What is due process? Traditionally, due process is the government’s responsibility to perform fair and regular procedures before legally depriving you of life, liberty, or property. Traditionally, due process equates to greater individual protections when the claim against you is more serious and the potential penalty holds greater consequences. And traditionally, due process is guaranteed through Constitutional protections of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments when students attending a public college are at risk of suspension or expulsion. However, college degrees no longer have traditional value; they’re worth more than ever. Accordingly, suspension or expulsion from college can be life-changing. Is due process adapting from traditional applications to meet the current demanded protections of students across the United States?
Some colleges recognize this increased value and adapting the application of due process to students facing suspension or expulsion. North Dakota recently recognized students’ due process rights, passing legislation permitting students at public colleges to have attorney representation during hearings potentially resulting in suspension or expulsion. Complicating this matter, colleges across the United States have instituted conduct codes allowing accountability of students for off-campus behavior. Essentially, colleges can educationally sanction students for criminal charges occurring miles from campus if the conduct negatively impacts the mission of the college. The stakes for college students earning a degree have rarely been greater, and the net colleges can cast to regulate student conduct have rarely been wider.
It’s not just the value of having a college degree, but also it’s more of the disadvantages for an individual without one. U.S. News highlighted a 2013 income gap study by Pew Research Center (PRC), revealing individuals between the ages of 25-32, holding bachelor’s degrees working at least 35 hours weekly, made on average $17,500 more annually when compared to individuals within the same demographic holding only high school diplomas. PRC also found jobless rates among ages 25-32 with only high school diplomas were around 12.2%, compared to those with bachelor’s degrees at 3.8%. A college degree is no longer a way to ensure an individual’s survival, but an element to survival.
Courts have historically bestowed great deference to colleges when regulating off-campus conduct negatively impacting the mission of the college. In Kusnir v. Leach, Kusnir faced on-campus charges because of alleged disorderly conduct off-campus. Kusnir challenged the college’s authority to discipline for off-campus conduct, the court finding colleges have a vital interest in the character of its students, and may regard off-campus behavior as reflecting upon a student’s fitness. However, courts have not always upheld a college’s authority to discipline students for off-campus conduct. In Paine v. Board of Regents of the University of Texas System, Paine was put on probation through the criminal courts for possession of marijuana off-campus. The college automatically suspended him, only to have the suspension invalidated by the court, citing the off-campus behavior posed no threat to the institution.
Colleges have responsibilities, and students have rights. Given the heightened value of a college degree, should students receive greater protection? If so, how does due process apply?