North Carolina Allows Students Legal Representation in University Disciplinary Hearings

Usual suspects worried


silent sam, chapel hill
Don McCullough/Foter.com

A bill that allows college students facing disciplinary hearings to seek legal representation in disciplinary hearings was signed into law in North Carolina on Friday, after being supported by a bipartisan group of legislators that worked with the civil liberties group FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education).  It shouldn't be surprising who's uncomfortable with the new law, via Inside Higher Ed:

"A key component of the developmental process of responding to student misconduct is for the student to take responsibility for their own behavior and to learn from the incident," said Bill Haggard, vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. "Part of that learning experience is being able to speak on their own behalf, take responsibility for their own behaviors and engage in a conversation about changing their behavior in the future."

That will be a whole lot less likely, officials say, if students have a lawyer speaking for them.

"It's obviously something that most student affairs professionals are not that crazy about," Haggard said.

Inside Higher Ed explains that college administrators consider the purpose of disciplinary hearings to find "responsibility," not guilt, and to "teach good citizenship [rather] than punish wrong behavior." Nevertheless, with "responsibility" come punishments extending all the way to expulsion. FIRE's policy director explains:

"For many students, especially first-generation college students or those who might come from disadvantaged backgrounds, facing down a room full of deans, administrators, and university lawyers when accused of a campus crime is a hugely intimidating task," said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. "Giving these students access to legal representation levels the playing field and, especially given the importance of college education in one's life and career, could make a difference that will last a lifetime."

Discomfort with constitutional protections isn't limited to higher education. Earlier this year a school teacher in Illinois was reprimanded for telling students about their Fifth Amendment rights before handing out a school drug survey. A few years ago two Virginia teachers were investigated for giving students material on their rights in a police encounter. Police are also an increasing presence in schools of all grade levels.