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Best of ‘The Torch’: With New Law, North Dakota Guarantees College Students’ Right to Attorney
This article is part of FIRE’s “best of” retrospective, where we revisit the most memorable Torch moments from the past year. This article originally ran April 22, 2015.
With New Law, North Dakota Guarantees College Students’ Right to Attorney
BISMARCK, N.D., April 22, 2015—Today, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed SB 2150 into law, providing students enrolled in the state’s public colleges and universities the right to be represented at their expense in non-academic suspension and expulsion hearings. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) worked with a bipartisan group of state legislators to enact the protection into law.
“Thanks to this bipartisan legislation, students enrolled in North Dakota’s public colleges and universities will now have the right to secure legal representation when facing allegations of serious misconduct,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “This new law is a critical step towards providing all students—both accusers and accused—with meaningful procedural protections.”
The bill was approved by the House of Representatives by a unanimous 92–0 vote on April 8, and it passed the state Senate on a 44–1 vote on April 17.
With the governor’s signature, North Dakota becomes the second state this month—and the third state overall—to provide students the right to hire legal representation when contesting serious non-academic disciplinary charges. North Carolina passed similar legislation in 2013. And earlier this month, Arkansas enacted legislation granting students at public institutions the right to the active assistance of legal counsel during the campus appeals process.
North Dakota has figured prominently in the national discussion on campus sexual assault and student due process rights. In 2010, former University of North Dakota (UND) studentCaleb Warner was expelled after being found guilty of sexual assault by a campus court, despite evidence of his innocence that should have been impossible to ignore. Indeed, the evidence clearing Warner was so powerful that the local district attorney filed criminal charges against his accuser for filing a false report to police.
“It is so gratifying to know that parents of students enrolled in North Dakota’s public colleges will no longer have to worry that their children might be railroaded the way my son was at UND,” said Sherry Warner-Seefeld, Caleb’s mother and president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE). “Basic fairness necessitates that colleges determining young people’s futures provide the kind of procedural protections now required by SB 2150.”
“FIRE is very pleased that North Dakota lawmakers from both sides of the aisle recognized the need for this legislation,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “We are particularly thankful to the bill’s sponsors, Senators Ray Holmberg, Kelly M. Armstrong, and Jonathan Casper; and Representatives Lois Delmore, Mary C. Johnson, and Diane Larson, for championing this important act. Each was instrumental in securing the legislation’s passage, and we are hopeful that similar laws will be adopted across the country.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
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