What to do if suspended
September 7, 2009 2:37 PM   Subscribe

How to appeal to president on academic dishonesty accusation? What to do if I get suspended from my university?

Some details:

-Last spring, I was accused of academic dishonesty
-A professor lost half of the writing portion of my midterm
-When I wanted to discuss it with her, I noticed that half was missing, so I re-wrote the missing half, thinking it was nothing
-She had scanned photocopies of the midterms the entire time
-Midterms did not match up
-She accused me of 'serious' academic dishonesty
(Even though she was the one who lost my exam and then asked ME to produce mine, when she knew that she had scanned copies of them on her computer to which we could make reference).
-She initially wanted to give me an "F" with "Academic Dishonesty" annotations on my transcript.
-I appealed to a committee who removed the "AD" annotations but wanted to give an "F" with "Two semesters of suspension"
-I appealed a second time at a hearing but the provost did not change the punishment.
-I am about to appeal a third time, to the president of my university. They wanted to suspend me Fall 2009-Spring 2010 but it's fall now and it is my third week attending classes. Since I am still in the process of appealing, I am technically allowed to attend class. I do not want to get suspended now, since this is the semester I've been most looking forward to.

Any advice on what I should say when asking the uni president to drop the 'suspension' part of the punishment? I am not sure how to go about this.

I would love to go to graduate school, and I do not want to piss anyone off in case they decide to annotate my transcripts again (suspension does not show up on transcripts).

If I am suspended, what should I do with all the time off?
I've already lived abroad/traveled extensively, etc. Any interesting "Gap Year" ideas or programs come to mind?

posted by anonymous to Education (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Your university should have student advocates trained for this exact type of situation. If you're feeling spendy, you could also lawyer up (this would probably be pretty effective).
posted by oinopaponton at 2:41 PM on September 7, 2009

I read this a couple of times and I still have no idea why you rewrote that missing page and then showed it to her, rather than going to meet with her and pointing out that she misplaced one of the pages of your exam. I simply don't understand on earth you would think "it was nothing" to rewrite an answer to a test question after it had been graded and then represent it as the original exam page.

If you're going to appeal, you've got to come up with a reasonable explanation for your behavior. Right now, your story doesn't pass the sniff test.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:48 PM on September 7, 2009 [20 favorites]

I'm a bit confused, and perhaps you can add some information via a moderator, but did the professor ask you to re-write the written portion? Were you expected to retain an original copy? When you gave the professor the re-written portion, did you tell the professor that it was a re-written piece and not what you had originally written? When you note the midterms did not match up, why did the midterms get compared in the first place, if the professor had forgotten he/she had originals?

There seems to be a major disconnect between what you did and the professor's expectations and reaction. More information would go a long way in understanding what happened exactly, and how best to address it when you try and petition the president.
posted by Atreides at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2009

what university are you in? there is most likely a specific office tasked to defend students in cases of academic dishonesty. if you can't find them on your own, ask your academic adviser. they are all your advocates, they are on your side, and they are paid to help you.
posted by Think_Long at 2:58 PM on September 7, 2009

Seconding hydropsyche. My first reaction on seeing an incomplete copy of a test I took would be to talk to the professor, not to attempt to re-write it. I think that would be most people's first reactions. The fact that the OP did not do what I believe most people would do makes this much harder to appeal (and perhaps is a key reason as to why prior appeals have been denied).

Since they do seem to want to mete out punishment beyond the F, perhaps you can suggest as an alternative some sort of probation, rather than a suspension? On-campus community service? And maybe it would help to point out that if they suspended you now, the work you've done so far this semester would go to waste.

If you got them to remove your "AD" designation, that's already a victory. I got into a top law school despite having some serious doozies on my transcript. An F might be a dealbreaker for other types of grad programs, though - I just don't know enough.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:59 PM on September 7, 2009

I also think that your story doesn't really add up, and this part, "I noticed that half was missing, so I re-wrote the missing half, thinking it was nothing" really doesn't make you look good if you went in to discuss a grade with a version of an exam written after the fact (assuming your professor wouldn't notice that it was a different version? it's really not clear what's going on here, but it doesn't look kosher). Given this, AND the fact that your second appeal was denied, it's hard to advise you on what to say to the university president. As far as grad school, an F on your transcript is likely to cause problems, but the bigger problem might be that your recommenders (i.e. your current professors) will feel compelled to mention this episode in their letters.
posted by agent99 at 3:09 PM on September 7, 2009

I'm trying to imagine how this actually happened.

