College disciplinary defense bill fails in subcommittee

February 5, 2014

by Julian Walker at The Virginian Pilot

RICHMOND

A bill one might call “the best defense money can buy” – college edition – has flunked in the General Assembly.

After hearing testimony from supporters and opponents, a House of Delegates subcommittee Tuesday afternoon tabled legislation allowing public college students facing disciplinary hearings to be represented by lawyers.

Del. Rick Morris, R-Isle of Wight County, said that HB1123 was brought on behalf of students accused of misconduct who were denied constitutional rights before a college tribunal with the power to suspend or expel.

His bill also would have allowed students expelled or suspended more than 10 days to appeal a college council’s decision to a local circuit court and receive damage awards for successful appeals.

Morris’ bill did not apply to students accused of academic infractions.

He said depriving students of legal counsel throughout disciplinary hearings puts them at a disadvantage that could harm their educational careers and their futures.

Making matters worse, he argued, is that colleges act as “judge, jury and prosecution” against students after acting as interrogator and investigator of students accused of breaking campus rules.

Support for the bill came from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and several college students who testified.

Also supportive was Sylvie Casper of Fairfax County. She testified that her son was suspended from the College of William & Mary last year and his athletic scholarship was revoked after a female student falsely him of sexual assault.

She said school faculty weren’t impartial in that case, noting they took the accuser’s side in the disciplinary process against her son, who Casper said later resigned from school under duress.

Casper told the committee her son was later exonerated of criminal charges in James City County Circuit Court. Despite that, she said William & Mary refused to alter her son’s transcripts so he could continue his college career elsewhere, leaving him living at home and working at a restaurant.

Speaking against it were representatives of many of Virginia’s four-year public colleges.

Michael DeBowes, Old Dominion University’s director of student conduct and academic integrity, suggested Morris’ bill would create a more adversarial process than is in place on many campuses.

Morris later said those processes are already adversarial and are stacked against accused students.

Cases: Virginia: Right to Counsel Bill