Student disciplinary hearing
Last year, the Women and the Law Committee taped a series of television shows aimed at the public to aid parents on the legal issues facing students who are living away from home at schools of higher learning. Since that taping, as a criminal defense attorney, I have been called upon to advise students facing disciplinary bodies within their university or college. Recently, due in part to the United States Department of Education investigating a number of colleges for violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act,1 there has been a focus on complaints of sexual assault or harassment on campus.
Although some of the issues facing respondents in these matters are similar to those facing charges in criminal court, the processes and rights of respondents are vastly different. Students at public universities have rights that those at private schools of higher learning may not. Additionally, the due process rights and guarantees to an accused in criminal court are generally not available to students facing college disciplinary hearings.
For instance, although a student may have a support person accompany him to such a hearing, that person is generally there in a mere advisory role, not a speaking role. While the student may provide questions to be asked of a complainant, the educator presiding over the hearing may or may not ask those questions, and, if asked, may do so in a totally different manner than requested.
Since the stakes are great, there is a role for counsel, however. Not only can counsel advise the student who may also be facing potential criminal charges but an attorney can review the rules, communicate with university officials and counsel prior to the hearing, as well as help the student prepare for the hearing. Counsel may also advise the student should unexpected issues occur prior to, during, and after the hearing.
The disciplinary process is far different from being in a court of law but a student facing such a hearing may be subject to long-term ramifications that may influence not only his schooling but the rest of his adult life. A student facing such a situation should definitely consult with and retain an attorney to help navigate the process. ■