What can stop a university from doing whatever they want and screwing students over in terms of accusing them unfairly of cheating, plagiarism, or a misunderstanding of professor authorization of essay re-submission in a second class? Also trying to take a student's degree or credit away after the course is completed/graduated with little evidence and no proof of circumstantial evidence that truly happened at the time of the incident? I ask this since they are private and go by their own rules and apparently there is no standard policy for how all universities are supposed to deal with issues. There are a lot of cases where businesses "screw people over".

This is in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.


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    We can't answer if you don't specify the country, what you mean by "screwing students over" and what do you mean by "type of lawyer". – Massimo Ortolano Dec 22 '16 at 15:20
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    Can you provide some more detail about what your "issues of academic misconduct" entail? It's not really possible to provide any advice with this level of information. – Buzz Dec 22 '16 at 15:20
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    You could try asking on Law SE. Also, you can try emailing question@nycourts.gov. I sent them a question once and they answered it in less than 24 hours. What you would do, is describe the situation briefly, and ask what recourse you have. If there's a particular law or regulation you could use (such as, in New York, Article 78), then you'd have something you could use in google or in a lawyer database search box. – aparente001 Dec 22 '16 at 15:25
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    I advise you to start fresh, with a different username, and post a link to your institution's policy. The key, really, is to go by their policy to see what hoops they offer to students who have been accused of something. – aparente001 Dec 22 '16 at 15:29
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    @JPhills I find it inconceivable that your university does not have any policy regarding academic misconduct. – jakebeal Dec 22 '16 at 16:05

Now that you've supplied sufficient information, the answer to your question seems fairly clearly spelled out within the university's own policy documents:

  • Section 6.6 shows that the decision-making process is not just a single professor "screwing you over," but rather:

    a determination of academic misconduct shall be decided by the Department Chair/Program Director based on a discussion between the student, the instructor, and the Department Chair/Program Director, as well as a review of the evidence

  • At some point, it leaves the department and ends up in the hands of a Dean, who also meets with the students. The full details of the process are spelled out in Section 7.

  • If the student is unhappy, they have a right to appeal to a Senate Student Appeals Board (Section 8), which seems a peer body rather than a faculty body. The full details of that process are spelled out in another linked document.

This looks like a pretty typical set of checks and balances: the individual professor is involved, but the key decision-making is not done by that professor or even within the department, and the faculty is in turn checked by appeals to a body of students.

Now, if your professor, the department head, the involved dean, and the student board are all convinced that you are guilty, you've got a more serious problem on your hands. Getting outside legal help might be warranted, but based on what you've written here, it seems like it's also quite plausible that you've either committed an offense and don't understand why it's an offense, or else that you've done yourself a disservice in the process by alienating people who might otherwise have helped.

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    This is a great answer. +1 for the clearly deciphering the provided policies, and for the last sentence which I agree with but could not have put so diplomatically. – NMJD Dec 22 '16 at 16:37
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    In general, legal help might be warranted if a university did not follow their own stated policy in making a determination of academic misconduct and applying penalties. – ff524 Dec 22 '16 at 17:07
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    @JPhills It is pointless to ask questions about hypotheticals, when so much is situation-dependent. You are not currently the subject of a misconduct investigation; we cannot speculate about what might happen if you were. – ff524 Dec 22 '16 at 17:16
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    @JPhills: The flip side of that approach: xkcd.com/761 – Nate Eldredge Dec 22 '16 at 18:29
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    @JPhills From what you've said so far, it seems to me that you are skipping ahead a few steps. First, see if the university actually considers it a significant issue at all. If they do care, then follows the procedure: calm yourself down, read it carefully and understand it, and begin with the assumption that they're not out to get you. Only if that all goes wrong would it be normally time to get a lawyer involved. – jakebeal Dec 22 '16 at 18:39

Because the dispute does not involve criminal charges, is between two parties, and does not involve criminal or family law, you want a civil lawyer. Specifically, you seem to be accusing the university of civil tort.

Universities tend to have very good (read: expensive) lawyers protecting them (and their endowments). You would need an equally good (read: expensive) lawyer to be able to have a go at them.

Whether you will find a civil lawyer willing to take you on without a hefty retainer (at least $10,000 in my neck of the woods if not much more) is an entirely different matter.

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  • University counsel often has better things to do. And I knew a lawyer who represented students (this university allowed the retention of counsel for certain academic misconduct hearings) and they were not in the $10,000 retainer range. – Fomite Dec 23 '16 at 8:34
  • Counsel for an academic hearing is cheap. Actually suing the university is an entirely different thing and is quite expensive. You do know the difference, don't you? – RoboKaren Dec 23 '16 at 15:44
  • I do - they still weren't in that range. But I also think it's not likely that "sue the university" is actually the ops path forward – Fomite Dec 24 '16 at 3:51
  • I agree, it's a fool's errand. But the OP asked what type of lawyer it would take to sue the university and I think my answer is the honest answer -- a civil lawyer -- and if OP wants to be successful, an expensive civil lawyer. At even $200 an hour, $10k is just 50 hours of time - i.e., one week of the lawyer and paralegal's time and those are cheap rates. – RoboKaren Dec 24 '16 at 3:52
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    People think lawyers are cheap. They are only cheap if they agree to take you on contingency - which means they think that there are good odds of winning and they can use boilerplate briefs (ie., traffic accidents, medical malpractice). I don't see the odds here as being good, and thus took contingency off the table. – RoboKaren Dec 24 '16 at 3:58

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