New law allows NC students to hire attorneys for campus disciplinary hearings

August 27, 2013

RALEIGH — Students once asked to represent themselves in front of faculty and peers during school disciplinary hearings, now have the chance for their attorneys to stand by their side."We wouldn’t consider a courtroom outside of a school environment to be just if the accused wasn’t allowed to have an attorney. But that’s been the rule in college tribunals," said Robert Shibley, senior vice president for the Foundation for Individual Rights & Education.Shibley’s foundation advocated for the legislation."These are serious occasions for students who are accused of things. It can change the entire course of your life if you’re charged of a campus crime," Shibley said.The law allows for an attorney or non-attorney advocate during student conduct matters but not in cases of academic misconduct.Former UNC-Wilmington student Ian Gove agrees, and believes with a lawyer the hearing against his fraternity likely would have ended differently."If the truth is the ultimate end in the process, I don’t understand why attorneys wouldn’t be afforded to students if that is a way of helping the process, expose the truth of the nature of the accusations that were presented,” Gove said.Some students agree saying the law is long overdue, while others argue it’s only creating a long list of issues.Andrea Pino is part of a group who filed a federal complaint against UNC-Chapel Hill over its handling of sexual assaults.As a survivor, she says the law doesn’t create equal protection and may scare away some students from reporting incidents to the university."If an assailant can afford an attorney, it doesn’t mean a survivor can. So when it comes to these procedures, is there really equal protection if an assailant has an attorney and a survivor doesn’t?” Pino said.These types of issues are already being raised, and in the end, it’s a move that could cost universities."If students are now going to be represented by attorneys, that may mean that the university also has to hire or retain attorneys to advocate on behalf of the university in disciplinary proceedings,” said UNC System Interim General Council Tom Shanahan.Shanahan says questions have also been raised over whether tuition fees could increase to cover the costs.Shibley suggests fees could also cover attorneys to represent students who can’t afford them.In the meantime, Shanahan says the UNC System has already changed their guidelines to fall in line with the law.And while many schools are scrambling to update their policy manuals, UNCG is moving forward with their new guidelines, but agrees it will take some time to adjust."Sometimes when you have an attorney it makes it more legalistic, and what we’re trying to do and will continue to maintain, is that this is an education administrative process for the student,” said Vicki McNeil, UNCG associate vice chancellor of student affairs.

Cases: University of North Carolina System: Law Guaranteeing Right to Counsel