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New York Times highlights due process lawsuit alleging all-too-common problems

Former Michigan State University student and professional football player Keith Mumphery filed a lawsuit against the university last month, arguing it violated his due process rights, Title IX, and state law when it expelled him for alleged acts of sexual misconduct. In an article published in The New York Times last week, Michael Powell puts into context the many procedural deficiencies Mumphery alleges prevented him from receiving a fundamentally fair hearing. In short, MSU is far from the only university with disciplinary procedures that lack critically important safeguards against erroneous findings, and the results can be devastating.

As detailed in his complaint, Mumphery was initially found not responsible in 2015 through MSU’s disciplinary proceedings. The county prosecutor’s office also declined to prosecute due to a lack of evidence against Mumphery and his accuser’s failure to cooperate. But Mumphery’s accuser appealed MSU’s decision, and in 2016, MSU ultimately found Mumphery responsible and expelled him.

In what should be a shocking twist — but perhaps isn’t for our readers — Mumphery says he didn’t even know about the appeal until 2017, after he had already been expelled.

The Supreme Court hasn’t explicitly enumerated all of the procedural safeguards that might be necessary to achieve due process in campus cases, but it has made crystal clear that students facing expulsion from a public school must at least be afforded notice and an opportunity to be heard. This is the bare minimum nationwide, and other courts have gone further in requiring specific safeguards.

Mumphery’s lawsuit describes other failures by MSU, too. One individual served as both an investigator and a fact-finder during the appeal process that ended in Mumphery’s expulsion. And Mumphery did not have an opportunity to cross-examine his accuser or the witnesses against him. As FIRE reported last year, these problems are exceedingly common among the country’s top universities, and untenable if we want proceedings designed to reach accurate findings.

As a result of Mumphery’s expulsion, he was booted from the Houston Texans last year and faces an uncertain future instead of his dream football career. Powell wrote:

What is clear is that the consequences for Mumphery of this broken process are perilously close to that of a criminal conviction. Mumphery is boxed in a societal cell. He has not gotten a tryout with another N.F.L. team, and at 25 he sees his prime earning years as an athlete slipping by. He was an honor roll student and class president with a 1240 SAT score at his high school, and with this mark on his record, he is unlikely to gain admittance to another graduate program.

And people read that he was responsible for sexual violence and view him as a rapist.

These are not consequences that should be meted out when one single investigator thinks it is simply slightly more likely than not that a student committed an alleged offense, particularly when that student was not able to present his or her defense to that investigator.

Powell’s article is well worth reading in full for its look back at how college disciplinary procedures got this awful, and at what Mumphery’s life looks like now. MSU should know better than any institution that it has to take allegations of sexual assault seriously, but in doing so, it must not deprive accused individuals of a fair hearing. To learn more about the deficiencies in campus disciplinary procedures nationwide, check out our Spotlight on Due Process report.

See more from The New York Times about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

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