I have been accused of cheating on my math final. I did not cheat. There was no "trial" and the only evidence is that (1) my hands were out of the frame, and (2) my work "looked like a machine did it." The professor gave me a zero on the final, which gave me a D in the course.

Now she is offering me the chance to let her watch as I work through (previously unseen) problems. I guess I can "prove" I didn't cheat by getting the questions right and formatting my work in the same way as I did on the test. My concern is that, even though I am innocent, I could still "fail" this exercise in her judgment. If this were to happen, is it likely that I could receive a more severe penalty than I have now? Like if I don't "pass the test" in front of the department head, will I still have a D and 0 on the final? Or will something worse happen?

More details....

Here is a timeline of the events:

  1. I got an email from my professor saying because my hands were not in the frame (it was a remote test), I violated the testing environment and am getting a 0 on the final. Additionally, it appeared my answers were copied from a "commonly used math website" so she is failing me in the course.
  2. I emailed her back and asked to meet. Because that is the process at my school.
  3. I met with her, she didn't say what evidence she had against me, said she already filed the report and that I will be getting a letter from the office of student conduct.
  4. She also said I can talk to the department head. She decided not to fail me because she found that I haven't ever cheated in her class before but the issue was with the supporting work so I had to take the 0 on the final.
  5. I got the letter, they said they won't file any sanctions against me and that it will say on the report "For Information Only" but I can get an academic penalty. I did. Which I can appeal.
  6. Met with the department head, again didn't really provide any evidence other than that it looked like a "machine" did my work for me.
  7. The department head offered this opportunity to work through a set of random problems and "prove" I didn't cheat. I am trying to decide whether to accept this offer.
  8. If I "fail" to prove I didn't cheat, I do not plan to pursue it further (not that I would have many options left in any case).

Update: I took the "test" with the department head. She is recommending that my grade not be changed :/

I appreciate everyone's comments and concerns!

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    Welcome to Academia SE. It appears that you are posting this question under your real name. In my experience with similar posts, there is a good chance that you will regret this soon, when it is difficult to undo. Please strongly consider either changing your username or deleting your question and re-posting it under a different name. Moreover, unless I misunderstand something, your question mostly depends on your school’s policies and therefore we cannot answer it. Please see this FAQ.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 14, 2021 at 15:08
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    I must say, I think it is admirable to post under one's real name. It is a legitimate question about misconduct policies, and posting it with a real name is courageous. I don't think it is necessarily a good idea for us to encourage people to delete questions like this and repost anonymously.
    – Ben
    May 15, 2021 at 10:58
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    @Ben I now believe I see where you are coming from. You say, if I understand correctly, that since OP denies the cheating, showing their name both indicates courage as well as their confidence in their cause. Maybe. I still think it is asking for trouble - there is a reason why accused have the right to not reveal information about themselves; it might be used against them. I am not sure if one would call it courageous for them to talk. Were I to advise the OP, I would tell them to not use their real name to not leave a history. May 16, 2021 at 2:36
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    Hmm, yes. Perhaps it is "courageous" in the sense that Sir Humphrey uses the word Yes Minister (i.e., a bad idea).
    – Ben
    May 16, 2021 at 5:26
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    OP gave a lot more detail in the comments to Ben's answer. I have edited these into the main post, and thus removed now-obsolete comments. OP: if I botched anything, feel free to make further edits to the post (but try to keep the length under control).
    – cag51
    May 17, 2021 at 4:24

4 Answers 4


It is unlikely that the sanction will be increased if you protest your innocence. But you don't say whether you did actually cheat in some way. If you did, then you should probably accept it and move on.

But if you didn't then, to me, the "evidence" seems a bit circumstantial. If it were me and I was innocent, then I would protest vigorously to whoever would listen.

The "infraction" is likely in your file in case there is a repeat accusation. But, in most places, it won't follow you after graduation - and it would be improper if it did.

