Q. There were 14 pages of single-sided printed out notes that I was reviewing while in line to enter the exam hall. It was not until I was seated in the exam that I realized I still had the notes on me. You are not allowed to bring in notes of any sort to the exam, but I had forgotten to throw them out, so I decided that the best option would be to place them under my desk face down where no one could see them. I had NO intentions of cheating, and I did not cheat. I’m not guilty. What can I do?
A. This is a very very serious matter. Colleges and universities all over the country are currently engaged in re-defining and re-measuring allegations of breaches of academic integrity as they establish and a culture of zero tolerance for such breaches. This evolution of school administrative practices is, in large part, a consequence of the ubiquity of e-devices and the utility of them for cheating.
The specific facts alleged against you are extremely serious and, it seems, factually correct.
The issue is NOT whether you cheated, i.e., looked at the notes. That is not the accusation and not the issue. The issue is the accusation that you breached the rules when you brought the contraband (notes) into the exam room. That is a very different issue.
It is important that you do not get invested in explaining (or believing) that you had no choice because you were reading the notes while waiting to enter the room. That will not fly. You could have reported to the proctor and asked for instructions. Do not make the common mistake of making the situation worse with crappy and irrelevant excuses, failures to take responsibility, or reconfigurations of the issue to serve your interests. None of that works and it can make the matter significantly worse. Deal with the issues as the school sees them, as the school is invested in them. You want to cause the school to choose to impose the least possible penalty, not choose the most serious because your defense is itself offensive and objectionable.
Your school has a process for disputing the accusation and/or the prescribed penalty in this matter. The details of your school’s process is set forth in full in your student handbook, on the school’s web-site, and by publication available at the Dean’s office. Get a copy of the applicable procedures right away and immerse yourself in the details. You must strictly comply with all of the procedures in order not to waive your rights to challenge the accusation or appeal the proposed penalty.
You will need legal counsel to construct an effective defense and prepare a package of mitigation evidence. Many schools do not allow the student’s attorney to participate in the hearing (it is more like a meeting than a hearing), but the attorney is usually allowed to attend and to give the student advice. The real legal work, however, is done before the presentation of the student’s defense to the school. Where the facts are bad, and the school is likely to expel, the best available result is often a negotiated confidential withdrawal that protects the student’s ability to eventually enroll somewhere else.
Expulsion can cause the student to be ineligible for admission to another accredited college or university — undergrad or grad. It can cause early accelerated re-payment obligations of some student financial aid, and it can trigger a 2-year shut-out of eligibility for federally guaranteed financial aid. Expulsion can cause reversal of degree credits already earned, freezing of credits currently in progress, and an embargo (no reporting out) of the student’s transcript. It can make the student ineligible for athletics, scholarships, foreign study, externships and internships, and for State licensing, military service and post-schooling employment in numerous fields.
You need to not be expelled, or at least not reportedly so.
If you haven’t told your folks about this, you need to bite the bullet and do that. Get a good lawyer right away. The best attorneys for this kind of matter are master diplomats, not warriors, and you should try hard to retain someone who your school knows — an active alum or someone who the affiliated law school works with such as an adjunct professor.
I am sorry to be so blunt, but you have a serious problem and you need to move heaven and earth to resolve it honorably and effectively. This is a difficult matter even with skilled counsel. The mission is to persuade the school that its faculty person is wrong in the accusation, and/or that the school’s rule should not apply. That is not and never will be a level playing field.
License Advocates Law Group LLP