When a college student is accused of misconduct, he or she is entitled to a fair investigation, and if a disciplinary hearing is warranted, a fair proceeding. When such a student is denied a fair review and hearing of serious misconduct allegations, the consequences may be life altering and devastating.
Far too often, college administrators who receive complaints of misconduct pre-judge guilt based on stereotypes that arise merely from the type of allegations that are made, regardless of the facts. Charged with an obligation to swiftly and harshly punish misconduct, they often decide the “case” without a real investigation, evidence or a hearing of any kind. And when they do so, they do so quickly, arbitrarily punishing the accused students on an interim and permanent basis. The range of punishments routinely doled out in such circumstances often includes expulsions or suspensions, and an obligation on the part of the accused student to report the fact that he or she suffered severe punishment for a disciplinary violation. When applying to graduate school or for employment a report of these disciplinary sanctions on the accused student’s record more often than not, destroys their candidacy for admission or the hiring they seek.
In many unfair disciplinary cases, the college officials in question circumvent established, mandatory disciplinary policies and procedures that are published by the college for the purpose of ensuring fairness. The only way this type of unfairness and the devastation it causes can be corrected, is through legal action. Legal action that holds accountable those colleges who punish students unfairly and unlawfully will serve as a reminder to all colleges that they must protect the rights of complaining students, and accused students, and ensure that fairness always prevails.
On April 4, 2017, Chaiken & Chaiken, P.C., joined by Friedman, Suder & Cooke, P.C. filed a lawsuit against the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), alleging that school officials unfairly mishandled a student’s misconduct complaint against another student, and ignored the rights of the accused student to a fair review and response to the allegations against him. The lawsuit charges that despite knowing the matter involved Title IX issues, the two UTA officials handling the complaint circumvented UTA’s mandatory Title IX investigation and hearing procedures. These mandatory procedures require a fair and impartial investigation by a Title IX investigator, and a hearing before a neutral hearing officer.
The lawsuit further charges that upon circumventing these mandatory procedures, the same two UTA officials severely punished the accused student on an immediate, interim basis, without conducting a proper investigation. Ultimately, a few days after the complaint was made, and again without a proper investigation, they chose to punish him on a permanent basis. Inexplicably, they did so despite acknowledging in emails to each other that there was no evidence to support the allegations against him, or the punishment they meted out, nevertheless. Tragically, the embarrassment, stress, mental anguish and damage to reputation suffered by the accused young man, and the fear that this unfair disciplinary sanction would prevent him from attending graduate school or finding a job, caused him to take his own life. The complaint is available here: UTA Complaint
This important case serves to remind us that fairness in disciplinary proceedings on college campuses is not a given, even when the colleges’ policies and procedures say otherwise. Those who are accused of misconduct on campus find themselves in the midst of a true legal crisis with devastating potential consequences, if they do not navigate the intricacies of campus disciplinary procedures in a manner that invokes their rights to fairness. Only when students and their families understand this reality, and the need to take specific action to invoke the rights that are designed to protect fairness in campus misconduct cases, can tragic consequences be avoided.