ND University System Wants Due Process Rights They Won't Give Students

Even as officials in the North Dakota University System are trying to fight off a bipartisan bill giving students access to a lawyer in campus proceedings against them, they’re complaining about an open records law which they say doesn’t afford them due process rights.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony regarding HB1435, introduced by Rep. Randy Boehning (R-Fargo), which would levy a fine on repeat offenders of the law. The bill was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and North Dakota Newspaper Association head Steve Andrist who brought up some valid reasons to be concerned about the law (I’m guessing it’s going to fail, and that’s probably ok). But the testimony against the bill from NDUS attorney Murray Sagsveen was downright shameful.

He’s concerned that the bill doesn’t give open records/open meetings violators (which would include many in the university system) proper due process rights:

Murray Sagsveen, chief of staff for the North Dakota University System for the last 15 months, described the Board of Higher Education’s two open meetings violations during his tenure as “technical” violations. He testified against the bill, saying it creates “an inappropriate, adversarial relationship” between boards and their legal counsel and contains no due process provisions or exceptions for when the governing body may have received bad legal advice.

Why is this shameful? Let’s jump over to the committee hearing on SB2150 which would grant NDUS students the right to an attorney in campus proceedings against them. The NDUS is fighting this bill, claiming it would cost them millions give students the right to bring an attorney to their proceedings, and legal counsel Christopher Wilson (who has presided over more than a few open records violations himself) thinks it would make everything too complicated:

Wilson said limiting the participation of attorneys in disciplinary hearings is a “common practice” in higher education, and that the disciplinary process could become more complicated with the proposed change.

“What was once a straightforward educational process could evolve into a complicated legal hearing,” he said. “We are simply concerned that there might be unintended consequences from this law.”

Just so we’ve got this straight, when North Dakota University System officials break the law they want to make sure there’s proper due process in identifying guilt and levying fines. That’s understandable.

But students? That sort of thing would just be too complicated, according to the university system hypocrites.

This is important. One of the citizens who testified in favor of SB2150 was Sherry Warner Seefeld, mother of former UND student Caleb Warner. Warner was accused of sexually assaulting another student in 2010 and expelled from UND in campus proceedings against him which his attorney was not allowed to attend. Warner was not only never charged with a crime, his accuser actually was. For making false accusations against Warner.

Despite this, it took UND more than two years to rescind their action against Warner. That’s two years the kid had to live with that cloud over his head. Two years he had, on his transcript, an expulsion for a heinous crime he didn’t commit.

But Wilson tells us that giving someone like Warner right to an attorney to protect is rights is too complicated.

I often accuse the university system of treating students like an afterthought, even though they’re the reason the NDUS exists in the first place. But this sorry spectacle illustrates indifference to the point of callousness.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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