Articles Posted in Academic Discipline

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I previously wrote about a Massachusetts federal district court decision that was groundbreaking because it tackled the question of whether a private university’s sexual misconduct investigation and disciplinary procedure was fundamentally fair, and concluded that it was not. Last week another local federal court weighed in on the college sexual misconduct issue and found in favor of the accused student, but went in a distinctly different legal direction.

John Doe v. Brown University is one of the few cases on this issue to proceed all the way to trial. The case arose out of a November 2014 sexual encounter between John Doe and Ann Roe. Roe complained about the incident in November 2015, and the case was heard by Brown in 2016. Notably, in fall 2015 Brown adopted a new Title IX policy that contained Brown’s first definition of consent, and a new process for handling sexual misconduct cases. While Brown informed its investigator and panel that the case against Doe would proceed under the 2014-2015 policy that was in effect at the time of the incident, Brown also provided the panel with the 2015-2016 policy and specifically told the panel that that policy codified the community’s understanding of consent, so they could look to it if it assisted them. Continue reading

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Six months ago a judge in the federal district court in Massachusetts issued what many people who litigate cases surrounding college sexual assault adjudications consider the most comprehensive decision on the topic. In Doe v. Brandeis University, Judge Dennis Saylor denied Brandeis University’s motion to dismiss the complaint by its former student as to claims that Brandeis breached its contractual duties towards him, handled his case with negligence, and used a fundamentally unfair process to evaluate the accusation against him.

The case arose out of a January 2014 sexual assault complaint against John Doe by his former boyfriend. Under Brandeis’ policy, the complaint was investigated by a Special Examiner who also decided whether John Doe was responsible for sexual assault. (This “single investigator” model, promoted by the White House, has gained significant traction with schools nationwide in the last three years, despite significant concerns about its fairness).

Despite noting that “the Handbook is no model of clarity,” the judge nonetheless found for Brandeis on most of the contract claims based on Doe’s allegations that Brandeis failed to follow its Handbook. The judge similarly rejected most of Doe’s tort claims, with the exception of a claim for negligent supervision based on Brandeis assigning an administrator with no familiarity with the process as the final decision maker in the case. The judge was skeptical that Doe could prevail on the claim, but allowed it to survive the motion to dismiss. Continue reading

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So you’ve been accused of academic misconduct. Here’s what you need to know.

If you or your child is accused of engaging in academic misconduct, you’ll get a crash course in how the college or university bureaucracy works to process these cases and sanction students. Before that happens, you should be aware of a few key points.

#1: Academic misconduct is a big category

In a previous post I explained how colleges define plagiarism, probably the most common form of academic misconduct. Colleges will sanction students for plagiarism if the student intentionally or accidentally copies, quotes without proper attribution, or incorporates language or ideas from some other person into his or her work. Colleges also deem it plagiarism if students work together on an assignment but do not list their co-collaborators on the work they turn in.

Research misconduct is another form of academic misconduct we frequently address. Research misconduct arises mostly in the hard sciences, and according to federal regulations is defined as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.”

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As far as we know, every college and university in the country has a student handbook or honor code that provides rules for how students must perform their work and the standards they are expected to meet. And as far as we know, at every college and university students are routinely disciplined for violating those rules in a number of ways – from the most minor of infractions to severe academic misconduct. Colleges and universities place a significant amount of responsibility on their students to independently learn the school’s policies, the forms of citation they should use in each discipline, and the rules applicable to each class they take. Before turning in work at college, there are a few things to know about academic misconduct policies.

First and foremost, students and their parents need to understand how their school defines academic misconduct, and particularly, plagiarism. The vast majority of students we represent in academic discipline proceedings are accused of plagiarism, and many of our clients who did not intend to violate any rules or copy anyone else’s work nonetheless find themselves disciplined for violating school policies. In our experience most schools define plagiarism incredibly broadly. For example, Harvard College’s policy states: “Whenever ideas or facts are derived from a student’s reading and research or from a student’s own writings, the sources must be indicated . . . The responsibility for learning the proper forms of citation lies with the individual student . . . Students who, for whatever reason, submit work either not their own or without clear attribution to its sources will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including requirement to withdraw from the College.” Dartmouth College’s policy is similar: “Plagiarism is defined as the submission or presentation of work, in any form, that is not a student’s own, without acknowledgment of the source.” A few schools, however, define plagiarism more narrowly, as U. Mass. Amherst does: “knowingly representing the words or ideas of another as one’s own work without citation.”

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