In a powerfully written letter to the editor of The GW Hatchet, a student newspaper at George Washington University, attorney Shanlon Wu calls into question whether students can receive a fair and accurate result from university disciplinary processes. Wu, a litigator with the Washington, D.C., firm Wu, Grohovsky & Whipple, draws upon personal experience representing university students to make a number of salient points. Among them:
Every day, students across the country face discipline code violations that can affect the rest of their lives yet the systems under which they are investigated, charged, tried and punished remain shrouded in secrecy. I have represented too many college students whose criminal charges were so minor or weak that the charge resulted in dismissal, acquittals or community service but whose colleges or universities punished them with no regard to the outcome of the criminal investigation and trial.
This makes no sense. Colleges and universities should leave crime to the professional law enforcement and the criminal justice system. The recent protests by students at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill about the lack of transparency and poor handling of sexual assault allegations stem from similar issues. Until recently, that school allowed students to be the primary discipline decision-makers in sexual assault cases. Now they use a method where students and staff work on those cases. That solves little, since neither the students nor the staff are trained to handle such serious criminal allegations.
In making these assertions, Wu joins a chorus of commentators that includes Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein, as we’ve noted here previously, who has called into question the competence of colleges and universities to adjudicate serious offenses such as sexual assault and rape.
Wu’s letter to the editor—in which he goes on to call for a "national model student discipline code that works"—is well worth a read, so be sure to check it out in its entirety.