Procedures for Student Discipline



As future members of an honorable profession, and as students at a major institution of learning, students at Columbia Law School should conduct themselves with honesty, integrity, and responsibility. An academic community cannot sustain itself on any other basis, and the legal profession’s relative autonomy carries with it special obligations of self-regulation.

Student conduct at Columbia, as at any school, is governed by a variety of standards, enforceable by a variety of institutions. Among these standards are: the law we study; the rules of professional discipline insofar as students engage in legal practice under the supervision of a lawyer or apply for membership in the bar; university rules of conduct and policies that, for example, establish standards prohibiting student conduct ranging from disruption of classes or assemblies to abusing or harming other members of the university community on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, sexual orientation, or veteran status; the Law School’s Rules for the J.D. Degree, which contain standards of particular relevance for the Law School community; the procedures set forth below, which impose and imply obligations of cooperation, truthfulness, the maintenance of confidentiality, and acceptance of final outcome; and the school’s and its instructors’ inherent traditional authority, which every educational institution enjoys, to assure the honesty, civility, decency, integrity, and responsibility of its student body.

Not all alleged violations of the standards mentioned in the preceding paragraph will be appropriate for response by the Law School itself; some may be enforced by community institutions such as the courts, others within an individual instructor’s classroom. Where its own institutional interests are implicated, however, (e.g., where the alleged conduct of a student interferes with or impairs the functioning of the Law School or the rights of another student, or gives reason to doubt fitness to practice law), the Law School may invoke internal disciplinary procedures. The Law School may also invoke these procedures in cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct.

The rules contained in this document specify the procedures ordinarily to be followed when Law School discipline is invoked. These rules do not, however, preclude instructors from resolving for themselves disciplinary matters traditionally regarded as within the instructors’ prerogative and which they do not refer to the Dean for possible Law School discipline; and these rules do not limit the authority of the Dean to exercise control over access to the Law School building by a student or students, as she may determine is required for safety or to avoid disruption. 

In accordance with amendments to the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (commonly known as FERPA or the “Buckley Law”) and university requirement, the following paragraph was drafted by a faculty committee June 1993 and approved by the full faculty at its stated meeting of 10/8/93:

In general, university policy and federal law make information about disciplinary proceedings confidential. Students should be aware, however, that the school may share official record information with bar admission committees, and that federal law makes limited exceptions to the confidentiality principle in cases involving sexual assaults and other crimes of violence. The conduct of proceedings involving a claim of “sexual assault” must afford to “the accuser and the accused... the same opportunities to have others present during a campus disciplinary proceeding,” and the outcome of such a proceeding MUST be disclosed both to the accuser and to the accused. For other crimes of violence, federal law permits disclosure of the results of any disciplinary proceeding to the alleged victim.

Throughout these rules, the following words and phrases are to be applied as defined by this section.

2-1. “Student,” or “member of the student body,” is any person who has been offered entrance to any program or course administered or taught by the Faculty of Law of Columbia University. Ordinarily, this will be a person who has accepted that offer, and who has not completed the requirements of that program or course. In appropriate circumstances, however—such as the discovery that a student has applied to the school under false pretenses—these rules may be invoked with respect to conduct occurring prior to a person’s joining the Law School community; and graduation does not terminate the possibility of academic discipline for conduct violation of the Law School’s rules occurring prior to graduation if the seriousness of that conduct suggests the appropriateness of a sanction, such as transcript notation or withdrawal of the degree, that could have effect outside the Law School community. Unless otherwise described, a “student under review” or “the student,” or the “charged student” is a student who has been accused of a violation of these rules.

2-2. The “Dean” is the Dean or Acting Dean of the Faculty of Law of Columbia University School of Law, or, to the extent and in the circumstances authorized by Rules and Policies Procedures for Student Discipline Rules and Policies 67 these Rules, any faculty member or senior administrator appointed by the Dean of the Faculty of Law for the purposes of acting as the Dean’s surrogate.

2-3. “Faculty member” includes all persons holding appointments as full-time Assistant, Associate, and full Professors, and their respective Clinical counterparts.

