I am a student at a university in South Africa. 300 out of the 400 students in my class, including me, were recently accused of cheating by receiving a paper before an exam. We were given the letters of suspension for 11 months without valid evidence or proof that we cheated. I did not cheat, and this is really messing up my plans.

My lecturer said that each student will have a chance to write a letter or affidavit to share their side of the story, but he said that winning the case is unlikely. So my question is how to proceed. In particular, what approach should I take in this letter?

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    Welcome to academia.SE. Your question was attracting close votes, so I made some changes -- feel free to fix anything I botched.
    – cag51
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 11:34
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    Is there a third party, i.e., an office of an ombudsman, who could investigate the matter on behalf of the students? Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 12:47
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    What distinguishes the 300 from the other 100 students?
    – user9482
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 13:20
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    There is so much needed information missing here that I don't see how anyone could give a good answer.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


Remark: I am NOT a lawyer and following are opinions. Collective punishment is, to my opinion, lowest anyone can go. The event you describe certainly reminds this:


There are few very inappropriate things here.

1) There must be a case, i.e. disciplinary hearing, for each individual (or for small groups of people if there is evidence that they collabrated in this act)

2)Presumption of guilt. They accuse you of cheating and you are asked to prove you are innocent. This is absurd. Presumption of innocence, i.e. innocent until proven otherwise, is a fundamental legal principle. It is the core of modern legal system.

3) "My lecturer said each student have a chance to write a letter or affidavit to share their side of the story but he said they are a few chances to win this case." They seem to decide what proportion of letters are going to "win" before recieving any. Again, very inappropriate.

What I would suggest, can't stress this enough I am not a lawyer:

1) Try to talk with higher administration about this. Don't skip levels. Communicate your worries including above that you agree. You may say it is unjust. You may say it is unmethodical. You may say this is defamation. Start with mathematics department head. Their answers or actions does not satisfy you try to contact the faculty head. Even that does not do it try to get in touch with the respective vice-president of the university. That probably would be the one in charge of student affairs or education.

2) Consider your legal options. I don't know your country's legal system. There seem to be enough to ask a lawyer if this would count as defamation or damages. If they don't have any evidence against you, they have no justifiable reason to defame you or damage your academic standing. Legal advice should apply to the letter you are considering to submit. If you have access to a lawyer or a law student, you might want to explain what is going on and possibly, at the very least, run the letter by them. Ideally, you would have a lawyer throught this phase and act within his/her advices.

edit: I forgot to point out. They are the sole judge on their accusations. That also is quite absurd.

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    -1 Your answer seems to be suggesting this is a legal matter, but universities, at least in the US and UK, have very wide latitude in making decisions to suspend students.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 14:34
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    @StrongBad, they might have latitude, but not to just ignore student's rights.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 14:37
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    @vonbrand student's rights to what? Students, especially undergraduate students, are not employees. They are essentially customers and if they don't like the education they are getting, they can go somewhere else. US universities reserves rights about who it is willing to educate (apart from protected characteristics).
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 14:43
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    "innocent til proven guilty" is the core of a modern legal system, true. BUT this is a university with rules that you signed to abide by when you enrolled...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 15:32
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    While I suspect the best course of action is non-legal, Boaty's recommendation to "consult with a lawyer" seems very reasonable. While universities do have wide latitude to set and follow their own procedures, there are plenty of examples of the courts getting involved, particularly when these procedures are not followed, or when the school's negligence leads affects the student's reputation and future earnings
    – cag51
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 16:31

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