North Carolina college students no longer have to worry about facing
non-academic disciplinary charges from their universities without legal
On Aug. 23, Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed a statewide bill
that granted students in the state the right to an attorney in campus
courts. Under the Students & Administration Act, students who attend
North Carolina's public universities have the right to be represented
by a licensed attorney or non-attorney advocate.
The law is the first of its kind in the USA.
the new rules cover students and student organizations facing
disciplinary charges for violating the university's code of conduct,
they do not extend to students accused of academic dishonesty or at
schools that have implemented a student honor court.
across America are regularly tried in campus courts for serious offenses
like theft, harassment and even rape," said Robert Shibley, senior vice
president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE),
in a news release. "Being labeled a felon and kicked out by your
college carries serious, life-altering consequences. Because the stakes
are so high, students should have the benefit of an attorney to ensure
the hearing is conducted fairly and by the rules."
a non-profit education foundation aimed at preserving civil liberties
on U.S. campuses, advocated for the legislation and worked with a
bipartisan group of state legislators to put it in action. The act
passed the North Carolina House of Representatives via a landslide 112-1
vote and was ultimately included in the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013,
which passed the Legislature on July 26.
Joe Cohn, the legislative
and policy director for FIRE, says the strong legislative support was
because lawmakers recognized that denying students the right to hire
lawyers in campus disciplinary hearings left them without meaningful due
"It is growing impossible to ignore how unfair campus
disciplinary hearings have become; the accused is denied representation
while the cases against them are argued by deans, administrators and
sometimes lawyers with decades of experience," Cohn wrote in an e-mail
to USA TODAY. "Legislators from across the political spectrum understood
that the stakes in these hearings are too high to allow students to
face suspensions or expulsions for non-academic disciplinary charges
without legal representation."
For years, the state's K-12
students have had the right to legal representation when facing
suspension or expulsion, but university policies prohibited students
from having legal counsel present their case to administrators during
disciplinary proceedings. Before the law, college students were allowed
to rely on an attorney for advice and resources, but the students had
to represent themselves and speak on their own behalf.
unclear how the university systems will handle the issue of students who
cannot afford representation, as universities are not obligated to
appoint counsel to low-income students.
Cohn is confident that
low-income students will still benefit from the law, as it allows
students to opt for representation by non-legal professionals to ensure
that students who cannot afford a lawyer will not be left to represent
"Low-income students will (still) benefit from the
right to hire attorneys because that opens up the door for the
possibility of pro bono representation," Cohn wrote. "Moreover, student
governments could use some of their considerable funding to contract
with local attorneys to meet students' need for representation."
hopes college students nationwide will soon be offered this same
right. He says student access to legal representation will help level
the playing field, as there are many students who may not be familiar
with legal terms, leaving them unprepared for a courtroom proceeding.
universities will welcome this law's passage and realize that fair
processes benefit everyone," Cohn wrote. "Attorney involvement will help
result in fair, reliable hearings procedures that follow a standardized
set of rules, and that will benefit all parties involved."