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Legal How-To: Appealing a College Disciplinary Decision

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

Maybe you were hit with disciplinary sanctions as the result of a made-up misconduct allegation against university police, or perhaps a because of a bit of underage alcohol consumption. Worse yet, maybe you were wrongfully punished of something you didn't even do.

Whatever the case may be, being hit with disciplinary sanctions from your college can really put a damper on that thing that happens at college in between sleeping and partying: getting your degree. Especially when a disciplinary hearing results in a suspension or expulsion, doing all you can to clear your name (or at least to lessen the damage of disciplinary sanctions) becomes of paramount importance.

So how can you appeal a college disciplinary decision? Here are some general tips:

  • Evaluate whether the sanctions are worth fighting. If you are found to have violated your school's honor code or rules of conduct, you may be subject to a wide array of disciplinary sanctions ranging from minor (i.e., probation or mandatory writing assignments) to serious (such as removal from university housing or expulsion from school). Although it's a personal judgment call, some sanctions may not be worth the time, trouble, and potential expense of an appeal.
  • If you decide to appeal, you may want to consult an education attorney. If you are facing serious disciplinary action, consulting with an education attorney may increase the likelihood of a successful appeal. Depending on your school, an attorney may or may not be able to speak for you at your hearing. In some instances, attorneys may not even be allowed to attend the hearing. Texas A&M, for example, only allows attorneys to be present in cases of alleged sexual misconduct, and only when that student is also facing criminal charges. However, in other states such as North Carolina, students now have the legal right to be represented by an attorney at non-academic disciplinary hearings.
  • Follow the school's appeals process, deadlines. Each school has its own appeals process, so be sure to follow the procedures set out in your school's student rules. In most instances, you will only have a specified number of days to file an appeal. At Princeton University, for example, an appeal must be filed in writing within one week of a disciplinary decision.
  • Sue in civil court, if necessary (and if you can). If you are attending a state-run university, you may also be able to appeal the disciplinary action in civil court as a violation of your constitutional right to due process. Private universities' disciplinary procedures, however, are not subject to due process requirements.

Need More Help?

Although a university disciplinary panel is not a courtroom, the stakes are still high. That's why it may still pay off to have an experienced education lawyer on your side. Keep in mind that even if a lawyer can't represent you at a school hearing, you can still seek a lawyer's advice about the best way to appeal your college disciplinary decision. And also remember that many lawyers offer free or low-cost consultations.

A successful appeal of your disciplinary sanctions can keep your college career on track. Make it count.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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