Academic Misconduct – Should you retain a lawyer?

A mistake shouldn’t jeopardize your future!

***Please note the following is not meant to be legal advice, it is simply a discussion about the topic.  If you or someone you know requires legal advice on the issue, please contact the lawyers at Nadi Law in order to schedule a consultation****

What is Academic Misconduct?

Generally speaking, academic misconduct is a term used for when individuals do not act with integrity in an academic setting. This term is more clearly defined in each school’s Student Code of Conduct.

As an example, the University of Wilfred Laurier defines academic misconduct

As an act by a student, or by students working on a team project, which may result in a false evaluation of the student(s), or which represents an attempt to unfairly gain an academic advantage, where the student either knew or ought reasonably to have known that it was misconduct. Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of academic misconduct. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it.

Forms of Academic Misconduct

There are several types of academic integrity violations, but the main types of violations include:

1. Facilitation/Cheating – This includes deliberately enabling another individual’s breach of academic integrity.

  • Examples: unauthorized assistance, looking at another student’s test, using a cell phone to look up test questions, or using a friend’s old course materials.

2. Plagiarism – Presenting another individual’s ideas or phrasings as one’s own without proper acknowledgement. 

  • Examples: Not citing sources, submitting purchased assignments, passing off an assignment completed by another student, or even submitting the same paper to two different courses.

What are the procedures governing breach of Academic Honesty?

This is unique to your university/college. Students can find the process outlined in the school handbook or on the university website. The process includes many steps and if you feel you wish to put yourself in the best position to successfully defend against such an allegation, you should involve a lawyer.

What happens at an Academic Misconduct hearing?

Every college or university has its own established policies and procedures for dealing with misconduct allegations.  However, the process usually works similarly across the board.  The process is usually commenced with the filing of a complaint (by another student, staff or faculty), alleging misconduct or some sort of violation on the student’s part. The appropriate office then reviews the complaint. The student may be contacted for an informal discussion, especially if the allegation is a mild infraction, and in some cases, the issue may be resolved there. In these circumstances, where the student is aware that a minor academic infraction has occurred, the student may be advised of the consequences, and on how to avoid it in the future. This may or may not lead to a warning on your student record. 

For more significant accusations, the school’s disciplinary body will conduct an investigation. This may be the Dean, a Conduct Officer, an Honour Council, an Academic Progress Committee, or even an outside investigator. The student is then called to a formal hearing. At this hearing, usually there is a Panel of members who are the decision makers. You will be introduced to the Panel members. This Panel of decision makers can potentially include staff, students, alumni, faculty or even an external arbitrator. The only rules that usually apply are the ones outlined by the university/college.  However, rules that potentially violate principles of fundamental justice may be subject to judicial review in certain circumstances.  The whole process can be quite overwhelming, and a student who is unfamiliar with the process can accidently misrepresent themselves.  Hence, it is important to consider whether you should retain a lawyer to represent your interests at this hearing.

The Panel will discuss your understanding of the allegation of plagiarism /cheating (depending on the nature of the suspected academic misconduct to be addressed). The Panel will ask you a range of questions, to establish an understanding of the circumstances surrounding the suspected academic misconduct. You should be aware that on occasion you may find the questions challenging as the Panel seeks to identify the truth of what happened. During the hearing you will hear the complaints against you and any evidence, and then you will be invited to give your side. The purpose of the academic misconduct hearing is to determine the severity of the misconduct, given the context in which the incident occurred. 

The disciplinary body (usually a committee or council) will review the events of the hearing and make a determination and recommendation of punishment, usually to the Dean. The student will normally be notified in writing of the punishment – which includes the possibility of suspension or expulsion. If the student disagrees with the determination of the disciplinary body, the student will have a window of time to appeal, if applicable. There may be a separate appeal hearing, after which the decision will be final (subject to judicial review). 

The student will usually be provided details on how to appeal against the decision. However, it is important to note that appeals are usually only be considered on certain grounds. Therefore, not all outcomes are subject to appeal. For instance, some grounds include, but not limited to; an administrative error or material irregularity occurred in the conduct of the investigation; or that there were personal circumstances which the student believes would have affected the decision of the panel had they been made aware of it.  The grounds that can form the basis for an appeal are usually found in the university/college handbook. Further information on the appeal process should be available in the college/university policy and procedure guidelines. 

Depending on the nature of the penalty you may also need to seek academic advice from the School or Student Registry with regard to your programme of study. Penalties for academic misconduct are progressive and repeated offences can lead to expulsion from the University or College. Therefore, it is strongly encouraged to also seek legal counsel to ensure the student is well informed of their rights and obligations and understand the process. 

What role does a lawyer play in the academic misconduct process?

It is recommended to seek counsel early in the process, before the appeal stage, to avoid any potential delay in your future studies. The presence of a lawyer as a legal adviser will help to support students during this very stressful time. A lawyer is there to provide the student with an understanding of the procedure and help them in bringing their arguments forward. There are several steps that can easily overwhelm a student in this process, such as finding the right words to support the student’s core arguments and understanding the academic integrity process to better manage the student’s expectations during the hearing.  The lawyer can also represent the student to ensure the hearing and procedure comply with the principles of fundamental justice.  If the misconduct is made out the lawyer can also have resolution discussions and make submissions on the appropriate penalty to ensure any sanction imposed minimally impairs the student’s academic future.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the lawyers at Nadi Law for assistance.

-The team at Nadi Law



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