2-4. The “instructor” is any person who is teaching, supervising, or editing, by appointment or approval of the Faculty of Law or by the Trustees of Columbia University, in any university program; proctors are to be considered instructors during the administration of examinations; the senior administrator responsible for a program within which conduct violation of applicable rules may have occurred (for example, the head of the Placement Office or of the Admissions Office, in some cases concerning alleged misrepresentations) is also to be considered an instructor for these purposes; and student supervisors as hereinafter defined are to be considered instructors as to matters falling within their supervisory responsibilities.

2-5. The “Hearing Board” or Board is a committee of four members, two of whom are students elected by the Law School Student Senate from its membership at the beginning of each fall semester, one from each of the second and third year matriculated classes, to serve for the academic year; and two of whom are members of the faculty of the Columbia Law School selected annually by the Dean, in consultation with the faculty. The Dean shall designate the Chair of the disciplinary committee, who shall be a member of the Columbia Law School faculty, and may designate alternate faculty members as necessary. The Student Senate shall designate two alternates, one each from the first- and second-year classes, who shall hold office for the following calendar year; alternates shall sit in the absence or unavailability of the academic year regular student members. A quorum shall consist of three members.

2-6. A “senior administrator” is an employee of the Law School, holding a position equivalent or senior to Assistant Dean, who is not a member of the Law School faculty.

2-7. A “student supervisor” is a student performing responsibilities that entail the potential award of academic credit or writing credit or that are relevant to determination of another student’s grade. Examples of student supervisors are members of the Student Moot Court Executive Committee, journal editors, and teaching fellows.

2-8. The “Proceeding Adviser” is the Dean of Students, or other senior administrator or faculty member annually designated by the Dean. The Dean may designate an alternate Proceeding Adviser as necessary.

2-9. The “Disciplinary Officer” is the Vice Dean, or another senior administrator or faculty member annually designated by the Dean. The Dean may designate an alternate Disciplinary Officer as necessary.

2-10. A “violation” is the breach of any applicable standard of conduct that is appropriate for Law School discipline.

2-11. The use of any word expressive of gender in these rules is arbitrary, and not restrictive in meaning to that gender.

3-1. Major Offenses. Where, in the opinion of the Dean, the alleged violation constitutes a major offense in that it either (a) involves gross deviation from the moral or ethical standards of the Law School community, or (b) manifests a serious lack of honesty, integrity, or responsibility such as to call in question the fitness of the student to practice law, the offense shall be subject to adjudication under the Hearing Board procedures set forth in section 7 and to severe sanction, including expulsion. In the absence of special circumstances, a finding that a student has committed a major offense shall be noted in a student’s official record. See paragraphs 5-6, 5-7, 7-6.

3-2. Minor Violations. Where, in the opinion of the Dean, an alleged violation is less than a major offense, it shall be treated as a minor violation and may be adjudicated under the informal procedure set forth in section 6. No disposition of a minor violation shall become part of the student’s official record, or be regarded by the Law School as falling within the scope of outside requests for information concerning the discipline of students.

4-1. Reports by Students and Others who are not Instructors. Any person who believes in good faith that a student has engaged in conduct for which Law School discipline is appropriate is encouraged to communicate the name of the student suspected of the violation and the details of the grounds of the suspicion to the Dean or to an instructor. Anonymous complaints are disfavored, as not in keeping with the responsibility of members of the Law School community to conduct themselves with honesty, integrity, and responsibility in relationship to the institution.

4-2. Reports by Instructors. Any instructor who believes in good faith that a student may have engaged in conduct for which Law School discipline is appropriate may make reasonable inquiry to determine the validity of the belief, including the informal questioning of the suspected student or others. Instructors other than proctors and student supervisors may resolve disciplinary matters traditionally regarded as within the instructor’s prerogative directly with the student concerned. If the instructor believes that a Law School sanction may be in order or that the matter is, for whatever reason, inappropriate for resolution directly with the student, he or she is encouraged to communicate the name of the student suspected of the violation and the details of the grounds of the suspicion to the Dean. However, if the instructor is a proctor or student supervisor, notification that a student may have engaged in conduct for which Law School discipline is appropriate is mandatory, and shall be made through the instructor in the course or in charge of the program, the chief proctor, or the Dean of Students.

