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Can a University Revoke a Degree? (This May Shock You!)

After working hard for a degree, many people assume that the degree is permanent. If you put all of your time, effort, and money into learning the skills needed for a specific degree, I’m sure you’d assume that the degree is yours forever too. However, can a university revoke a degree?

A university can revoke a degree. Universities have the right to revoke a degree when the student violates policies specific to the institution, such as cheating on exams, plagiarism, or providing false information on an application. Terms of misconduct at universities may differ.

The rest of this article will discuss why universities can revoke degrees, reasons why students can have their degrees revoked, and what happens when a degree is revoked. I’ll also discuss how often universities revoke degrees and whether or not you can appeal when a university revokes your degree. 

Reasons a college can revoke a degree.

Why Universities Can Revoke Degrees

For some, the fact that a university can revoke a degree doesn’t seem fair. If you’ve done all of the work to earn the degree, you want to be able to keep it.

However, universities are allowed to revoke degrees when a person violates the policies of the institution. Most universities have the same or very similar policies, so a university revoking a degree is usually done for the same reasons.

The University of Pennsylvania lists various misconduct that universities may consider worth revoking a degree. These include tampering with student records, academic dishonesty, research misconduct, and false admission application. These are only a few examples of misconduct. 

If a university discovers that a past student was dishonest and violated the school’s policies, revocation of their degree may be necessary to uphold the status of the school. Allowing some students to get away with violating the guidelines, even graduates, and not others, makes the school look distrustful.

Therefore, many universities are strict regarding school policies and the consequences that come with violating these policies.

Why Would a University Revoke a Degree?

A university can revoke a degree for many reasons. However, these reasons have to be serious and have to violate the school’s policies or even the law. 

A university would revoke a degree for severe acts of misconduct, which can range from cheating on an exam to more serious offenses, such as sexual assault. Universities could revoke a degree even after many years if they discovered the violations later.

To know what violates your university’s specific policies, you should look up your university’s policies on their website. For example, Stanford University lists university-wide policies while also stating that individual universities may have additional guidelines. 

However, this website goes over all of the policies Stanford University upholds. Every university will have its policies listed online for public view.

What Is Considered Academic Dishonesty?

While universities will have policies including information on academic dishonesty given to students, knowing what precisely academic dishonesty includes is essential, as no one wants to violate school policies accidentally.

Academic dishonesty includes cheating on exams, plagiarizing papers, altering legal documents (such as identification), and forgery. Therefore, being dishonest in any way to either get into college or receive a better grade is considered academic dishonesty and results in significant consequences.

The actions considered as academic dishonesty are usually known to be against policies, at least by most students. However, sometimes plagiarism isn’t intentional, which is when hearings (in the case of a degree revocation) come in handy.

What Is the Penalty for Academic Dishonesty?

While degree revocation is possible if the graduate is found to have been dishonest, especially considering the person has already graduated, if the person is still a current student, other measures may be taken or considered by the dean.

The penalty for academic dishonesty for current students can include automatic course failure or even expulsion, depending on the level of academic dishonesty. In terms of plagiarism, it’s rarely tolerated and often results in expulsion, especially in higher education.

What Happens When a Degree Is Revoked?

There are many steps the university has to take to revoke a degree. Thankfully, universities can’t just decide to take your degree away; there has to be a cause, which must be checked out. This means there will be an investigation into the reason.

When a degree is revoked, the university preserves the integrity of the school. Because policies have been violated, revoking a degree holds the university up to its standards. However, to revoke a degree, the university must investigate and have a hearing beforehand.

A degree can be revoked many years after graduation if there’s evidence of misconduct; the timeline doesn’t matter. Evidence is all a university needs to revoke a degree.

Below I’ll go over the many steps universities take before revoking a degree.

Initiate an Investigation

The first thing that happens when a person is accused of misconduct is initiating an investigation. Initiation of an investigation is carried out by the dean, who’ll appoint an investigative committee of two or more faculty members upon learning of possible fraud or misconduct by a previous graduate.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Investigate

An investigation begins when the investigation committee looks over the findings. The dean will notify the person being investigated in writing, stating what they’re being investigated for and what procedures to expect. Luckily for this individual, they can also provide any information they’d like the committee to consider.

The investigation can be over as quickly as it started if the investigation committee decides no further action needs to be taken. 

However, if they find the graduate guilty, they’ll write up a summary of their findings to give to the dean. The person being investigated will also receive a copy of the findings and is allowed to respond.

After writing up the summary, the investigation committee will send this and any response from the graduate to the dean, who ultimately has the final say. The dean will either continue forward with the revocation or decide no action needs to be taken.

