It’s a rare moment when the miasma of smug, self-serving rhetoric which surrounds our university system parts for a moment to let the truth shine through. We had a moment like that this evening.
SB2150 is legislation introduced by Senators Ray Holmberg (a Republican) and Lois Delmore (a Democrat) both of Grand Forks. It aims to guarantee due process rights to students and student organizations faced with the often byzantine and completely unfair university system approach to settling accusations of crimes. Not only will the students get the right to have a lawyer during university-run proceedings against them, the lawyer will be able to do more than just sit there.
Yes, these are things that aren’t actually happening right now.
One of the side effects of the bogus “campus rape epidemic” is that students often face ruinous sanctions, up to and including expulsion, through a process with ridiculous evidentiary standards and overseen by people who are often something less than competent legal minds (more on that here).
It has happened here in North Dakota.
Former UND student Caleb Warner was banned for campus for three years for an alleged sexual assault on a female student. Only it turned out that the woman apparently filed a false report (she was charged with a crime for that), but even after Warner’s exoneration UND refused to lift their ban.
It wasn’t until two years later, and after pressure brought by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), that UND finally cleared Warner’s name. Which is the sort of travesty that, in a just world, ought to get someone tarred and feathered.
Which brings us back to SB2150. Forum News Service reporter John Hageman wrote about the bill this evening and managed to get the university system to beclown itself in response. Initially NDUS Chief Counsel Chris Wilson – a bureaucrat well known for his repeated and flagrant violations of state open records laws as a minion for NDSU President Dean Bresciani – managed to put his foot in his mouth by saying the university system opposes the law.
Which prompted a quick retraction from NDUS spokeswoman Linda Donlin once the university folks figured out that opposing due process might just make them look even more like the blinkered, bureaucratic twits they are (emphasis mine):
Prior to seeing a copy of the bill, Linda Donlin, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota University System, provided comments Wednesday from Christopher Wilson, NDSU general counsel in Fargo. He raised concerns that the “educational process” of the disciplinary process would be lost if an advisor is able to act for a student. He also said that there would be the potential for a “disparate system” if some students were able to afford attorneys and others could not.
He also said NDSU’s system is common in higher education.
Donlin later asked to retract Wilson’s comments until the bill had been filed. When provided with a copy of the bill Thursday, Donlin said NDUS staff was researching the nuances of the legislation and planned to discuss it with universities.
Just so we’re clear about what’s happening here, Wilson accidentally told the truth. He accidentally spilled the beans about the NDUS attitude about due process rights for students, which is that they don’t think they should get any.
Wilson is certainly aware of the Warner case at the University of North Dakota, and yet sees no problem in defending the status quo despite that miscarriage of justice.
Let’s hope that if Mr. Wilson is ever accused of a crime he didn’t commit, the folks overseeing the proceedings to adjudicate his innocence or guilt are more fair minded than he is.
Of course the system of campus tribunals for students accused of crimes is common in higher education. And those of us who live out here in the real world have observed how often those tribunals have failed to protect the rights of the accused. So much so that students in some parts of the country have begun filing lawsuits because their rights weren’t protected.
Kudos to Holmberg and Delmore for backing common sense reform. Shame on the university system for opposing it.