Last Updated on April 26, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney 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 students sign bad agreements due to fear.
When reviewing a discipline proposal which may sign away college attendance rights or due process rights, careful review of the discipline agreement must be made. College discipline resolutions should not be entered lightly or quickly.
Minor Student Allegations = Harsh College Discipline Agreements
I have noticed a recent pattern in a couple colleges in the University of California (UC) system, where students are being offered incredibly bad discipline resolution agreements on first-time, minor offenses. These discipline agreements can haunt university students later, if they receive a second allegation. Sometimes, a bad student resolution agreement can later result in student termination on a very minor second discipline offense.
A common agreement offered, which may not be so great for a college student with a minor discipline offense, is a “Deferred Separation” agreement.
Deferred Separation- What is it?
Deferred separation is a name given to a discipline resolution agreement where a college student is allowed to remain in attendance in a university, while punishment is deferred.
Signing a deferred “separation” agreement implies that, but for the kindness of the college, the student would have been removed from the college. “Deferred separation” essentially means delayed expulsion or exclusion.
Signature May Mean Hearing Rights Waived
Often this type of discipline resolution agreement also includes a waiver of the college student’s future hearing rights. Once waived, they may no longer be able to pursue the formal hearing process on a second allegation. The student will thereafter not appear before a university discipline panel if another accusation arises, as their hearing rights are waived via the deferred separation agreement.
Instead, the university student, once they waive their hearing rights, will get a “hearing” from the college discipline office personnel. This is no “hearing” at all. It is like sheep being evaluated for slaughter by the wolf who will eat them.
Excessive Punishment for Minor Discipline Offense
Despite the fact that there are many more reasonable outcomes available, I have frequently seen that UC colleges may propose deferred separation for first offenses to students as a quick way to make their allegation go away.
This is a terrible outcome for a first time minor offense, such as plagiarism or yelling at a college professor. Yet, colleges offer deferred separation as appropriate resolutions to unknowing students all the time. Students, thinking they are getting a “break” jump at them, waiving future rights away. Later, the university student may end up back at the discipline office, to be quickly suspended or expelled.
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, like cheating, or being rude to a professor. A deferred separation punishment implies that the college student has committed an offense for which they would have been expelled.
Offering a student an agreement implying they would have been expelled, when a university official knows that was unlikely, smacks of unethical conduct. Deferred separation should be reserved for offenses where the college student really was up for college expulsion.
Fighting a Second University Discipline Allegation After Signing a Deferred Separation Agreement
If a student is accused again, after signing a deferred separation agreement waiving hearing rights, they can only plead their case to the college discipline office, such as the Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs (OSSJA) at UCD. The student won’t get any hearing panel review. Rather, the discipline officer at OSSJA decides the college student’s fate. It is not a good situation to be in.
I have seen several university students who committed alleged cheating offenses, for the very first time, which were minor to be sure. Yet, they signed a deferred separation agreement just to remain in school. They mistakenly thought they were getting a “good deal.”
Later, they ended up fighting to not be expelled from college after a second allegation, as they “already had a deferred separation.”
Consider Options Before Signing
If a college student is faced with a deferred separation proposal, they should seriously consider their options. The student may even want to proceed to a formal discipline hearing to try to plead their case instead of signing.
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.
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.