What College Students Should Know About Off-Campus (Mis)Conduct

Most students know that their college or university can impose sanctions for their on-campus misconduct. What students may not know, however, is that their actions off-campus, including at home or on break, could also lead to sanctions.

Colleges and universities have expressed an interest in regulating students’ off-campus behaviors for a variety of reasons. First, universities want to protect their reputations as reputable institutions of higher learning and may discipline students for their off-campus misconduct to deter future behaviors that are contrary to their values and/or breach their codes of professional conduct. Second, certain kinds of off-campus behavior pose risks to other students’ safety and well-being—such as underage drinking, harassment, discrimination, violence, and drug abuse— and universities intervene to protect the campus community at large from these threats. Lastly, as social media use expands, it is increasingly difficult for universities to tell where on-campus behavior ends and off-campus behavior begins, so officials will sanction students more readily overall for uploading offensive content or engaging in cyberbullying.

Although no bright-line standard exists to predict precisely when a university will exercise jurisdiction, it is generally understood that the university disciplinary process can come into play where the student’s off-campus conduct “impacts the mission” of the institution or “causes substantial disruption” to the university community. As long as the school can demonstrate that there is a link between the off-campus behavior and the on-campus environment, it is permissible for the school to apply its code of conduct to these incidents.

However, it is important to know that, as of 2020, Title IX coverage does not extend to non-school-sanctioned activites occurring off-campus. Since its enactment in 1972, Title IX has prohibited sex-based discrimination, including sexual harassment, in educational activities. Under the 2020 regulations, the jurisdictional scope of Title IX has been narrowed, providing that if the alleged conduct occurs beyond the scope of an educational program, the school must dismiss the Title IX complaint. The school may still initiate its own disciplinary investigation, however, based on its own code of conduct.

Alternatively, crimes committed in a student’s hometown, while away on spring or summer break, or almost anywhere else, can follow students back to campus. This is because most schools consider their students to be representatives of their community no matter where they go. In other words, students are expected to always live in adherence to their institution’s values and morals. This is especially true for graduate or professional students. Universities can easily learn of students’ arrests or citations. So, students should err on the side of caution and be prepared for discipline that could arise from off-campus criminal acts.

Overall, university students are often held responsible for conducting themselves appropriately whether they are at home, school, or elsewhere. Whatever they may be facing, students are always encouraged to seek out legal counsel to guide them through the disciplinary process and to make sure their rights are protected at all stages of the proceedings.