North Carolina has become the first state to pass a law to ensure that college students have the right to legal representation when it comes to school disciplinary actions.
Robert Shibley, executive vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), says few people realize that college students facing serious, nonacademic disciplinary charges don’t have the right to be represented at the hearings by an attorney.
“Universities have been free, of course, to be represented by attorneys in those same courts, so this new law in North Carolina – the Students & Administration Equality Act – gives students the ability to actually have some equality in those hearings,” explains Shibley.
FIRE says college students across the U.S. regularly face “life-altering consequences” for serious offenses such as rape, theft, and harassment; and as a result often face the intimidating task of “facing down a room full of deans, administrators, and university lawyers” when accused.
This new law, says the FIRE spokesman, constitutes a critical step in giving students a fair chance for justice. He fully expects North Carolina's groundbreaking legislation to prompt other states to take action so students have a level playing field on which to argue their case.
“People don’t realize that this is a problem – and when they do, it’s an easy fix,” he states. “So I think you’ll see states across the country start to adopt right-to-counsel laws in the wake of North Carolina’s path-breaking move.”
The bill was first introduced in the legislature in April and overwhelmingly passed by a vote of 112-1 in May. Governor Pat McCrory signed it into law last month.