Academia: Do Honor Courts have "Res Judicata" and "Statutes of Limitations"?

I was fortunate never to have to deal with Honor Court in high school or college. I specifically remember one professor who told us a story about how he almost caught a cheater who, in the end, got away, but he figured that he made the cheater suffer because he revealed to that (prior) class some specific information that he had gained during his detective work, potentially implying that the person might consider themselves caught, even though the evidence was actually lacking and as far as I am aware the perp/cheater was never punished. His final message was that if you cheat in his class, you are cheating yourself. I didn’t cheat in his class to my recollection :).

Anyway, when a student is accused of cheating and brought before an Honor Court at a school (school of your choice or knowledge), are there any equivalents to the legal principles of Statues of Limitations/Laches and Res Judicata/Double Jeopardy? That is, if Joe McCaffeine O’Termpaper is accused of plagiarizing his “Behavior of Hyperbolic Rats and the Cromulence of Blangy Zingwads On Exposure to Alkaline Earth Metals” paper, and the honor court finds him not guilty of plagiarism either because of lack of evidence or otherwise, is Joe scot free (based on res judicata or an equivalent concept), even if he actually, really-and-truly-o plagiarized in fact, or could he be later accused of the same act of plagiarism later and retried? In the same vein, if the professor in my real-world example above finds evidence that he didn’t have years ago when the events above transpired, could an honor court be theoretically convened years later (statute of limitations or laches)? That is, is J. Random Graduate forever at risk that some pissed-off ex-professor upset at Graduate’s support of a rival school will up and haul Mr. Graduate to the Honor Court on trumped-up charges of cheating 20 years ago in retribution, leading him to need to travel repeatedly to his alma mater to defend his academic integrity?

I know that I’m using terms from common law jurisdictions - feel free to substitute equivalent terms from academia if they exist.

This question does not concern the substantive elements of academic dishonesty at any educational institution or with any academic journal (e.g. whether Multiple Submission is banned completely, permitted universally, or is at the discretion of the professor or editor who must always be asked first).

The University of San Diego Law School honor code includes a 6 month statute of limitations:

The Georgia State University law school honor code includes a double jeopardy provision very similar to res iudicata:

There was an earlier thread about invalidating a degree if the person faked their transcript or cheated to get into college, even if, once in college, they did all the work and earned the degree honestly. The general consensus was that there was not limitation on that sort of action.

Once the person is out in the real world, what difference does it make? 6 months after you graduate, you hope the person has landed a job. If they stay there for a decent length of time, future job prospects are likely more based on how they performed in their previous job, than if they actually have a piece of paper or if that paper is, say, 1/20th lacking in accreditation…

Do HR departments ask for copies of transcripts or validation of degrees, typically, from applicants more than a few years out of college? OTOH, if it’s a certified profession - engineer, architect, doctor, dentists, lawyer - the paper may be more necessary. Plus, if the career is in academia or other research, being accused of misconduct may be sufficient that employers may not want to touch you with a 10-foot pole.

OTOH, what jurisdiction does an internal disciplinary body have if the student is long gone? Plus, what evidence would they get that was not available right away? If it’s a matter of people changing stories, then the whole case is suspect. I would not want to drag someone through the mud on the basis of an accusation, “I changed my mind… yes I did see him cheating last year.”

Not for lawyers; you can confirm whether a lawyer graduated, from which law school, and when, in most states, just by looking at his bar page.

Anybody can charge anything they want. In 1991, Boston University convened an investigatory committee to look into charges that a student had plagiarized a passage in his doctoral dissertation in 1955. This was done despite the fact that the student had been dead for more than 20 years.

If you’re a prominent person, like this student was, such a claim could be a public relations nightmare. But a school can’t compel a former student to appear or to offer a rebuttal. And I’d wager that most schools wouldn’t have any interest in examining years old charges. The main reason why statutes of limitation exist is because its difficult to produce evidence, witnesses, etc. as time passes.

If he’s practicing on the other side of the country, who finds out where he is and notifies the bar in that state to change his degree status? (Assuming the result is a withdrawn degree)

I went a long time without anyone asking for a transcript or anything. In fact, for my first job search, nobody asked for anything. I got my first academic position while ABD and once I defended, I had my university send an official letter to my chair. (They asked if I wanted a letter sent to anyone and I said “Okay.”) That was it as far as “proof” went. Letters of recommendation seemed to be good enough.