  • 1
    "It is unlikely that the sanction will be increased if you protest your innocence" - that is true, as long as the evidence is not so strong that it's clear the person in question is lying. I had a case where the student protested innocence extra hard, but our proofs were rock solid. It does not improve how the student is perceived, and everything in the future is going to be scrutinized with extra attention. Whether there is a separate penalty for insisting on a lie will depend on the local regulations. May 15, 2021 at 13:20
  • Also, sometimes the higher these cases go in the university administration the harsher the penalties get. Practically, at some institutions it could for example be risky to move from the professor level (zero on the question or final) to the academic integrity office (failed course) to the university tribunal (they're not shy to expel students)... And these cases only escalate up the food chain if the student denies the charges. I understand this can put innocent students in a terrible dilemma but seems to be reality at some universities. May 16, 2021 at 14:52
  • Yes, I am trying to prove that I did not cheat whatsoever. I take cheating allegations very seriously and my academics. If for whatevr reason they don't believe me because of the "evidence" which I think it is circumstantial because they can't say I cheated because my hands were not in the frame and it looked like a "machine" solved my math problems.... I will accept the D and the 0 on the final. No point in going to the dean which is the next step. I have to worry about summer classes and don't have time for a "trial".
    – Bk12
    May 17, 2021 at 0:24
  • Yes! I think it is risky going up higher in the food chain, which I don't plan on doing because 1. I don't have time and 2. it is risky even though I know I didn't cheat, I will have to move on
    – Bk12
    May 17, 2021 at 0:27

It should certainly be possible for you to challenge a finding of misconduct made in this way. Indeed, the fact that the student conduct office even made a finding without first seeking your evidence or input sounds extremely dodgy to me --- it constitutes a lack of due process in the misconduct assessment, and could also constitute evidence of bias.

Now, if you decide to challenge the finding, it is almost certain that the school would need to withdraw their present finding in order to provide you with due process in the matter. (The only exception to this is if you have been too tardy in appealing the matter and have thereby lost your chance due to delay.) Due process generally requires that you have a chance to see the evidence against you and respond to this before a finding of misconduct is made. Once you have given your version of events, the school would make a finding, and if they find that you have committed misconduct they could decide to impose a higher penalty than was their initial assessment. In this event you might have some grounds for arguing that the initial penalty should stand (e.g., that imposing a higher penalty constitutes retaliation against you for insisting on due process), and you might or might not win that argument.

As others have pointed out in comments, there are a number of aspects of your post that cast suspicion on you, including the fact that you never explicitly state that you did not cheat. (Though you do claim that cheating was impossible, which we can take as an implicit denial.) Ultimately, any misconduct process will need to have regard to the evidence, including your own statement about your behaviour and whatever was captured on video.

Ultimately, it is difficult to predict the outcome of these two avenues of action. If you appeal the misconduct finding you might succeed (or fail but receive a penalty no greater than the present penalty), or you might incur a larger penalty. If you did not commit the misconduct then I recommend you appeal the finding even just for the principle of the thing, but that is just me.

  • I agree with the part where you say the student office omitted taking the student's evidence. However, it's not clear where OP says that this has been the case. I do not agree with the part " imposing a higher penalty constitutes retaliation against you for insisting on due process". That's not what the problem is: the student seems to evade the issue of whether they cheated. If they try to paint it as if they didn't when they actually did, yes, they deserve a harsher penalty due to the additional energy they invest in making themselves look innocent. Courts reduce sentences for confessions. May 15, 2021 at 13:26
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    Courts also wait until after trials to render verdicts.
    – Ben
    May 15, 2021 at 21:42
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    Agreed. However, if the student merely says, "You need to give me due process in the misconduct process ---e.g., finding after evidence" and then they proceed with this and impose a harsher penatly at the end, one could easily mount the argument that the harsher penalty constituted retaliation against the student for insisting on due process (which would of course be illegitimate).
    – Ben
    May 16, 2021 at 1:23
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    We are in full agreement. Due process is a right, not a privilege. May 16, 2021 at 2:24
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    @Captain Emacs I agree, I just couldn't hold myself from posting that video in response to your comment! :)
    – Iiro Ullin
    May 18, 2021 at 16:46

You can't prove or disprove that you cheated or didn't cheat by taking another test. There are two issues: if you want to contest the cheating accusation, you have to contest the accusation in a proper manner, especially now, once it has been elevated to the college level. A separate issue is improving your grade (which may depend on the outcome of the cheating case) -- that's where you can potentially make a deal with the instructor/department. You can pursue both lines or neither, or just one them. If you didn't cheat, I will also suggest that you fight vigorously to defend yourself. If you did, I don't really have any other recommendations than don't do it again!

EDIT: with regards to your specific question,

If this were to happen, is it likely that I could receive a more severe penalty than I have now?

The answer is: check your college regulations. It should mention something about consequences of (first time) cheating...


Appearances are strongly against you. But the proposed test is to check how you go about it when you are doing it yourself, not so much getting the answer right as such. If you do get the answer (approximately) right, that would help a lot. Then again, if you turn out to be hopeless at stuff no more difficult (or even easier) than the stuff you very strongly appear to have cheated on, you will have incriminated yourself even more.

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