You do a midsemester exam and write an essay. You get the graded paper back and are not happy with your mark. You make an appointment to discuss it with your professor, and she tells you to bring the paper in question with you.

You 'notice that some of the essay is missing' and rewrite the second half to take with you to the discussion. At the discussion you somehow represent this as the original work to the professor, who thinks 'that doesn't look the way I remember' and checks her backup copy. It doesn't match, and she is now accusing you of redoing the paper after the exam and attempting to get marked on this work instead of what you actually produced during the exam.

Is this what happened? How can you show that you didn't intend to get marks for the rewritten portion? If this is not what happened, can you clarify?
posted by jacalata at 3:14 PM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Be careful with the politics of it all, too -- is your professor a big deal in her department/at the university? When I was a TA in graduate school, the grad chair of our department signed off on my doing an independent study, conveniently forgot, denied he'd signed the permission form for me to do so (I had his original signature on it, for heaven's sake!) and our university ombudsman basically said "his department, he is the law."

This kept me from getting my master's degree and even had other profs in the department surreptitiously telling me to wait a year or two til he retired before coming back to finish my degree.

If the same thing happened today, I'd probably take oinopaponton's advice and lawyer up. Hopefully you won't have to, but if you have any family friends who are lawyers, I might start making some calls...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:20 PM on September 7, 2009

Agree with everyone upthread that your story simply doesn't check out. This is EXACTLY why I photocopy all mid-terms and finals (for >100 students).

Look at the bright side, you got the AD stricken off your record. See if someone from the student council can represent you or help find you representation.

As for what to do with the time off, I'd suggest that you go do something that will help you make up for that F and get you into school.

If you are interested in the sciences, go be a research assistant for a year. Learn new techniques, ideas. Write a peer reviewed paper if you can. I can't suggest anything specific for the humanities but do some sort of year long internship. In other words go do something extraordinary in the next year that will make a grad school admissions committee go wow and overlook that suspension.
posted by special-k at 3:22 PM on September 7, 2009

oinopaponton is right on: you need to ask for help from advocates, student leaders, other people that might be able to help. There are many different people you can go to.

Also, I'm more than a little unclear as to what happened and as to the accusation that's been made, and I have a strong suspicion that the lack of clarity in your account is a barrier to any committee's understanding your plight. You say your professor said she had lost your midterm and asked you to rewrite it even though she knew she had a reference copy? Is the implication that you were copying someone else's work? That someone else wrote it for you? That you tried to improve your score by adding to your previous work? By your description it sounds as though you weren't at fault, it's true; but by your description it makes no sense that you've been accused of dishonesty: professors aren't supposed to ask you to rewrite something and then punish you for rewriting it.

The description you've given seems like a technical description designed to amplify all the details that make you seem innocent; but telling that to the committee or to the university president won't resolve the issue or convince them to grant you any leeway. My sense is that you need to do several things:

To begin with, you need to think about the situation and make a decision: did you do anything wrong? This is very important; don't make a snap decision. The way you're (as far as I can tell) talking around the situation rather than through it indicates to me that you feel at least a hint of guilt about it. However, it might be that you really did nothing wrong. You're the one to decide that; think long and hard, because there are good courses of action you can take in either case. Make your decision and stick with it, stating the case as simply and bluntly as you can to the university president.

If you feel as though you're guilty of dishonesty–technical or not, official or not, just dishonesty of any kind–then it's best to be open about it, completely clear. Say something to the effect of: "I think I made a terrible mistake, and did something a student should never do. Right now, all I can say is that I hope I can put it behind me and have a more productive academic career."

If you feel as though you're not guilty, however, you should stand up for yourself: "I didn't do anything wrong, and I will not accept being told that I've been academically dishonest. This is utterly unfair." Don't be a loudmouth or make accusations; just state clearly and briefly that you think that what has happened is wrong.

Either way, what you have to say should be simple: either a guilty plea for lenience, or an innocent's plea for real justice. Don't put in much more than that; you're more likely to have persuasive power if your message is brief but memorable, and if you deal with the central issue he's going to be interested in: guilt and innocence.
posted by koeselitz at 3:39 PM on September 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

I think the part of the story that is missing here (maybe) is that she gave you half and exam and asked you to bring the whole exam to your discussion with her?...