5-1. Investigation by the Disciplinary Officer. Upon being informed of an alleged violation, the Dean shall promptly request that the Disciplinary Officer make reasonable inquiry to determine whether a reasonable basis exists to believe that a violation warranting a proceeding may have occurred. If the Disciplinary Officer determines that a reasonable basis does exist, he shall prepare a written report setting forth his conclusion and the evidence supporting his conclusion and shall promptly submit it to the Dean.

5-2. Dean’s Determination of Reasonable Basis and Characterization of Offense. The Dean may accept or reject the findings of the Disciplinary Officer, or may request that the Disciplinary Officer conduct additional inquiry. Upon the Dean’s being satisfied that a reasonable basis does exist to believe that a violation warranting a proceeding may have occurred, she shall determine whether the violation alleged warrants treatment as a major offense or a minor violation only.

5-2. Notification of Student. In either event, the Dean shall send a confidential letter to the student concerned, who shall be informed of the violation he is thought to have committed, told of the characterization of the matter made by the Dean, given all available information concerning the alleged violation that, in the discretion of the Dean, would be relevant to the student’s response, and given a copy of these rules and any other applicable rules of conduct. The Dean shall further advise the student as follows:

5-3-1. Minor Violations. In the case of a minor violation, the Dean shall inform the student of the name(s) of the faculty member or committee charged with determining the matter pursuant to paragraph 6-1. The faculty member or Chair of the committee shall schedule with the student a meeting at the earliest mutually convenient time, unless the student waives such a meeting in writing or otherwise waives his right to be heard.

5-3-2. Major Offenses. To maximize the possibility that disciplinary matters can be resolved in a manner that is not adversarial and that is of educational benefit to the student, the Dean, in the case of major offenses, shall encourage (but not require) the student to meet with the Proceeding Adviser prior to the referral of the case for adjudication pursuant to section 7 to discuss the concerns of the student and the Law School and to see if an informal resolution of the matter is possible. The Dean shall inform the student that, should the student desire to meet with the Proceeding Adviser, he must request a meeting within five business days of receiving notice of the charges, and must schedule and attend such meeting, and any subsequent meetings, within a prompt period thereafter. The student shall be advised that he may choose to be accompanied at his meeting or meeting with the Proceeding Adviser, by a faculty member or fellow law student acting as counsel, or by outside counsel with the permission of the Dean.

5-4. Meeting with Proceeding Adviser Concerning Major Offenses. Prior to any meeting between the Proceeding Adviser and a student charged with a major offense, the Disciplinary Officer shall discuss with the Proceeding Adviser the nature of the charges and any available information concerning the alleged violation that the Disciplinary Officer, in his discretion, deems relevant to the student’s response. Upon meeting with a student charged with a major offense, the Proceeding Adviser shall discuss with the student the disciplinary procedures, the charges, information concerning the alleged offense, possible referral of the matter to the informal procedure described in section 6, and other options available for resolution of the matter.

5-5. Confidentiality Rules Regarding Meeting with Proceeding Adviser – Major Offenses. In the interest of promoting full and frank discussion, the Proceeding Adviser is obligated to treat statements made by the student during any meeting or meeting pursuant to paragraph 5-4 as confidential. However, such statements may be disclosed in the following circumstances: 

  1. when, upon discussion with the Proceeding Adviser, the student elects to ask the Dean, pursuant to paragraph 5-6, to consider an alternative to referring the matter for adjudication pursuant to section 7, the Proceeding Adviser shall disclose to the Dean statements relevant to the Dean’s determination, and these statements shall thereafter be disclosed to the Disciplinary Officer for possible use before the Hearing Board, should the matter be referred for adjudication pursuant to section 7;
  2. when the Proceeding Adviser believes that testimony given by the student before the Hearing Board is materially inconsistent with statements made to her, she shall disclose the inconsistent statements to the Disciplinary Officer for possible use before the Hearing Board;
  3. statement may be disclosed as required by law.

