The process of being accused of misconduct can be incredibly daunting. However, this process does not have to be completely hopeless. There are many ways that students can find support, and the more knowledgeable students are about this procedure, the better their chances become of successfully making it through this process.
According to the Student Disciplinary Advisory Panel (SDAP), while the process of being charged with misconduct is different for every student, “the most general process is as [follows]. Firstly, students will get an email from the university [informing] them that they are being investigated for misconduct. After receiving this email, students can already approach the SDAP. The email will set out the misconduct the student is being investigated for, and students will be able to respond to this email by stating their side of the story. It is important to note that the initial email of investigation does not mean that the student has been charged with anything yet. If there is enough evidence against a student, the process of a possible charge comes into play. Students will also receive an email explaining the charge. This is [when] students will have a hearing [where they] are allowed to bring their own legal representation. There are many stages to the hearing, where students can present their evidence, call witnesses, etc. Students will then have to plead guilty or not guilty. UP’s Legal Services will deliberate and decide whether they find the student guilty or not guilty. If a student is found guilty, they have the choice to appeal this decision, and an appeal process will then be initiated.”
Once students hear that they are being investigated for misconduct, they can contact UP’s Legal Services or book a consultation with the SDAP “for advice on the disciplinary procedure and how to proceed.” The SDAP “explains the disciplinary process to students, refers students to other bodies who can provide them [with] assistance and gives them an idea of what is ahead”. They can also accompany students to their hearings, however, they cannot represent students.
Ideally, all students should try to avoid committing any misconduct. The most important advice, according to the SDAP, is “don’t cheat, don’t plagiarise and don’t distribute any documents without consent from the author (this includes notes, textbooks, and past papers). Don’t sign the attendance register for your friends and don’t send assessment answers around. Remember that anything you share in a WhatsApp group can be captured by a screenshot. Be careful what you say and what you share. Students should try to familiarise themselves with [UP’s Code of Conduct], so they can understand what constitutes ‘misconduct’”.
Students who have been accused of misconduct should not feel completely hopeless, as they still have several important rights. Students have the “right to keep quiet, the right to legal representation (although this is not provided by the university or the UP Law Clinic), and the right to tell their side of the story free from prejudice”. While this process may seem intimidating, students do not have to go through it alone. “If you are unsure about anything, contact the SDAP. Don’t be scared, help is available. You are not alone. There are many cases of misconduct reported in a year and it does not have to be the end of the world.”
Photo: Anneke Laaks