University System Proposes Watering Down Giving Students Access To Lawyers


Last week I reported comments from Senator Ray Holmberg, a sponsor of SB2150 which seeks to guarantee students the right to an attorney in campus proceedings against them, about university system officials misleading the committee considering the bill.

“Their site states that the BOHE had taken an official position opposed to SB 2150, yet the board didn’t even discuss the issue till the 29th,” Holmberg told me referring to an online bill tracking system the university system uses where Sagsveen noted that the NDUS was “opposed” to the bill.

“Impression of committee was that [NDUS Chief of Staff] Murray [Sagsveen] was speaking for the board,” Holmberg continued. “That was not accurate, continuing  a long history of obfuscation.”

Now, perhaps waking up to the fact that opposing legal representation for students accused of serious infractions is a bit too callous, university officials are now claiming that they’re “neutral” on the bill.

But they still want it watered down. Which basically means their position has gone from oppposed unless amended to neutral with a desire for amendments.

SBHE spokeswoman Linda Donlin said the change in stance is a result of the North Dakota University System staff trying to rework the bill in a way that doesn’t apply to students who have committed minor infractions, a major concern of the SBHE.

“It had always been our intention to support the concept, but we didn’t want to create an arms race of attorneys which could adversely impact disciplinary processes for minor offenses,” she said.

Uh, right.

On a related note, Senate Judiciary Chairman David Hogue (R-Minot) has asked NDUS attorney Christopher Wilson to draft some possible amendments to the legislation. Wilson has done that, sending them to Hogue and other committee members with a cover letter that simply has to be read to be believe given how flippantly it treats past problems with campus justice for students.

You can read the full letter here. An excerpt:


Just to be clear, the impetus for SB2150 was the University of North Dakota’s treatment of former student Caleb Warner who was expelled from campus based on accusations of sexual violence which weren’t true. UND refused to overturn Warner’s expulsion even after police pursued charges against his accuser for filing a false report.

Wilson would have us believe that current disciplinary system works “effectively.” Except for when it occasionally ruins someone’s life, I guess.

This is callous disregard for the wellbeing of students is presented by a group of bureaucrats (Wilson and those employing him) who are supposed to be putting the wellbeing of students front and center.

By the way, I don’t think anyone in the university system has ever publicly apologized to Caleb Warner or his family. These university employees ought to be wearing hairshirts over that miscarriage of justice, but they seem to prefer pretending as though it never happened.

So what amendments would Wilson and the NDUS like to see to SB2150?

They want to narrow the scope of the bill to allow participation of legal counsel representing students in only the most serious of cases. But who gets to define what is and is not serious? The university system? No thanks. How about we let the students themselves decide if a given situation is serious enough to justify the inclusion of an attorney in the process? Certainly the NDUS and its member institutions can decide for itself when they would like an attorney involved in the process.

The NDUS would also like to implement a post-appeal process so that new evidence in a case can be re-considered. It may shock you to realize that this is not already being afforded to students. I’d also point out that UND refused to consider evidence that Warner’s accuser filed a false report as sufficient to grant him a new proceeding. It took years of work by lawyers, and a scolding column in the Wall Street Journal, to accomplish that feat.

And finally, the NDUS would like to exempt student organizations from the opportunity to be represented by an attorney. Yet, look at what’s happening at the University of Virginia where administrators have taken action against fraternities and sororities in the wake of sexual assault accusations, hyped by a now-infamous Rolling Stone feature story, which now appear to be a contrivance.

Taken as a whole, the university system seems to be much less concerned with treating students and student organizations fairly than they are with avoiding inconvenience for themselves.

Here are the amendments proposed by Wilson:

SB2150 NDUS Amendments