Colleges and universities aren’t always known for providing meaningful due process to students in hearings where suspension or expulsion is at stake, but that may soon change in North Dakota. Yesterday, state legislators introduced SB 2150, a bill that, if passed, would make North Dakota the second state to grant students enrolled in its public colleges and universities the right to hire lawyers in suspension or expulsion hearings.
The bipartisan bill is championed by Senators Ray Holmberg (R), Kelly Armstrong (R), and Jonathan Casper (R), as well as Representatives Lois Delmore (D), Mary Johnson (R), and Diane Larson (R). It states, in part:
Any student enrolled at an institution under the control of the state board of higher education has the right to be represented, at the student’s expense, by an attorney or a nonattorney advocate, who may fully participate during any disciplinary proceeding or during any other procedure adopted and used by that institution to address an alleged violation. A student does not have the right to be represented by an attorney or nonattorney advocate if the allegation pertains to academic dishonesty, as defined by the institution.
The bill also has a section providing student organizations with the right to counsel, a provision that is necessary to prevent colleges from punishing entire groups for the acts of individual members.
SB 2150 is long overdue in North Dakota. Due process shortcomings at North Dakota universities first gained national notoriety in 2010, when the University of North Dakota expelled student Caleb Warner due to sexual assault accusations despite overwhelming evidence of Warner’s innocence. The evidence was so overwhelming that the police filed criminal charges against his accuser for providing false information to authorities.
If SB 2150 passes, students in North Dakota will have a powerful new tool to ensure that their rights won’t be trampled on, nor their educations unjustly curtailed. FIRE supports SB 2150 and is hopeful for its passage.