5-6. Proceeding Adviser’s Communication of Student Request to the Dean – Major Offenses. After meeting with a student charged with a major offense, the Proceeding Adviser shall advise the Dean of any request by the student that the Dean dismiss the charge, recharacterize the charge as a minor violation, refer the matter to the informal procedure described in section 6, or approve another disposition. In advising the Dean of any such request, the Proceeding Adviser shall disclose to the Dean, as provided in paragraph 5-5, any statements made by the student relevant to the Dean’s determination of the request. The Dean may accept or reject the student’s proposal and shall communicate her decision to the student, the Disciplinary officer and the Proceeding Adviser. If the Dean accepts a final disposition proposed by the charged student, that disposition is not appealable, in the absence of exceptional circumstances. Dispositions of major offenses that include a finding that the student has committed a major offense become part of the student’s official record in the absence of special circumstances. Such dispositions may be reflected on the transcript, in the student’s Law School file, or both, at the discretion of the Dean.

5-7. Use of the Informal Procedure by Students Charged with Major Offenses. Given the serious character of major offenses and the sanctions available for them, major offenses shall be referred for adjudication pursuant to the informal procedure described in section 6 only if the student does not wish to contest the facts of the alleged offense or in the presence of other special circumstances. All sanctions available under these rules for major offenses are available if a student charged with a major offense elects the informal procedure and is found to have committed a major offense. In addition, a finding that the student has committed a major offense becomes part of a student’s official record.

5-8. Scheduling of Hearing Board Proceeding for Major Offenses. If the review is to be by the Hearing Board pursuant to section 7, the Dean shall inform the Hearing Board Chair who, in turn, shall schedule a hearing and notify the student. Such a hearing normally shall be set seven to fourteen working days from the date on which the student receives notice from the Hearing Board Chair. However, where a charged student is under investigation or accused of a criminal offense involving the same conduct charged in the disciplinary proceeding, or for other good cause, the Law School proceeding may be temporarily suspended. The Chair shall decide all applications of any person appearing before the Hearing Board for the rescheduling of a hearing date, with the limitations that the hearing is to be conducted promptly and that conflicting commitments of counsel are not grounds for substantial delay.

6-1. Selection of Tribunal. An investigation shall be conducted by an individual or committee of three (both of which shall be referred to as “the tribunal”), selected by the Dean from members of the faculty and senior administrators, as she believes the circumstances to warrant. The Dean shall designate one member as Chair of a committee; in the case of an individual acting as the tribunal, the individual shall be a member of the faculty.

6-2. Conduct of the Investigation. Procedures before this tribunal shall be informal, and the student shall enjoy only the rights to be informed of the charges, to an unbiased tribunal, and to be heard. The tribunal may conduct such investigation as it finds appropriate, with or without the presence of the student involved. There is no right to counsel under informal procedures.

6-3. Report by the Tribunal. The tribunal shall file with the student charged and with the Dean a written report explaining its disposition, including dismissal of the matters referred to it. In the case of minor violations, neither the charges made, any sanctions imposed, nor reports to the Dean shall appear on the official record of the charged student, nor shall dispositions of minor violations be regarded by the Law School as falling within the scope of outside requests for information concerning the discipline of students.

6-4. Recharacterization of the Violation as a Major Offense. If the investigation of a matter charged as a minor violation develops information not likely to have been before the Dean, indicating that the charges are serious enough to be treated as major offenses, that information shall be reported to the Dean, who may then redetermine the matter. If she decides to treat the matter as a major offense, she shall begin the process anew, and any subsequent informal inquiry (if chosen) shall be assigned to a new tribunal. In the event of such a change, information developed during the initial investigation may be used in proceedings pursuant to section 6 or section 7.

6-5. Appeals. An appeal to the Dean may be taken from the results of this process, as from the outcome of hearings on an alleged major offense.

7-1. Representation. The Disciplinary Officer shall conduct the proceeding before the Hearing Board on behalf of the Law School unless the Dean appoints another faculty member or senior administrator, in which case that appointee shall receive the report prepared by the Disciplinary officer pursuant to paragraph 5-1. (References below to the Disciplinary Officer include such an appointee.) The student may choose to be assisted in his preparation and appearance before the Hearing Board by a faculty member or fellow law student acting as counsel; outside counsel may participate with the permission of the Dean.