Then about 15 years ago things started getting officious. Started having to provide transcripts from all schools for jobs, including non-academic ones. Does anybody really care what I got in English Comp decades ago? I can get another letter saying I have a PhD, that’s all you need to know. The rest is my research record and such which really counts now. There’s no transcript for that.

Chalk it up to the sharp rise in people claiming to have degrees they don’t have.

At Rice University, the Honor Code handbook answers some of these questions, though I only happen to know the answers because I served on the Council.

At Rice, there’s only a statute of limitations if you stand accused. If you are accused of a violation of the Honor Code (even a self-accusation*), you first get a three day grace period in order to voluntarily withdraw from the university for a period of no less than 2 semesters and lose credit for the course. Assuming the student stays, matters are investigated and only proceeds if it’s judged there’s enough evidence to warrant a full hearing.

Should a student be accused of a violation but leave Rice for 2 semesters without informing the Honor Council or the associated University designee of an intent to withdraw, there’s an automatic loss of credit for the course, but no further actions (such as suspension or expulsion) occur after the student returns and the matter is considered closed. That’s the extent of the statute of limitations.

As for double jeopardy, you can’t be accused of the same violation twice. Once a matter is settled in favor of the accused, that’s it. If the accused is found in violation, however, there is a two level appeals process that can go up to the President of the University. But your appeal might not be heard if they don’t think there’s any reason for it.

There was a case that resulted in Rice getting sued by an accused student found In Violation, but the university won that case easily. So, I suppose students always have the option of suing the University as a final recourse.

But there’s otherwise no statute of violations. For example, if you cheat on an exam your first year, you can be accused of a violation in any subsequent year. Of course, it is usually harder to prove a violation occurs after more than a semester or two, because eyewitnesses won’t be reliable and there may no longer be physical evidence.

While technically there’s no effective limit to when an accusation of honor code violation can be levied, there is a de facto limit of graduation that the Council holds to. After a degree has been conferred, there’s not much the Council can actually do, after all.

There was a neat case when an alum reported himself after 3 decades. I suppose he wanted to clear his conscience. Our response was basically, “Good on you for finally reporting yourself, but we’re not going to do anything about it”.

  • There are students who accidentally violate the honor code for a course and report themselves. I’m rather proud there are still students honest enough to do this. Often, these kinds of matters are adjudicated without a full hearing, and the Professor, student, and the Honor Council work out some fair arrangement with, at most, a slap on the wrist letter to the student.

Hey, I went to Rice! (Sid Rich, '87)

In the 90’s I briefly dated a crazy girl who had gone to Rice but never finished her degree. She claimed that she had cheated all the way through and then had a crisis of conscience and turned herself in during her senior year. They investigated, and as a result of her numerous violations over the previous three years, she was expelled.

She was crazy enough that I could believe that she actually would have done something like that. On the other hand, she was also crazy enough that I couldn’t be sure if she was lying about it or not … …

“On my honor, I have neither…”. Yup.

I can’t say either way, but congrats on the crazy girlfriend. That’s what college is for, I guess.

As for expulsions, they became more and more rare with the passing decades, but I wouldn’t doubt that an egregious number of violations would do the trick in any era. Even suspensions require a fairly serious breach. There was a case several years ago that got reported in the Thresher about several athletes getting caught cheating in the same class*. Even then, only a few got as much as 2 semester suspensions and many got off with loss of credit in the class. I wish I could have gotten details, but it came well after my time.

*Not that it affects most Dopers, but it’s a really dumb, dumb thing to cheat on a combination fill-in-the-blank/short answer exam when you are allowed to use your textbook and notes. It’s at least as dumb to have exactly the same wrong answers as half the class.

Not to say Rice is full of corruption. I can’t find the study, but apparently universities with strong student-run honor policies tend to have fewer incidents of cheating. That said, a majority of seniors will still admit in anonymous polling to have cheated at some point in their college career, but the number tends to be less than at other schools. It’s something like 70% vs 85% for having at least cheated on a homework assignment. Not great numbers, I admit, but not surprising, either.