The president will be very reluctant to disagree with a professor. I would present this as a misunderstanding where you thought your professor lost half the exam and that you were doing the right thing by everyone to fill in the missing pieces.

I would admit this perhaps was not the best idea, but emphasize that you had good intentions. I would offer up some equally horrible punishment in place of the suspension.

Personally, I would try and get the F removed rather than the suspension. An F is really going to cramp your style when you try and go to graduate school. I might ask if instead of the F, which will destroy your academic career, you can take the suspension or spend the time taking extra remedial courses, or something, at your own expense.

If you have a teacher advocate, that would help more than anything else, I think. Someone to say that you have a somewhat promising career ahead of you that this will derail, and can vouch for your academic integrity. A letter from such person to the president may help.

As for the suspension, go to your career counselor. Or, make this a part of your alternative punishment. Come up with something good you could do for the community, etc. during this time.

Note: I'm not involved in academics at all. I'm just answering from my gut. The president will not go against another professor, much less a committee easily. A professor on your side will make things a little tougher on him. A good alternative will also make it easier for him to make a different decision. Be sure to be very polite and prepared when you talk with him. Dress up.
posted by xammerboy at 4:01 PM on September 7, 2009

I'm an academic that has served on several student grievance committees at various levels. I can tell you that from what you have written your story does not add up at all. This is not necessarily a bad thing because this is an Internet forum and not an official letter of grievance. When you do write that letter, however, you must MUST MUST be sure that your chronology and your logic are clearly presented and hold up against close inspection. You need to educate yourself on the official, published university policy with respect to your situation. You need to review the decision of the previous grievance committee and put in clear, concisely worded writing why that decision was inadequate. You must recognize, accept, and then skillfully refute your professor's reasoning based on official university policy.

The fact that the provost did not act leads me to believe that you actually did violate university policy (or can't prove you did not). In my experience, provosts are quite willing to give students the benefit of the doubt if benefit of the doubt is warranted. They know that faculty sometimes have personal issues with students that come out in grades. What you should not do is lawyer up unless you are pretty certain that the professor has discriminated against you by law, clearly violated university policy, or that the university itself is in violation of the law. If you bring a lawyer to the situation, all parties affiliated with the university will automatically do the same and this will become an expensive lesson for you to learn unless your legal rights have been abridged.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:43 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I disagree. You should hire an attorney to help you draft an appeal, go over with you what the salient points are in any oral presentation or argument that may happen, and review the record of the previous proceedings to ensure that they followed the university's written procedures to the letter.

You don't necessarily need to have a lawyer follow you into the room or start firing off immediate nastygrams. You should get some sort of counsel because, applying the most charitable reading possible to your statements here, you have a habit of wandering into situations without understanding what's going on, making unwarranted assumptions about the situation, and shooting yourself in the foot. Your behavior up to now hasn't been very smart, so you need to remove yourself and especially your judgment from the situation as far as is practicable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:22 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should hire an attorney to help you draft an appeal, go over with you what the salient points are in any oral presentation or argument that may happen, and review the record of the previous proceedings to ensure that they followed the university's written procedures to the letter.

A good point that I just don't think of sitting on the other side of the table. My concern is when a student brings a lawyer to proceedings without realizing that at that moment everything stops, everyone lawyers up, and things start to get slow and expensive.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:34 PM on September 7, 2009

It is preposterous that you would simply "rewrite" a missing page. Not buying it...and no one else will either. Take the suspension "like a man"--you were lucky to get the "dishonesty" thing erased.
You are right...you don't want to piss anyone off and get it put back on. Consider saying innocuous things like "I regret that this happened. I take responsibility for the outcome".
posted by naplesyellow at 6:39 PM on September 7, 2009

Having been on the teaching side of academic dishonesty cases before (though thankfully required to slough them off to people in higher positions), all I can say is BE HONEST. Admit fault where you are at fault, describe your thought process, and make the people you are presenting your case to understand what you did in a way that does not sound sketchy beyond belief. The story you presented has red flags all over it, specifically why you tried to pass off material written after the fact as your already-turned-in midterm. When your case was before the provost, you were talking to someone whose job it is to hear cases like this day after day — he or she has a solid intuition on the differences between misconduct that is based on naivety and ignorance and misconduct that is intentional. When a story doesn't make sense, it is usually the latter.

