UW regents to consider revised changes to student conduct code
June 3, 2009
by Erica Perez
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Students faced with suspension, expulsion or criminal charges for non-academic misconduct could have legal representation during hearings at University of Wisconsin System schools, but students would be expected to answer questions on their own, according to a revised policy the Board of Regents will consider this week.
The change is part of a new conduct code that would expand administrators' jurisdiction to allow them to discipline students for certain types of off-campus, non-academic misconduct.
The issue has attracted interest at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where more students rent off-campus housing in a traditionally residential neighborhood. Homeowners have pushed UWM to punish students for their noise, drinking and property damage.
A regents committee delayed a vote on the code in May because of concerns about a section that would allow attorneys to speak on students' behalf during some hearings - which some campuses don't permit.
A regents committee will discuss the proposed policy Thursday. The full board could vote on it Friday.
Courts have found that university discipline processes are not the same as judicial proceedings. Universities can limit attorneys to a quiet advisory role, said John Wesley Lowery, associate professor of student affairs in higher education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Lowery co-authored a survey of 200 colleges and universities and found that 38% allowed students to have attorneys in 2007-'08. The study did not track the roles lawyers play, but Lowery said it is "exceptionally rare" for institutions to allow attorneys to actively represent students.
The new version of the UW System policy would give attorneys an active role but define it more narrowly.
When a student is charged with a crime in connection with misconduct or faces suspension or expulsion, his or her lawyer would be able to question witnesses, present information and witnesses and speak for the student - except when the hearing examiner or committee asks the student questions. In those cases, the student should respond.
Suspensions and expulsions are rare in the UW System, and disciplinary hearings are even rarer. Still, the proposed changes don't sit perfectly with some deans and student rights advocates.
University deans wanted lawyers to have an advisory role. Otherwise, they argued, lawyers get in the way of finding out the truth and make the hearings too adversarial. Others said students deserve full legal representation when suspension or expulsion is on the table.
"One of the main reasons to have a lawyer available in these serious cases is to fully defend the student," said Adam Kissel of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "To take that away in part diminishes the student's rights."
At UWM, attorneys are currently allowed to speak for students. In the past, students with attorneys have tended to sit silently, but under the proposed changes, hearing officers would have more of an opportunity to hear from the student.
"I was hoping for more," said UWM Dean of Students Jim Hill. "But it's better than it was back in May."
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