Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
College discipline hearings can be difficult matters, and they all start with the allegation and investigation. Due to the potential for severe punishment, it is important the initial steps are not mishandled.
Usually the first notice of a discipline issue arrives via the student’s official college email, with an attachment telling the student to contact the college in a few days to set up a meeting. Often this notice indicates that if the student fails to reply, dire consequences may result, such as a hold on their records or a denial of class registration. There may be reference to a vague or unidentified allegation, so the student may not be sure what they are being accused of. Students should not ignore this email and should set up any meeting requested.
As the student may have no idea why they are being investigated, a polite inquiry should be made prior to this meeting to attempt to get more detail on the allegations. If the staff say “you will find out at the meeting,” the student should still respectfully ask if they may be provided with information on the context and what codes are alleged to have been breached, if this was not included in the initial notice
The student can also request copies of any “evidence” which has been gathered and if they can obtain such prior to the initial meeting.
Colleges may have a student advocate office or other similar office which they can contact at the university to get some input and advice about local practices. This may also be the time to seek input from family members, such as a student’s parents (if the student is comfortable with that), or potentially other sources, to be prepared. Although legal counsel may be denied entry to the investigation meeting(s), they can be consulted outside the meeting.
The student should review the college codes for all relevant areas of possible alleged breach, as well as any discipline policies the college has published. For example, at the University of California, Davis (UCD), there are many policies on their “Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs” page, including a link to the current policies and procedures that are applied in student discipline matters. Not all colleges, unfortunately, have adequate information on line, or even adequate policies, but it is definitely worth the time to learn what may be out there before the meeting. It is important to remember that whomever a student may meet with during the investigation has a lot of experience in punishing students and far more knowledge in this area, usually, than the student, so doing anything one can to get prepared is critical.
At the initial meeting, the student will likely be interviewed, and will hopefully be fully informed of the allegation, context, and codes allegedly breached. The student may even be asked to admit what happened. Or, they may simply be told that the college will be investigating and will get back to them for a follow up meeting.
It is never certain what will happen with these allegations, but I have found that colleges tend to believe the accuser, not the accused student, so students should be prepared for being doubted and cast as someone who has done wrong, despite telling college staff the truth and/or providing an honest, heartfelt denial of any allegation.
Additionally, even though the staff member who interviews them may seem like a very sweet, kind, and understanding person, that is part of their method of obtaining information and data they may be able to skew or use in a discipline hearing against the student. It is best not to forget the nice person interviewing them is on the other side, likely trying to prove the student “did it,” and is the one who will likely be making recommendations on what punishment the student may face.
It is a bit tricky.
University students may be able to be accompanied to this meeting by a parent or a college advocate, but it is up to the individual school on what they allow.
If faced with a surprise email from your college or university saying to “call us or else!” don’t ignore it. But, do approach it in a methodical and prepared way so you can help yourself navigate these tricky waters and keep pursuing your degree.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.