Campus officials like to say that student disciplinary hearings are not court proceedings. There is no such thing as a finding of guilt — only “responsibility” — and even in the most serious cases where students are suspended or expelled, they say, the purpose is more to teach good citizenship than it is to punish wrong behavior.
Which is why a new law in North Carolina, the first of its kind, has them worried. The legislation, signed into law on Friday, guarantees any student at a public institution in the state the right to legal representation, at the student’s expense, during campus judiciary proceedings.
“A key component of the developmental process of responding to student misconduct is for the student to take responsibility for their own behavior and to learn from the incident,” said Bill Haggard, vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. “Part of that learning experience is being able to speak on their own behalf, take responsibility for their own behaviors and engage in a conversation about changing their behavior in the future.”
That will be a whole lot less likely, officials say, if students have a lawyer speaking for them.
“It’s obviously something that most student affairs professionals are not that crazy about,” Haggard said.
The law includes an exemption for academic charges such as plagiarism and for hearings where the panel issuing judgment is entirely student-run, as is usually the case at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.