The North Dakota University System fought pretty hard against this legislation, arguing that students don’t need an attorney to represent them in hearings up to and including those which could result in their suspension or expulsion. But perhaps in a sign of the university system’s waning influence in the legislature, the bill passed by a wide margin with some minor adjustments.
The bill now only applies to proceedings that could result in suspension or expulsion (which seems like an appropriately low bar to me), but it does include the right to an attorney for student organizations which is something the university system very much wanted removed.
This bill is important. Former University of North Dakota student Caleb Warner was expelled for a supposed sexual assault involving another student. This happened before he got his day in court. In fact, he never even had to go to court, because a police investigation resulted in charges against his accuser for filing a false report.
Despite all this, it took nearly two years for Warner to overturn his expulsion because UND refused to take another look at the case.
Including student organizations is important as well. A Rolling Stone article about an alleged rape of a University of Virginia student at the hands of frat boys resulted in administrative sanctions against the university’s sororities and fraternities, despite subsequent revelations that accusations detailed in the story were largely concocted.
It is unfortunate in the extreme that our universities have become places ruled by hidebound ideologues and blinkered administrators. North Dakota is no exception to the rule.
This legislation will help change some of that, giving students the protection of legal counsel who can actively participate in serious proceedings against them.
On a related note, we really need to consider whether or not the university officials who opposed this legislation are qualified to be working in higher education. Their lack of regard for protecting students is downright shocking.