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North Carolina Legislation Mandates That Colleges Must Allow Students To Have Legal Representation During Disciplinary Proceedings

As reported on NACUA's "Cases and Documents"update (available here), the North Carolina Legislature has enacted legislation, the Students and Administrative Equality Act, that requires public colleges and universities to permit students to be represented by an attorney or a non-attorney advocate during disciplinary hearings. According to the legislation (made available by NACUA here), a student is entitled, at his or her own expense, to have an attorney or advocate "fully participate during any disciplinary procedure or other procedure adopted and used" by the institution to adjudicate an alleged violation. The new legislation also applies to student organizations.

Two exceptions are listed under the law to the availability to have attorney participation. First, an institution is not required to allow representation if it operates a student honor court that is "fully staffed by students." Second, the provision does not apply to charges involving academic dishonesty, as "defined by the constitutent institution." 

The law's requirement runs counter to how many colleges and universities have prefered to structure their student disciplinary systems. Instead of trying to mimic judicial hearings, a number of institutions seek to have these hearings more focused on student learning and development. In reading about the legislation I noticed that it was supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). As such, I suspect there is advocacy going on in other states for similar legislation. It will be interesting to see how the law impacts the student disciplinary practices at North Carolina's public colleges and universities. At first blush, one concern I have is that the legislation makes students with the resources to pay for an attorney at a potential advantage over students with fewer resources. I wonder if institutions will feel pressure or an obligation to provide an attorney or advocate for students unable to afford a lawyer

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