What Happens if You Are Suspended or Expelled in a Campus Disciplinary Proceeding?
The consequences of being found responsible are dramatic. First, it will disrupt the current semester and derail your immediate plans. Second, it will radically alter the course of your future. We are constantly surprised when our clients tell us that they can’t prepare for a hearing that may decide whether they are expelled because they have to study for a test. The hearing matters a whole lot more than the test. These cases can destroy your educational future. A bad test result might set you back a little in class. You should recognize that and act accordingly.
Generally, we see two punishments for campus sexual assault: suspension and expulsion. We are starting to see suspension much less frequently as schools crack down more aggressively on sexual assault on campus.
With a suspension, there are three big concerns:
- What will the gap in your educational history look like?
- What will your transcript say?
- What educational records will be given to any school you decide to transfer to?
With each of these issues, we tend to look at the sanction with an eye toward how it will affect our client’s future. Of course, that depends on what kind of future you want. If your life’s goal is to earn a PhD or, worse yet, to become a lawyer, then a suspension could be a big deal. It will likely affect your ability to get into another school later, and it will come up if you apply to be a member of the bar so you can practice law. Similarly, if you want to do work that requires a security clearance or if you want to work in another highly regulated industry, there may be more questions about what happened.
We advise all of our clients to tell the truth to any future school or employer if they’re asked about their disciplinary history. It’s the right thing to do, and the consequences of lying can be much worse than what happens if you’re honest upfront. (We know of a case in which the accused lied about his reason for transferring to a new school, only to be expelled from that school a few months later when his accuser wrote the school a letter asking whether it knew about his sexual misconduct finding.) That said, if there is a way to be honest and avoid disclosing what happened, that can be a viable approach. This won’t work if there’s a question on a later application about whether you’ve been found responsible for a sexual assault, but if you aren’t asked that question, you likely have no obligation to voluntarily disclose it.
Many students have gaps in their time in college. They have these for many reasons: a medical emergency, a family situation, a valuable life experience, or an employment opportunity. If you are suspended, you will be much better off trying to find something else to do during your suspension. Get an internship. Volunteer to help the poor. Do something that you can talk about later as an example of why you are a good, contributing member of society. Sitting in your parents’ basement playing Xbox for a year, no matter how appealing that might seem at the time, isn’t likely to advance the ball for you.
Be particularly aware of how your transcript reflects your suspension. Some schools simply don’t disclose the suspension; it’s as though it never happened, aside from the gap in your academic record.
Find out how the school will note a suspension on your transcript. It’s a crucial part of what employers and other schools will see.
If you apply to go to another school, that school will very likely ask you to release your rights to keep your educational records private and ask you to execute a FERPA release. You can refuse, but often that refusal will be the end of your application. In the same way that you can’t get life insurance without letting the insurance company see all of your medical records, no school we’re aware of will consider your application without seeing your educational records.
This means you need to be very clear with the school about what educational records it will release when it gets a request from a school you’re applying to. Will the requesting school get only the finding or also the investigative report? Will it see any other raw materials from the case? These are things it is very helpful to know.
If you have been expelled, you still have the same concerns that someone who has been suspended has about what’s on your transcript and what educational records the school has.
You will need to apply to a new school to get your undergraduate degree. Virtually every school will want to know about your expulsion, and virtually every school you apply to will learn—either through a question on the Common Application, through a note on your transcript, or through a FERPA release—that you were expelled.
Often, your transfer application will have to talk about why you were expelled. If the educational records that are released are minimal—such as information about the finding but not the raw materials that went with it—then you can control what information the school has and you can control the narrative. If, by contrast, what’s released includes every single one of the emotionally charged documents in the case, the narrative will be much harder to control.
It used to be that when a person was charged with a sexual assault on campus, the student could simply transfer, and the investigation and process would stop. For most schools, those days are over. However, it still makes sense to ask. This can be a complicated tactical question.
If the school is going to continue the investigation and you transfer, it will likely find you responsible in your absence. You won’t be there to defend yourself, and every inference will simply be drawn against you. Many schools would then send notice of your later disciplinary action to a school where you have applied or transferred. Simply put, that finding can haunt you later, so make sure you find out what will happen if you transfer before you decide to go through that process.