It's may be too late now, but in all of the cases that I have seen, the people who own up to exactly what they did and apologize get off far lighter than those who say that they are totally innocent until facts arise that disagree. It's still worth a shot to just lay out your case without trying to whitewash it.
posted by Schismatic at 6:49 PM on September 7, 2009

Was this midterm something you wrote "on the fly" during a testing session? Or a piece of work that you turned in as part of the midterm?

It sounds to me like during the initial meeting, you didn't mention that you had rewritten half of your essay, and that the teacher didn't believe that the original half had been lost.
posted by gjc at 6:50 PM on September 7, 2009

This is why I hate anonymous questions (though I realize they're a necessary evil).

After reading your question, I find myself left with the impression that you tried to present a redo of your work as if it were the original version and got caught. Your last paragraph about "Gap Year" ideas makes me think you're not taking the gravity of the situation seriously. If I were in your shoes, the last thing I'd be thinking about is time off. This too makes me think you're guilty.

I could be wrong and, of course, hope that I am. That being said... if you did try to cheat and got caught, you should try re-asking the question next week, because the real question should be "I cheated and got caught. I know I was wrong. What's my best course of action for making things right? How do I salvage my academic pursuit?"

Most of the answers above are based on the assumption that you're innocent. If you're not, that changes the situation, and a different set of answers would have been posted. Answers that, if you are guilty of cheating, would probably be far more helpful.

Best of luck.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:53 PM on September 7, 2009

Based on your version of the story, here's probably what the provost and professor believe happened:

You turn in a midterm, the professor grades it and returns the papers. You aren't happy with your grade and realize that the second page doesn't have any marks on it. You find that if you rewrite the essay (using sources this time) and make an appointment with the professor, she would read the newly-awesome essay and say "Good god! This is excellent work! A+! How could I have been so foolish? Thanks for recognizing my error!"

However, you did not consider the possibility that the professor already had photocopied everyone's test. The professor meets with you and doesn't buy your story, checking her records to be sure. Obviously, this new essay is completely different than the original. She accuses you of serious academic dishonesty.

So, this is how they are seeing what happened. If this is not how things went down, you need seriously to include more information both in this thread and with your further meetings with the university representatives.

I still don't understand why, after your professor tells you that she lost your test and wants you to bring in your copy, you would not immediately tell her that it was returned with a page missing. This is shady activity number one. Then you rewrite the page and try to pass it off as the original. This is shady activity number two. These do not seem like innocent, la-di-dah moves. This seems intentional and planned.

If I were you and guilty, I would let things go and take the F and suspension, because frankly I would feel lucky that I escaped without an AD notation. What to do during the suspension? Work in the field that I am studying. Apply to some community college classes that would help my job search. Get some experience.

If I were you and innocent, I would need to come up with a more plausible story. Do you have any emails saved between you and the professor that corroborates your tale? A normal, academically honest person would not have done what you did. You need to explain your actions better.
posted by amicamentis at 7:03 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to comment on your specific situation, but I will alert you to some mistakes made by most people who appeal a bad academic finding.

By the way, if you plan to lie or colour the truth about anything, just save yourself the trouble and abandon the appeal outright. Your one shot is to appear to be Honesty McHonest from Honesting Lane, and one flip-flop will sink you.

Firstly, get someone to represent you. This is pretty well covered above, but your campus legal clinic or student affairs office can probably help you with this by providing you with an advocate who will do a much better job than you will. You still must assist with the preparation of your appeal though.

Secondly, learn the academic code of conduct inside-out. Find out exactly what section you are alleged to have breached.

Thirdly, decide what argument you want to make. You have basically four choices:
1. I am completely innocent and no one else has recognized it.

2. I made an error in judgment that is being unreasonably interpreted as dishonesty.

3. I acted dishonestly, but not as dishonestly as my professor thought I did.

4. I've seen the error of my ways and I've learned my lesson.
Pick exactly one of these arguments. Do not vacillate between them, leaving the president with doubt about whether you are actually claiming that you did nothing wrong. Do not start off with #1 and fall back to #2 or #3 under questioning. It sounds as though your best bet is probably #2, but I really don't know enough about your situation to say for sure. If that's the way you decide to go, be brutal with your description of yourself: admit you fucked up royal, why you did it, and why it wasn't intentionally dishonest. Don't try to hedge your argument by saying you made a mistake and then blaming the professor in the next breath.

