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Academic Misconduct: What It is and What Falls Under It

By December 23, 2019September 25th, 2023No Comments

Academic misconduct is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of academic transgressions, primarily in the context of cheating.  Such misconduct creates an unfair academic advantage for oneself and/or a disadvantage for other students. The question begs: what, exactly, qualifies as academic misconduct?  We have the answers.

The Basics of Academic Misconduct

Everything from cheating to plagiarizing, altering transcripts, altering academic papers and even gaining access to academic materials for others can constitute academic misconduct.  In fact, assisting a friend with his or her academic projects or providing that person with any other type of unfair advantage also qualifies as academic misconduct. Let’s take a closer look at some of these forms of academic misconduct.


In the context of academics, cheating is defined as outright fraud, dishonesty or deceit in academic endeavors.  Even attempting to use improper materials or helping others with the use of such materials is prohibited by academic institutions across the United States.  The most common example of cheating is copying or attempting to copy another’s academic work for an assignment or during an exam. All too often, students are accused of verbally communicating with one another or passing notes during exams.  Pre-programming calculators with equations, notes and likely test answers also constitute cheating. 

Students across the nation are commonly accused of paying others to work on their assignments or parts of assignments.  Some go as far as hiring a commercial essay writing service to write their papers. Though few students know it, turning in the exact same or similar work for multiple courses without instructor approval also constitutes cheating.  You read that right. You can be penalized for academic misconduct by merely turning in something you created on your own for multiple classes. Finally, taking a test for another student or having another student take a test for oneself also constitutes cheating.

Plagiarizing Another’s Work 

Plagiarism is the use of any type of intellectual material created by another individual without acknowledging the source.  As an example, using the opinions or views of another individual without acknowledging him or her as a source constitutes plagiarism.  The copy of passages of others onto term papers, essays, homework, dissertations and other academic endeavors without acknowledging the source is blatant plagiarism.  Even paraphrasing another student’s phraseology or that of an academic without proper acknowledgment counts as plagiarizing. 

Theft and/or Damage of Intellectual Property 

Students far and wide steal and sabotage others’ notes, books, academic papers, assignments and other academic materials.  Some students improperly access another’s property or even run interference by way of computers, the internet and other means.  Furthermore, some students go as far as obtaining copies of an upcoming test or assignment before those materials are approved for release by the instructor.

Tampering is a Form of Academic Misconduct 

Though many students think otherwise, tampering constitutes a type of academic misconduct.  Altering, interfering with or even attempting to alter one’s academic records, assignments, lab experiments and any other type of document or project related to school counts as tampering.  As long as the student does not have the appropriate authorization from the academic institution’s administrators, such altering/interference will likely be punishable by significant penalty. 

Let’s take a quick look at a common example of tampering in academic settings.  Use your mind’s eye to envision a computer-savvy student using his computer and the internet to hack into the school’s system and improve his/her grades.  Even something as seemingly minor as signing a University official’s name on a course add/drop sheet qualifies as tampering and academic misconduct.

Accused of Academic Misconduct?  Our Student Defense Lawyer can Help

If you are accused of any type of academic misconduct noted above or another form of academic misconduct, do not wallow in self-pity.  Our student defense legal team just might be able to clear your name, restore your life to normalcy and ensure your “life chances” are well-protected.  Reach out to us today to schedule a consultation with our student defense lawyer.


Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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