7-2. Recommendations by the Disciplinary Officer. The Disciplinary Officer may, after completing his investigation, recommend to the Dean dismissal of the charge, recharacterization of the charge as a minor violation, or, upon the decision of the student not to contest the facts, referral of the matter to the informal procedure. The recommendation shall be in writing and shall set forth the reasons for it. The Dean may accept or reject the recommendation. The Disciplinary Officer may also present to the Hearing Board for its approval or rejection a proposed disposition agreed upon with the charged student. In the absence of exceptional circumstances, resolution of a charge by proposed disposition is not appealable.

7-3. Written Response by the Student. The student may offer a written response to the allegations in the Dean’s letter. A copy of the response must be provided to the hearing Board Chair and to the Disciplinary officer no later than three days prior to the hearing.

7-4. Conduct of the Hearing

7-4-1. Authority of the Hearing Board. Except with respect to procedures specifically set forth herein, the Hearing Board, by majority vote (with the vote of the Chair controlling in the event of a tie), shall have the authority to make rules for the conduct of the hearing. The Hearing Board is not bound by the precedent of prior decisions, but may consult those decisions for any purpose.

7-4-2. Tape Recording and Written Minutes. Both a tape recording and written minutes shall be made of all proceedings conducted before the Hearing Board. These records shall remain the property of the Law School and shall be promptly delivered to the Dean for safe storage upon completion of the proceedings.

7-4-3. Confidentiality. The actions and statements of any person present during proceedings of the Hearing Board are confidential, and no one may disclose them outside the proceedings, except as required by law. However, the tape recording and minutes of the hearing will be available on appeal, and actions and statements before the Hearing Board may be referred to in the written statement prepared by the hearing Board pursuant to paragraph 7-5.

7-4-4. Presence at the Hearing. The student charged and his representative have the right to be present during the presentation of any testimony or evidence. However, this paragraph does not preclude the conduct of a hearing in the student’s absence if the student refuses to participate in the hearing. The Proceeding Adviser, the instructor who reported the alleged offense, witnesses during their testimony and anyone else whose presence may be required by law, or whose presence the Hearing Board deems necessary, may also be present.5 Absent the agreement of the Hearing Board and the student charged, proceedings before the Hearing Board shall be closed to others.

7-4-5. Right to the Testimony of Witnesses. Subject to paragraph 7-4-6, both the Disciplinary Officer and the charged student or his representative have the right to present witnesses of their choice. However, witnesses presented exclusively for the purpose of attesting to good character may be limited in number and length of testimony. Except for the student charged, no student or employee of the Law School may refuse a request to testify by a charged student, the Disciplinary Officer or the Chair. Both the Disciplinary Officer and the charged student have the right to notice, two days in advance of the hearing, of the identity of adverse witnesses.

7-4-6. Evidence. In addition to the testimony of witnesses, the charged student and the Disciplinary Officer may offer such other evidence as may be relevant. The Hearing Board may receive, for such weight as it may merit, any evidence it believes to be relevant and may exclude other evidence.

7-4-7. Questioning of Witnesses. The Chair shall use reasonable care to ensure that witnesses are not able to see or hear any part of the hearing that is not based upon their individual testimony. Each witness may be asked by the Chair to make a statement prior to any question. Both the charged student or his representative and the Disciplinary Officer may question their own and adverse witnesses, as may members of the Hearing Board.

7-4-8. Duty of Cooperation; Inferences. As is the practice in attorney disciplinary proceedings, there is a duty of cooperation in Law School disciplinary proceedings. A charged student’s election not to testify may therefore be used as the basis for such reasonable inferences as the Hearing Board may, in its discretion, deem appropriate. Any person who testifies, including the charged student, has the duty to answer any question germane to the matter under review. If a witness chooses not to answer particular questions, his silence may be used as the basis for such reasonable inferences as the hearing Board may, in its discretion, deem appropriate.

7-4-9. Closing Statements and Deliberations by the Hearing Board. After the completion of testimony and the presentation of any other evidence, both the charged student or his representative and the Disciplinary Officer shall have the opportunity to make a statement. The subsequent deliberations of the Board shall be closed to observers and no record shall be made.

