- Louisiana public colleges must allow an attorney or other adviser to represent students during disciplinary proceedings for the most serious nonacademic infractions, under a new state law enacted this month.
- The law infuses due process protections into public institutions’ adjudication procedures for offenses for which a student or student-run group could be suspended for 10 days or more.
- These safeguards include an express presumption that a student is innocent. The law also gives students access to administrative files that contain all of the evidence collected in their cases.
College students’ due process rights have taken on new importance in the last several years, in part inspired by debate over how institutions investigate and adjudicate sexual misconduct cases under Title IX, the federal law banning sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools.
Guidance the Obama administration issued in 2011 emphasized that college officials have an obligation to combat sexual violence on their campuses. However, those policies drew criticism that the federal government was pressuring institutions to find students accused of these crimes responsible, at the cost of their due process privileges.
Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos instituted a Title IX regulation that took effect in August 2020 requiring that college processes incorporate a host of due process protections. These include that accused students and their accusers can cross-examine the other side through a representative during a live hearing and that the accused receive written notice of allegations against them.
The Biden administration’s new regulatory proposal, unveiled last week, would preserve some elements of the DeVos-era rule, but no longer mandate the hearing process for sexual abuse cases.
The new Louisiana law, which Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed on June 15, contains similarities to the DeVos regulation.
For one, public colleges must offer students or student organizations the chance to make opening and closing statements during disciplinary panels, and give them the power to cross-examine witnesses.
These proceedings also can’t be marred by conflicts of interest, the law states. To ensure that, college officials cannot take on certain multiple roles in disciplinary cases — for instance, an investigator and adjudicator can’t be the same person.
If students or student-run groups are found to have violated a college’s rules, they must be able to appeal to an administrator or entity that did not make the initial decision.
The law takes effect Aug. 1.
Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, said in an emailed statement officials worked closely with the bill sponsor, state Rep. Scott McKnight, a Republican, “to ensure students are granted due process and have access to representation.”
Henderson said McKnight was open to suggestions and “the bill ultimately landed in a posture that appropriately enhances student rights in the disciplinary process with minimal impact on the institution.”
The system does not anticipate additional costs from the new law, Henderson said.
However, he said, the Biden administration’s proposed Title IX rule may conflict with the new statute. Henderson did not specify what potential clashes could arise.
Louisiana this month also enacted a free speech bill that tightens the definition of student-on-student harassment. The measure also blocks public colleges from charging students and student groups a security fee based on the views of speakers they invite to campus or the anticipated reaction to them. The governor signed that law June 20, and it takes effect Aug. 1.