Last Updated on July 29, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
College students facing discipline allegations may be desperate to resolve allegations against them, even if they may be false. Sadly, sometimes distressed university students sign bad agreements due to fear.
When reviewing a discipline proposal which may sign away college attendance or due process rights, careful review of the agreement must be made. College discipline resolutions should not be entered lightly or quickly.
Harsh College Discipline Agreements for Minor Offenses
Sometimes, colleges in the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), or private college systems can offer severe discipline resolution agreements for first time, minor offenses. These discipline agreements, if signed, can haunt university students later.
Signing an agreement to accept an overly harsh punishment for a minor wrong, puts a student in a terrible situation. They receive a punishment which is unfair and may have negative impacts later. For example, was a student suspended for their first allegation of plagiarism? This seems quite harsh.
Deferred Separation- What is it?
A common punishment offered in the UC system is a “Deferred Separation” agreement. Other colleges have their own version of deferred separation.
Deferred separation is a discipline resolution where a college student admits their guilt and is allowed to remain enrolled, while a suspension or expulsion is deferred. If the student breaks the agreement terms, the punishment (such as suspension) goes into effect, usually after a brief meeting.
Signing a deferred separation agreement implies that, but for the kindness of the college, the student would have been removed. Before signing such an agreement, a student must review the underlying allegation and see if the suspension or expulsion which is deferred is actually warranted.
Signature Means Hearing Rights Waived
Often this type of discipline resolution agreement includes a waiver of the college student’s future hearing rights. Once waived, the student may no longer be able to pursue the formal hearing process on a second discipline allegation.
Instead, the student will get a brief meeting with college discipline personnel, which the college may still call a “hearing.” However, this is not a true hearing with witnesses, evidence, testimony and a somewhat neutral decisionmaker. Rather, it is like sheep being evaluated for slaughter by the wolf who will eat them.
Deferred Separation Should Be For Serious College Offenses
A deferred separation agreement may be very good for a college student caught selling drugs or possessing a weapon. But, as deferred separation basically translates into delayed suspension or expulsion, it is not appropriate for minor offenses.
Do cheating or being rude to a professor really warrant suspension? A deferred separation punishment implies that the college student has committed an offense for which they would have been kicked out of school.
Offering a desperate student such an agreement, when a university official knows suspension or expulsion were unlikely, seems unethical. Deferred separation should be reserved for offenses where the college student’s actions actually warrant suspension or expulsion.
Fighting a Second University Discipline Allegation
If a student is accused again, after signing a discipline agreement, the college may move to even tougher punishments. Those penalties could involve a longer suspension or even a student expulsion.
Universities usually only increase punishments on second or third allegations.
I have seen university students who committed one cheating offense, who entered into deferred separation agreements. On a second allegation, they ended up fighting college expulsion as they “already had a deferred separation.”
Consider Options Before Signing
With any discipline resolution, a college student should seriously consider their options before signing. The student may even want to proceed to a formal discipline hearing to try to plead their case instead.
Although the university student may think they are getting a break, or they don’t want to face a college hearing panel to defend themselves, sometimes signing the first discipline resolution option presented by a university may not be the best choice.
College student attorney Michelle Ball is located in Sacramento and has assisted students since the 1990s. As an education lawyer in California, she can provide help in Irvine, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Riverside, Merced, Chico, Davis or wherever students may need her in the state.
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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.