7-5. Decision and Report of the Hearing Board. The Hearing Board may find that a major offense has been committed by a charged student only upon clear and convincing evidence of violation, by affirmative vote of at least three members. The Hearing Board may conclude that charges have not been sustained by an affirmative vote of three members. The Hearing Board shall prepare a written statement of its reasons for disposition and shall, in the case of a finding that a major offense has been committed, impose a sanction consistent with section 8. Where the Hearing Board fails to reach a definitive conclusion, the student may elect to have the charges reconsidered, on the record, by an ad hoc faculty committee of three, to be appointed by the Dean. That committee may hold additional inquiries following the procedures of section 6, and shall either find that the student has committed a major offense or conclude that charges have not been sustained or terminate the proceedings, stating its reasons, by majority vote. If the student does not so elect, the matter shall be disposed of as provided in paragraph 7-6. A copy of the decision and statement of the Hearing Board shall be delivered to the student under review, the Dean, the Disciplinary Officer, the Proceeding Adviser, the instructor, and any other person as required by law.

7-6. Reflection of Hearing Board Matters in the Student’s Records. In the absence of a finding of special circumstances by the Hearing Board, convictions of major offenses and dispositions approved by the Hearing Board pursuant to paragraph 7-2 become part of a student’s official record. Notation on a student’s official record may include notation on the transcript, inclusion of the Hearing Board’s written statement pursuant to paragraph 7-5 in the student’s Law School file, other notation in the student’s Law School file, or some combination of these three, at the discretion of the Hearing Board. Charges resolved by a finding that the charges have not been sustained shall not appear on the charged student’s official record.7 Where proceedings concerning major offenses were held but did not reach a definitive conclusion because the student did not elect the option stated in paragraph 7-5, that fact shall become part of a student’s official record only upon a written, reasoned determination by the Dean that special circumstances warrant this step.

8-1. Authorized Sanctions. Sanctions shall be imposed that are appropriate to the nature and severity of the violations to which they attach and to the student’s general character and behavior as a member of the Law School community. A non-exhaustive list of authorized sanctions includes: warning; reprimand; probation, with or without conditions such as counseling; additional work such as writing extra papers, or accumulating extra credits in order to graduate; restitution when appropriate; service to the Law School community; grade or credit reduction; imposition of a failing grade; suspension with or without automatic reinstatement; declination to certify a student to the Bar; expulsion; and withdrawal of a degree. A combination of sanctions is also authorized.

8-2. Sanctions for Minor Violations. For minor violations, the tribunal is authorized to impose any sanction short of suspension, declination to certify a student to the Bar, expulsion, or withdrawal of a degree. Notation on a student’s official record is not authorized.

8-3. Sanctions for Major Offenses. For major offenses, the Hearing Board is authorized to impose any appropriate sanction.

9-1. Except as otherwise provided, the student may appeal the verdict, the sanction, and the decision of the Hearing Board as to whether and how to reflect these matters in the student’s official record. The Disciplinary Officer may appeal in the case of a major offense, but only for the purpose of redressing a procedural irregularity at the hearing of such magnitude as to preclude a full and impartial resolution of the charges brought, to permit a sanction more appropriate to the gravity of the violations found, or to require notation on the student’s official record, and relief in such cases shall be limited to directing a new hearing to be held, providing for modification of sanction, or requiring notation in the student’s official record.

9-2. Any appeal shall be taken by a letter to the Dean, which must be received by her within four business days of receipt, by the party seeking the appeal, of the required findings accompanying the determination appealed from.

9-3. The Dean shall permit a reasonable time for the filing of written briefs on appeal and may permit oral argument. The Dean’s decision on appeal is the final Law School act, and there is no appeal from that decision, unless specifically authorized by the trustees of Columbia University.

9-4. The Dean may affirm, reverse, or modify any determination appealed to her. However, the Dean may not increase the severity of the sanction imposed in any appealed proceeding, unless and to the extent that such increase has been sought by the Disciplinary Officer. The Dean is not bound by the precedent of prior decisions, but may consult those decisions for any purpose.

9-5. The decision of the appeal shall be communicated by letter to the student concerned, the Chair, the Disciplinary Officer, the Proceeding Adviser, the instructor, and any other person as required by law.

9-6. Unless the student objects for reasons of confidentiality, the Dean may, at any time a case is pending before her for review or appeal, refer the matter to the faculty members of the Advisory Committee on Educational Policy for their non-binding recommendation concerning appropriate disposition of the appeal.