First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers|
July 29, 2013
The New York Times and the Huffington Post have been very critical of recent
legislation by the House and Senate of the State of North Carolina. But neither
of those liberal news outlets - and I use the term "news outlets" loosely - have
recognized their recent attempt to restore due process in one of the most
oppressive judicial systems in the country. Indeed, the UNC system is among the
greatest antagonists of fairness and due process in the entire nation. Since
this is a bold assertion, it demands elaboration.
Students in the UNC system are routinely brought up on charges of violating
speech and conduct policies that are so vague that no one - not even the people
who write and enforce the policies - understands exactly what kinds of speech
and behavior they prohibit. When students are brought up on these vague charges,
they are denied lawyers. Crucial evidence from investigations is often redacted
prior to hearings. Verdicts resulting in suspension and expulsion of students
are often decided and printed before the actual "hearings" begin. Often, after
students are deprived of due process and expelled, they are ineligible for
tuition refunds. It is the kind of "justice" one would expect in the Middle East
or in Latin America.
After liberals ignored these problems for years, conservatives got to work last
session sponsoring bills designed to address them. One of the bills, passed by
the Senate in late July, authorized a legislative study of the issue,
specifically to look at a student’s right to counsel in the hearing process. The
other, passed by the House in May, spells out those rights. In the interests of
full disclosure, I was involved in drafting that legislation.
The bill we passed in the House would allow a student to be represented during a
hearing by a licensed attorney or “non-attorney advocate,” except in a case
involving academic dishonesty or in front of a student honor court which is
fully staffed by students. I am proud to say that the bill was sponsored by
Representative John Bell who was a student of mine at UNC-Wilmington in the late
Bell took particular interest in the issue as a result of a case involving his
old fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, at UNC Wilmington. In that case, SAE
officers were called into a hearing and questioned about an alcohol-related
incident. Because the conduct in question was technically criminal, they asked
for attorneys. UNCW officials refused to allow them counsel. When the students
asked a second time, those same officials suggested that they might be violating
the Seahawk Respect Compact by taking a "disrespectful" tone with their
When I heard a tape recording of the entire exchange, I was appalled and decided
to take action with the help of some attorney friends. For the record, UNCW
later threw the fraternity off campus for refusing to cooperate with the
investigation - in other words, for asserting their rights to due process. At
that point, we decided to take the issue to the legislature.
The bill that was filed in April said a student could seek representation from
an attorney “during any formal stage of any disciplinary procedure." The measure
was later amended, at the UNC system’s request, to include the exceptions for
academic dishonesty cases and any incident handled by a student-staffed honor
court. Predictably, The UNC system is still opposed to the measure.
But Bell’s bill passed the House on May 15 by a vote of 112-1, after receiving
just two minutes of floor debate. The vote was lopsided for a simple reason:
everyone but the UNC administration recognized that Islamic terrorists in Gitmo
have more rights to due process than college students in North Carolina. (For
the record, the one representative who didn't support the measure left the
session early. He didn't actually vote against it).
Presently, legal representation or assistance of a student by a lawyer in most
instances “is neither required nor encouraged,” according to written UNC system
policies. The only exception is when a student who faces a university
administrative hearing simultaneously faces off-campus criminal charges.
When a university hears of possible criminal conduct by a student, there is an
incentive to move forward without alerting the off campus authorities. By taking
the matter into their own hands, they may expel a student at a hearing devoid of
due process. Worse, the university may decide to hold court over a matter that
the police have already investigated and decided to drop without so much as a
single arrest. The latter was the case with the incident involving SAE at UNCW.
But now, that is all about to change. Put simply, our little university by the
sea has ticked off the wrong legislature and the wrong representative. And the
good news is that the new right to counsel bill isn't the only student rights
bill to recently pass the house and head toward the senate. There's another one
coming down the pipe that will not be well received by administrators with
That other bill will be the subject of a future column. In the meantime, I hope
that other conservatives will decide to join me in the battle for campus due
process. It sure is fun to be a community disorganizer promoting hope and change
from the inside of an ideological echo chamber.
Update: Since the writing of this column, the North Carolina Student
Administrative Equity Act has passed the Senate. It is on its way to the desk of
the state’s Republican governor. The author wishes to thank all those who made
this victory possible.
Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina
Wilmington and author of
Letters to a Young Progressive: How To Avoid Wasting Your
Life Protesting Things You Don't Understand.