Continuing with the revocation means the dean must refer the revocation matter to the Graduate Council of the Faculties and the Provost, the academic officer responsible for setting academic priorities and allocating funds. The Graduate Council of the Faculties is simply an advisory body to the Provost.

Provide a Notice of a Hearing

If the investigation leads to a hearing, the graduate must be given a notice of the hearing. While everyone involved should be given reasonable notice of the hearing, the University of Pennsylvania states that the graduate must be given at least a month of notice before the hearing.

Have a Hearing

The hearing is what determines whether the graduate’s degree is revoked or stays. During the hearing, where all parties are typically present, the graduate can bring along their process advisor, who is often their attorney. The hearing will go over the investigative report written and provided by the investigative committee.

The dean and the graduate provide evidence during the hearing and witnesses as evidence to support their claims. Like a court hearing, witnesses are asked questions, in this case, by the Members of the Graduate Council.

Either the graduate or the graduate’s advisor must present their case before the council. After each side has presented their case, the Graduate Council will deliberate and vote on whether the council will revoke the graduate’s degree. According to the University of Pennsylvania, the council issues a written decision, which is then given to the dean, president, and graduate.

What if the Graduate Doesn’t Attend the Hearing?

Although hearings are scheduled on a day and time that the graduate will be able to attend, in some cases, the graduate will still either be unable to show or decide not to show up at all. In this case, the hearing will continue.

However, the graduate is allowed to send information through a written statement, and most universities also allow the graduate to attend the hearing virtually.

Revocation of Graduate’s Degree

If, after the hearing, the graduate’s actions were found to have violated the policies of the university and the Members of the Graduate Council found revocation is necessary, the degree is then revoked.

However, this doesn’t always mean the cancellation is permanent, as the graduate can make an appeal, which I’ll get into next.

Can You Appeal When a University Revokes Your Degree?

While a university does have the right to revoke your degree, there are some things you can do if you believe the revocation was unfair or if the council or investigative committee made mistakes during the hearing or investigation.

You can appeal when a university revokes your degree. Appeals can be made if the graduate believes there was an error made during the hearing or prejudice within the council. The graduate has ten days after the hearing to appeal. After ten days, the Provost won’t consider the appeal.

While you can appeal when a university revokes your degree, you have to have sufficient evidence. Otherwise, the appeal won’t matter, and the Provost (who receives the request) will write it off, and the dean will still revoke the degree.

How To Appeal When a University Revokes Your Degree

To appeal the revocation of a degree, the graduate must create a written appeal within ten days of the revocation. The appeal should include specifics on why the graduate believes an appeal is in order. The graduate will deliver the appeal to the Provost, who’ll review it and make a written decision to send out. 

If the Provost finds the revocation unjust, there will be another hearing, or the dean will return the degree to the graduate. Typically, in this case, another investigation will take place.

How Often Are Degrees Revoked?

Many people don’t realize that universities can revoke degrees, which is probably due to how rarely it actually happens. Most universities stress the importance of their policies to students and the consequences of not following these policies (such as expulsion); however, the revocation of degrees from students who already graduated isn’t always discussed.

Degrees aren’t revoked very often. As revocation of degrees is typically only done in extreme measures, it’s rarely seen. Most instances of a violation of policies are resolved in other ways. However, if the misconduct was severe enough and discovered after graduation, revocation may be necessary.

Source: University of Alabama in Huntsville

Are There Other Resolutions for Violating University Policies?

For those who violated a university’s policies, whether on purpose or accidentally, the idea of having their degree taken from them isn’t great.

While paying a fine or resolving the issue another way might be ideal for the student, that’s not how universities typically handle these matters. Therefore, there aren’t many other options, especially for those who have already graduated and left the school.

There aren’t many other resolutions besides revocation, as revocation of a degree is done in extreme cases after the student has graduated. However, if the accused student doesn’t want to go through a hearing, the graduate can resolve the issue through mutual agreement with the dean.

If the graduate knows they’re guilty and don’t want to go through a hearing, voluntarily renouncing the degree is much easier. However, if the accusation isn’t true, attending the hearing is necessary to keep the degree. Not attending the hearing will only look worse on the graduate.

Final Thoughts

While a university can revoke a degree, it’s usually only done under extreme instances.

If a graduate was found to have violated a university’s policies, such as plagiarizing a vital paper, revocation of their degree might be necessary to uphold the university’s policies. Ignoring graduates’ past transgressions that the university recently found out will only make the school look bad.

While revoking degrees is rare, and the hearing to do so is fair, it’s still a possibility. However, graduates can fight a degree revocation and win with the proper evidence to back up their claims.

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