NEW SURVEY: Vast majority of students want due process rights that colleges refuse to provide

By June 13, 2018

  • 85 percent of respondents think students accused of misconduct should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but only 30 percent of top schools guarantee this vital protection.
  • 8 in 10 students surveyed think students accused of breaking the law should be allowed to have a lawyer help defend them in campus disciplinary proceedings, but only three top colleges allow it.
  • Colleges argue that due process can be minimal because hearings are merely “educational.” Students overwhelmingly disagree, with 84 percent responding that the primary purpose of a campus disciplinary hearing is to provide justice and protection to students on campus.

PHILADELPHIA, June 13, 2018 — A new survey from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education finds that a vast majority of college students support fundamental due process protections in campus disciplinary hearings in order to ensure they are fair. Most top college and universities, however, fail to provide them.

The survey of student attitudes builds on FIRE’s “Spotlight on Due Process” report, released last year, which found that the overwhelming majority of America’s top universities fail to provide students accused of serious misconduct with even the most basic elements of fair procedure.

FIRE’s new survey, “Proceeding Accordingly: What Students Think about Due Process on Campus,” found that 85 percent of students think their accused classmates should be considered innocent until proven guilty. According to last year’s due process report, however, less than 30 percent of America’s top universities guarantee students that protection. Similarly, 8 in 10 students surveyed think students accused of breaking the law should be allowed to have a lawyer in campus disciplinary proceedings, but very few top colleges and universities allow active assistance from an attorney.

“There’s a vast gulf between the robust protections that students want and to which they are morally entitled, and the meager protections that most colleges actually provide,” said Samantha Harris, FIRE’s vice president of policy research. “Campus proceedings can have permanent, life-altering consequences. It’s time for colleges and universities to start listening to their students and providing safeguards that reflect the seriousness of these processes.”

The survey measures student support for due process protections in three scenarios: when a student allegedly breaks a rule, drinks alcohol under the age of 21, and engages in sexual misconduct. Support for protections under each scenario varies by gender and political affiliation.

Key findings include:

  • 98 percent of students think it is very important or important that students have due process protections in campus judicial proceedings.
  • Female students are eight percentage points less likely to think a student should be considered innocent by the school’s administration if the student has allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct than if the student has allegedly broken an unspecified rule.
  • Only 16 percent of students think that the primary purpose of a campus disciplinary hearing is to provide an educational experience for those involved, while 84 percent of students think that the primary purpose of a campus disciplinary hearing is to provide justice and protection to students on campus.
  • More than 80 percent of students responded that an adviser should be allowed to help defend students during campus disciplinary proceedings.
  • Although three-quarters of students support cross-examination in campus disciplinary proceedings, only one-third of institutions in FIRE’s “Spotlight on Due Process” report consistently provide students a meaningful opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.
  • When a student has allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct, very liberal students are 19 percentage points less likely than their very conservative peers to think that those students should be considered innocent until proven guilty by the school’s administration.
  • However, when a student has allegedly engaged in underage drinking, very liberal students are 13 percentage points more likely than their very conservative peers to think that students should be considered to be innocent until proven guilty by the school’s administration.

For this survey, FIRE contracted with YouGov (California), a well-regarded nonpartisan polling and research firm. YouGov used an online survey to interview two- and four-year undergraduate students at American colleges and universities between Jan. 29, 2018 and Feb. 12, 2018, and provided FIRE with a final data set of 2,225 responses.

YouGov has polled for The New York Times and The Economist. The Pew Research Center finds that YouGov outperforms its competitors when it comes to providing accurate survey results. A copy of the full report and methodology, an FAQ, and the toplines and tabulations from YouGov can be accessed on FIRE’s website.

The survey project was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct polling on campus attitudes, engage in legal and social science research, and mobilize a wider audience on and off campus in the fight for student and faculty rights.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

CONTACT:

William Rickards, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org