Friday, June 22, 2007

Academic Action at Allegheny College

I began writing this blog for law students taking my "Elder Law" course at Widener Law School (Harrisburg Campus), but continued it for a broader audience of professionals & consumers.

Today's posting -- about academic standards & their enforcement through a code of conduct -- is intended for law students.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion & order in Reardon v. Allegheny College (PDF, 22 pages) on June 1, 2007, reviewing discipline applied in an academic program against a student accused of plagiarism.

The trial court [Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas] concluded Allegheny [College] faithfully adhered to its internal procedure in adjudicating the plagiarism charge.

First, a panel of the Honors Committee was convened and it determined there was a reasonable likelihood that appellant had violated the Honor Code, thereby warranting further action.

Next, the College Judicial Board (CJB) conducted a lengthy adjudicatory hearing wherein appellant was given the opportunity to present evidence and confront the witnesses offered against her. The CJB found appellant guilty of plagiarism and imposed a failing grade for the biology lab course; stripped appellant of her Latin Honors; ordered appellant to complete community service; and placed appellant on academic probation for the duration of her academic career at Allegheny.

Appellant then was afforded the opportunity, as of right, to appeal to the school’s President who affirmed the findings and disposition of the CJB. * * * [Opinion, p. 2]
The student disagreed with this disposition. On April 7, 2006, she filed a written complaint with the trial court raising claims for breach of contract against Allegheny College & the professor teaching the class.

She also made claims for
defamation against Allegheny College, the professor, and one student assigned to work with her on the common project in which plagiarism was determined.

She also pursued claims for the
intentional infliction of emotional distress against the College, the professor, that one student, and another student also working on the project.

The trial court dismissed all claims on the defendants' motion for summary judgment (in the form of a legal "demurrer").

The PA Supreme Court affirmed the trial court on its determination of all issues, and wrote an extensive opinion reviewing applicable law in Pennsylvania.

This case should be read by all law students in Pennsylvania, since its principles affect their responsibilities under honor codes contracted to govern their academic conduct after admission into programs of an educational institution.

Again, the case can be read online