Students may be represented by Attorneys in University Disciplinary Hearings

H.3453 would establish that students enrolled in public institutions of higher education or student organizations have the right to be represented by an attorney or “nonattorney advocate” at a “disciplinary proceeding or other procedure before the institution to address an alleged conduct violation”. The one exception to this right would be if the proceeding were to address an allegation of academic dishonesty.

Students who are expelled, or student organizations who are suspended for more than ten days for a violation of a college or university’s rules of conduct may appeal the institution’s decision to a court of common pleas. If the court finds in favor of the student(s) it may award momentary damages, court costs, attorney’s fees, witness fees and other relief to the student or students.

This bill was no doubt drafted in response to the alarming kangaroo court like systems that have been established at many universities to deal with allegations of misconduct, particularly allegations of sexual misconduct. In these systems the accused are often denied representation, the right to face their accuser, the right to present evidence, the right to call or cross examine witnesses, and sometimes even the right to know what they are accused of.

Due process and the presumption of innocence are cherished bedrocks of our judicial system, these principles should apply in public universities just as they do elsewhere.

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