Ohio State University Student MisconductThe Ohio State University is one of the largest and best public universities in the United States. When a student gets a notice from the Office of Student Life about a potential misconduct issue it can be a very stressful and nerve-wracking experience. The repercussions of a misconduct investigation can range from no adverse action taken whatsoever to the most severe penalty of dismissal from the university. Attorney Evan T. Engler is an attorney and partner at the law firm of Harris & Engler, located in Columbus, Ohio, and he helps students and their parents navigate through all stages of the misconduct investigation and hearing process.
What to Expect from an Ohio State University Misconduct InvestigationStudents at the Ohio State University are subject to the rules and procedures contained in the OSU Code of Student Conduct. A copy of the Code of Student Conduct can be found here. If a student were part of a criminal proceeding, then they would be afforded all of the Due Process rights that the U.S. Constitution affords such such proceedings. Sometimes student conduct issues come in tandem with a criminal issue that may have triggered the student misconduct investigation. However, students of OSU are afforded somewhat of a "Due Process-Lite" set of rights. Students are still afforded a fair opportunity to be heard and the ability to have an attorney, but the process is very different from a criminal proceeding and there is no "right to an attorney," but merely, "the ability to have an attorney" at the student's or parent's expense. When a student enrolls in the Ohio State University they agree to abide by the Code of Student Conduct in order to be afforded the privilege of attending the university. That is why students have "Due Process-Lite" rights at OSU, because they elected to attend subject to those conditions.
Stages of the Misconduct Process
1. InvestigationA misconduct investigation at OSU starts with a complaint. A complaint can be filed against a student by virtually anyone, but most often complaints are filed by either a fellow student, faculty member, or law enforcement officer.
Once the Office of Student Life receives a complaint, then a case is created and assigned to a Hearing Officer. The Hearing Officer will investigate the situation and interview all parties involved. The Hearing Officer will contact the student against whom the complaint was filed (called the "respondent") and request to schedule a preliminary conference to discuss the issues raised in the complaint, explain the student conduct process, and get the respondent's side of the story. It is usually at this stage, after the hearing officer initially contacts the respondent in order to schedule a preliminary conference, but before the respondent has given an interview/attended the preliminary conference that an attorney should be initially contacted.
Some professional colleges within the Ohio State University have their own individual codes of conduct and have their own unique procedures for investigating and contesting the charges. An attorney can help advise you depending on your circumstances.
2. ChargesIf the Hearing Officer decides after the investigation that violations of the Code of Student Conduct occurred and decides to move forward in the disciplinary process by filing formal charges, then the Hearing Officer will do so by issuing a Charge and Process Form. This form will provide the student the options of:
(A) Accepting responsibility for the charge and the possible sanctions and penalties that come with that;
(B) Do not accept responsibility for one or more of the charges and request a hearing before a university Hearing Officer; or
(C) Do not accept responsibility for one or more of the charges and request a hearing before the university Conduct Board.
The difference between requesting a hearing before a Hearing Officer and the Conduct Board is that the Hearing Officer will be one member of the Office of Student Life and the Conduct Board will be a panel of four to five students, staff, and faculty.
You may want to consult with an attorney before deciding which election to make, as the potential consequences of a violation of the Code of Student Conduct ranges from an informal admonition to dismissal from the university.
If the student elects to have a hearing, then the Office of Student Life will provide the student with an administrative hearing evidence packet. This information will be critical for the attorney to review and go over with the student before the hearing.
3. The HearingThe Ohio State University considers the disciplinary hearing process to be an ongoing part of the student's education. The disciplinary hearing is relatively informal as compared to a court hearing, but students should still dress in a manner that shows respect for the administrative body and the process.
An attorney's role in the student misconduct process is very different facially from an attorney's usual role in an actual courtroom hearing. The attorney's role in the student misconduct process is more of a background advisor role. The attorney is there is ensure the fairness and procedural aspects of the hearing are complied with, and the attorney can ask questions and call for breaks to advise the student, but the attorney otherwise takes a passive rather than a leading role in the hearing process.
At the hearing, the student will be questioned about the conduct in question and will have an opportunity to make a statement and tell their side of the story. There may also be witnesses that will testify about the alleged conduct in question. The respondent/student will have an opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses.
Usually a decision will not be made right there on the spot, but the matter will be taken under consideration for a written decision to be issued within a few weeks.
Possible SanctionsThe degree of sanction depends on the severity and culpability of the offense and offender. The university has a list of possible sanctions on their website and as listed in the Code of Student Conduct here.
In general, the sanctions range from a formal reprimand, to probation with certain conditions, suspension, to dismissal from OSU and prohibition from stepping foot back on the university campus.
If you're being investigated for student misconduct at the Ohio State University or have been charged with a violation of the Code of Student Conduct, then you may want to consult with an attorney.