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'Chronicle of Higher Education' on Three Due Process Cases to Watch

Libby Sander wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education today to review three current cases of students alleging a lack of due process in sexual misconduct hearings on their respective campuses: Wells v. Xavier University, Yu v. Vassar College, and Harris v. Saint Joseph’s University. Sander reports:

The details of the lawsuits differ, but in laying out grievances against colleges, the students share firmly held beliefs: Campus officials were hasty, withheld key evidence in hearings, and denied legal representation to the accused students. Throughout the process, the plaintiffs say, a presumption of guilt prevailed.

Among other claims, they say the institutions breached their contracts with the students by failing to follow stated policies. Mr. Harris and Mr. Yu also argue that their rights were violated under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bars sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funds.

All three students were expelled, demonstrating that even without criminal charges being brought, a college’s disciplinary action against a student can have serious, even life-changing consequences for the accused student. Sander emphasizes this in her article:

As of June, Mr. Yu, a Chinese citizen, had not been admitted to any of the 10 colleges to which he’d applied after being expelled (two more, after learning the reason he left Vassar, told him not to bother applying). His student visa was revoked. “The potential for altering someone’s life or their future, or staining them,” [Yu’s lawyer, Andrew T.] Miltenberg says, “is very real.”

Of course, criminal cases and even civil cases heard in court may result in a visa being revoked. But campus hearings often lack the judicial system’s many procedural safeguards, which protect the accused from unjustly having his or her life derailed.

FIRE’s Will Creeley comments on the clash between guidance from government agencies on Title IX and constitutionally mandated due process:

Many institutions feel hemmed in by federal requirements, says Will Creeley [of FIRE], which opposes some federal guidance on campus sexual-assault cases, including the lower evidentiary standard. The 2011 guidance, in particular, made handling cases more difficult for colleges, he says.

“It traps them between affording students meaningful due-process protections,” says Mr. Creeley, “and complying with the new government interpretation.”

Read the rest of Sander’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and check back to The Torch for updates on these cases.

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