the accuser can sometimes get the entire matter dismissed quickly. For every one time that happens, one hundred students can say something they wished they had not. It is very important to realize that no administrator or college official is your friend or is there to help you. They are there to help the school.

(5) Get an explanation of what you may have done wrong before trying to explain yourself. What are you being charged with? What specifically was wrong with something you did? For example, if it’s cheating, on which questions on the test are you being accused of cheating? If it’s plagiarism, what specific parts of your work are being claimed as someone else’s writing or ideas? Too many universities will say something like, ‘Student X is accused of cheating and plagiarizing on his final exam for Ethics 101’. This really does not give you enough information to even begin to understand what the school thinks you did wrong. Find out those specifics, and try to get those specifics in writing.

(6) Begin to prepare your defense (or persuasive explanation, if you prefer). This may seem obvious, but too many students believe that the truth will simply set them free. It can, but not always, and rarely without proper preparation. You must assume that the school will not believe you. Begin collecting evidence that can persuade an administrator or a disciplinary panel if need be that you are not guilty. Persuasive evidence will never, ever be just your uncorroborated opinion about anything.

(7) Do not use your school’s email to discuss private things. Do not use your college or university email account to discuss the accusation with anyone beyond school administrators. Want to discuss things with your parents? Use your private email account. Want to contact an attorney? Use your private account. Want to ask the Dean of Students what your options are? Feel free to use your official school email.

(8) Be prepared to hire an expert. College and university officials do not have to believe you just because you are telling the truth. If a professor or other adult is the accuser, odds are that other adults will assume you are guilty. They assume that a nice, caring, intelligent, hardworking professor does not want to harm an innocent student. Therefore, with some kinds of accusations, the only way to persuade school officials is through the use of an expert (not surprisingly, another adult).

(9) Ask questions about why a college or university official is doing something. If an administrator says they are doing something because they have to, ask them, politely and respectfully, to please identify the written procedure they are following. I cannot tell you how many school officials (both adults and student volunteers involved in the process) do things out of habit or just plain preference yet claim that it is school policy (they often honestly believe it’s a policy too). If there is no written policy requiring their action, you just might be able to get what you want. Importantly, the number one thing a college or university says is official policy but is not is probably that a student has to be alone when interviewed by an investigator or school official. If that is true, you can ask them to please provide that written procedure prior to any meeting.

(10) Talk with an attorney familiar with university disciplinary issues. Of course I am biased. No one can help guide you as much as an attorney can. However, if you choose to speak with an attorney, be honest and respond fully to their questions. Many colleges forbid lawyers from providing any help during the actual disciplinary hearing. Quite simply, colleges and universities created the disciplinary system so that it would be easy for them to punish students if they wanted to. The schools have either trained adult administrators or students to try to prove you violated a rule. But whom do you have to help you? You will want all the advice and assistance you can get, and from someone with as much training and experience as possible.

One final thing. We all want to believe that the college or university we attend loves us and wants the best for us. And we also know that they are taking tens of thousands of our dollars in tuition. Reflect on this. A college or university is (at least) a massive, 500+ million dollar company. As a student, you are the most minor, most insignificant “client” they have. Do you think they have your best interests at heart?

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