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College Disciplinary Proceedings and Due Process

Your son or daughter is at a great school and doing well in all his or her courses. You’ve paid the tuition and the room and board, or financial aid is in place to get you through the college years. Everything seems to be going well until one night when your child and a few good friends are caught up in misconduct of the sort that gives rise to college disciplinary proceedings or even criminal charges.

College disciplinary proceedings can be brought to address alleged misconduct that occurs on campus or during school sponsored activities, such as sporting events. But your student can also face a disciplinary action and potential expulsion for off-campus activities or for incurring criminal charges, such as underage drinking, driving under the influence, sexual offenses or assaultive behaviors, that arise off campus or in social situations not connected with college activities.

In some cases, parents may not be notified. Students who fail to appreciate the serious nature of college disciplinary proceedings may be reluctant to tell their parents and attempt to “handle things” on their own. The outcome of these proceedings can mean expulsion from school (with no refund of tuition), loss of eligibility for financial aid, termination of participation in team sports or more. A college disciplinary record can also affect your student’s chances to enter a graduate program or pursue certain careers, like teaching.

With such far-reaching consequences, many students would benefit from the assistance of an attorney. This is especially important early on in the process, before the student compromises his or her chances of defending the allegations or mitigating the punishment. Obtaining the assistance of an experienced attorney is just as important in a college disciplinary case as in a criminal case.

Basic tenets of due process apply in college disciplinary proceedings: an opportunity to be heard, to review the “evidence” and to obtain assistance from an on-campus member of the administration assigned to advise the student. Written statements may be submitted and reviewed in advance. Students are allowed to have an attorney as an advisor as well, although this may not be clear to the student. Having an attorney review the evidence with the student in advance of a formal hearing can be very helpful in formulating a response or defense to the charge. The procedures can be confusing, especially for the student or family who is facing a disciplinary hearing for the first time. Speaking with an attorney can provide you with a road map to a fair resolution.