If you picked argument four, skip the next two steps.

Fourthly, come up with a brief explanation (five sentences maximum) of why the argument you picked is correct. Put it in the same terms as in the relevant code of conduct section. (E.g., code of conduct says, "Where work is lost by a professor, the student shall not intentionally resubmit work for credit that differs from the original version," you say, "The work I submitted did not differ from the original" or, "I did not intentionally resubmit different work since I tried to make it match the original," etc.) State your case strongly, without equivocation, but politely and with humility. Flesh it out with details and answers to questions you anticipate.

Fifthly, find the mistakes that the professor and provost made when they assessed your behaviour. The first thing the president is going to think is that two people have already signed off on you being a liar, so why should s/he believe you? In a completely nonjudgmental, impersonal way, state the errors you claim the professor and provost made. (E.g., "It's understandable that Ms. X interpreted my behaviour this way, but she ignored the fact that I . . . ".) If you received written reasons from the professor or provost, go through them and highlight leaps of logic, errors of fact, unfair generalizations, etc. Establishing a credible mistake that the president can correct is actually more important than persuading him/her that you're "right," because it provides a path to the result you want, and can cause him/her to reassess the reasonable presumption that you're a liar.

Sixthly, no matter what argument you picked above, you also make argument 5:
5. Even if I'm guilty, I'm being punished too harshly for what I did.
Here (and only here) is where you roll out your personal hardship stories, how much you love your program, the unreasonable impact the punishment is having on you due to your personal circumstances (which were unknown to the professor and provost).

And seventhly, be prepared for failure. Argument #5 is probably your only real shot of getting something out of this appeal. The chance that the president will reverse two members of his/her staff is low, but the chance that s/he'll exercise a little mercy on a penitent sinner is higher.
posted by hayvac at 1:46 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know if you're continue reading this, as it's been a while since you've posted your question, but if worse comes to worse....

consider transferring. Start the process NOW. Get copies of your transcripts before this mess all goes on your record.

Since you've already started school already this year, when the punishment hearing goes down, ask them if you can delay the suspension until spring semester. File transfer applications ASAP- consider a school close to home just so you know it goes through.

Once the transfer goes down, give them your transcripts now, when your issues won't be on your record, or just choose not to transfer the class over to your new institution.

Otherwise this is going to be a huge red flag. Next time this situation arises, please just say, "hey, I want to discuss this with you, but my essay is missing. Do you have it on your desk anywhere?"

honestly, this whole incident sounds really, really shady, and i'm disinclined to believe you- which makes me believe that a university president is less likely to believe you and go against 2 members of his staff.

transfer and get out of there.
posted by unexpected at 2:41 PM on September 8, 2009

I have read that courts have traditionally upheld academic disciplinary procedures, except when other laws were violated, like sexual harassment or racial discrimination. So, yes, it seems expensive & odd hiring a lawyer when you've no chance in real court.

But lawyers also provide distance & objectivity when considering your case, hence the adage "the lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client". I'd say you clearly need this distance & objectivity like ROU says, especially given that people here don't buy your story.

You should obviously use the (free) student advocates mentioned above if your university has them, well they'll have the most experience. I'm not sure bout your options if they have no advocates, maybe hire some good law school student.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:03 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

If your university has student advocates, but you didn't know about them, then this might be ground to get the provost to re-hear your appeal without going to the president, i.e. you get an extra appeal.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:08 PM on September 8, 2009

I have to agree that your story is confusing at best. The advice you're getting above is very good; please listen to it. Additionally: You say you're interested in going to grad school. Please be aware that academic dishonesty is considered an even more serious infraction in grad school and in any future research career. There are very stringent rules regarding ethical and unethical behavior as a researcher, and whether this was a dumbass mistake or something you thought might be a little dubious, you cannot afford to end up in this sort of situation again.

That said, if this was a dumbass mistake, please don't freak out over xammerboy's claim that

An F is really going to cramp your style when you try and go to graduate school... instead of the F, which will destroy your academic career, you can take the suspension...

If it is very clear that that single F was an exception, and if you can provide grad schools with a decent explanation, and the rest of your work in your field is very good, an F will not "destroy your academic career." I am speaking from personal experience here. Depending on how suspensions are described by professors you'd otherwise ask for recommendations, marked on your academic record, etc., the suspension may well be more damaging.
posted by ubersturm at 10:15 AM on September 9, 2009

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