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How to Navigate an Academic Misconduct Allegation

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How to defend an academic misconduct accusation

Being accused of academic misconduct is frightening and can potentially derail higher education schooling, leave a student with debt, and no college degree. There are steps that students may take that can improve their chances of surviving academic misconducts charges.

Students Have Rights

Each university and college have their own rules and policies to address allegations of academic misconduct. Both the university and the student need to follow the procedures in the academic misconduct policy. It is important for the student to carefully read and study all of the university’s policies and procedures. There are often tight deadlines and even penalties and exclusions if they are not followed exactly.

When the policy allows, the student may prepare a written outline summarizing their side of the story and submit it to the initial decision maker. There are times that a detailed outline may be enough to convince the initial decision maker to reassess and not continue the misconduct investigation.

Frequently, the university provides a hearing for the student in which they can call witnesses and present evidence. Some universities allow the students to have an attorney, but not all - and not always. Many universities have a policy stating that if the student has a lawyer representing them at the hearing, then the University may also have a lawyer to represent their interests. The hearing usually has a hearing board that consists of a mix of students and faculty. The hearing board generally issues a recommendation to the Provost as to whether the student engaged in misconduct, and if so, what kind of discipline is warranted. The Provost then makes a decision to modify, accept, or reject the hearing board’s findings.

The student needs to be well prepared for their hearing. Even though the university’s policy may allow both sides to have an attorney representing them, it is generally a good idea for the student to have representation, especially if the misconduct allegations are serious. An attorney can help the student focus on the issues and facts that matter, diminish the student’s emotions, and present the information in a logical way.

The university make take action against the student in two or more separate misconduct allegations. If the alleged misconduct involves research, there is often a separate investigation, and even process, within the university that governs misconduct related to research. These allegations can overlap with other allegations of academic misconduct if any of the misconduct involved research. This means the student may have to simultaneously fight two battles.

Unfavorable Decision

If the Provost ultimately issues an unfavorable decision, the student may have a right to appeal to the Dean. Again, the policies and procedures will determine any appeal rights that the student may have as well as the process to timely file an appeal. However, If the Dean upholds an unfavorable decision, the student may have a further right to file an appeal through the Arizona Administrative Procedures Act. The Arizona courts will give significant deference to the university’s decision if there is reasonable evidence to support it.

Challenging a finding of academic misconduct is not always a fair fight, and the consequences can be devastating for the student. If allegations arise, be prepared, understand and follow the rules, and know what options are available.


About the Author: Jeffrey Silence is an employment and education law attorney and partner at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He is one of the few attorneys in Arizona that represent students accused of academic misconduct. Additionally, he helps students with residency disputes and test-taking accommodations, as well as to defend against allegations of plagiarism, unjustified dismissals and discipline.