Understanding College Disciplinary Hearings and Actions in Indiana

Threatened With a University Disciplinary Hearing or Action as a College Student?

If you have ever been to college or visited one for more than an hour’s time, you will undoubtedly see some type of illicit behavior (albeit minor most of the times), but sometimes that behavior is criminal or against the college’s rules or policies in place for students. From fights at bars to drinking underage in a dorm room, all too often college students find themselves running afoul of their respective University’s Student Code of Conduct, Regulations, or Ethics. Many times, those violations occur in campus housing or on school grounds, leading to violations of the University’s Residence Guidelines as well. In the end, regardless of whether criminal charges are brought, if the University gets wind of illegal or criminal behavior within their school’s borders, you better believe they will follow up with swift action.

Typically speaking, when every student chooses to attend a college, they inheritably, impliedly, and/or directly agree to abide by a set of conduct and/or guidelines espoused by the University, all of which must be followed to maintain your status as a student at their school. As such, whenever criminal and/or deviant behavior is witnessed by school officials and/or local police while on school grounds, the University administration will often reach out to the alleged perpetrator (and school student) to inform them that they are the subject of an investigation.

TYPICAL UNIVERSITY DISCIPLINARY REGULATIONS:

BEING INFORMED OF THE ALLEGED VIOLATIONS:

Most of the time, disciplinary actions initiated by the University start by way of a certified letter and/or email from the University to the student. The letter is often marked with “PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL.” Within the letter, a housing official (if the event occurred in a dorm where the student is housed) or a delegate from the Dean of Students (or both) will review how they came into contact with information that the student had violated University rules. Many times, they will reference a police report or residential report from someone like a Resident Assistant, Dorm Manager, etc.  The letter will then go on to state how the alleged behavior runs in contrast to University regulations and/or Residential Standards/Rules. Many times, the letter will specifically mention the rules and/or regulations alleged to have been broken (i.e. Alcohol on campus, Alcohol Consumption, Non-Compliance, Quiet Hours, Dishonesty, Cheating, etc.).

OPTIONS:

Many times, the initial letter informing the student of the alleged misconduct will inform the student of their options. Typically, this will include giving the student an opportunity to reach out to the school representative or dorm manager. Most of the time, cooperating with the investigation is the best course of action, as the University is typically looking to rehabilitate rather than punish. However, the letter also states that if you do not cooperate, a decision will be made without your input. The important thing to remember is that if there is a criminal investigation that is running concurrently, there may be a strategy in delaying the University hearing and/or being vague in your answers — as anything you say may be used against you later in a criminal proceeding. A lawyer can help guide you through that decision process.

THE HEARING ITSELF:

The hearing itself is often times informal. Many times it is held in a small conference room and/or in the office of the University official or Dorm Manager. Usually, the only people permitted to speak are the University official, the student, and any witnesses. While the student may have someone attend the hearing with them (generally it’s recommended that be an attorney), that person will not be permitted to speak.

The hearing usually begins with the University official going through the procedural process of the hearing, and they will often explain the allegations again. They will typically go over all of your rights, and they will give you the options to waive those rights and proceed with the hearing or to deny the allegations. The University official will often present the evidence that they have against you by calling witnesses or summarizing what they have gathered. They will then give the student a chance to speak and/or present witnesses if they so choose.

After the conclusion of both sides presenting their arguments, the University official will explain the process going forward. Sometimes they will “tip their hat” as to what they are planning on doing, sometimes they won’t. It usually depends on the official and the seriousness of the allegations. They will then explain your right to appeal should you choose to do so.

POSSIBLE PUNISHMENTS:

This is probably the most common question we get asked. Generally speaking, the University is not looking to ruin the lives of their students for a single bad act (even when that act is rather serious). Their main focus is to teach the student how to make good decisions (not so ironically), and to rehabilitate the student. Therefore, if the behavior is rather mundane, and appears isolated and abnormal for the student, the penalties are typically minor. Nonetheless, the scations range from a: (1) written warning, (2) reprimand, (3) letter to parents or guardian, (4) relocation to another resident, (5) restorative action, (6) substance abuse evaluation and treatment, (7) apologies, (8) restitution, (9) an educational sanction/suspension/expulsion, (10) official educational record/transcript demerit, and/or (11) an combination thereof.

The standard of proof in these hearings is a preponderance of the evidence review — a civil standard that says “it is more likely than not” that the events occurred. This is not a hard standard for the University to meet — and mind you, they are the one presenting the evidence and making the final decision (there is an inherent bias).

FINAL RESOLUTION:

Usually, within seven (7) days, the University will issue a written report outlining their findings. They will restate what brought about the action, and they will make reference to the issues raised at the hearing. They will then (in great detail, typically) go through each regulation/rule that was broken and whether or not they find there is enough evidence to validate a violation. They will then lay out the sanctions against you for each proven violation. If expulsion is not chosen as a sanction, many times the University will take a moment to remind the student that any further violations are grounds for dismissal from the University or housing unit.

The letter will then give the student an option to request an appeal and/or to challenge the alleged findings and sanctions. There is typically a date listed as a cut off for such a request and is the hard deadline for when the sanction becomes final.

CONCLUSION:

In the end, it’s easy to see why these hearings can bring about a lot of anxiety and concern. The University holds a lot of power over their students, and they know it. While this blog focuses on the big picture for how these hearings are conducted, it is not meant as a save all, be all guide to University Disciplinary Proceedings. If you or a loved one is facing a hearing such as is discussed in this blog, it’s essential that you hire an experienced attorney to guide you through the process. Give the experienced University Disciplinary Attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC a call today at (317) 870-0019 or email us at info@banksbrower.com. We are available 24-7-365 and stand ready to assist you at any time.