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Best Practices: What is an Attorney's Role in the Student Conduct Process?

As professionals working in higher education, we are faced with increasingly complex and difficult student conduct issues. One such complexity is understanding how to navigate when attorneys are (or should be) involved in student conduct cases.
As professionals working in higher education, we are faced with increasingly complex and difficult student conduct issues. One such complexity is understanding how to navigate when attorneys are (or should be) involved in student conduct cases.
 
That is why we released a new resource for student conduct and higher educational professionals titled, “An Attorney's Role in the Student Conduct Process.” The guide, written by Tamara King, JD, and Benjamin White, JD, provides insights and recommendations for how attorneys and individuals in student conduct roles can navigate various aspects of the campus conduct process.
 
When Should Attorneys Get Involved?
 
Serious behavioral problems, such as sexual assault, have become more prominent across college campuses nationwide. While education and prevention efforts continue to be a priority, student conduct professionals have a lot of work to do to improve the adjudication process while still maintaining the flexibility to address each case individually.
 
As the report notes, there are times when the participation of an attorney in campus adjudication is appropriate and necessary, including: 
  • When students face criminal charges
  • When students are at risk for suspension and/or dismissal
It's important to clearly define an attorney's role in your institution's student conduct code. Given the number of student conduct cases that arise each year, situations where attorney participation is necessary are small in number and scope — meaning involvement of attorneys in the process should occur on a limited basis.
 
As student conduct professionals, we understand that the road to prevention is linked to education, counseling and creating a culture of reporting on campus. Students need various options for support in order to feel they can come forward and report an incident. For example, students who experience sexual misconduct often want the option to report an incident to trusted advisors without facing a legal requirement to get attorneys involved or press charges.
 
Other Report Highlights
  • Student Conduct Professionals with JDs: Some student conduct professionals have a law school education or professional legal background; and more and more institutions are looking to hire JDs for this role. Those without JD credentials should look for additional training from ASCA's Gehring Academy or equivalent requisite training.
  • Students' Rights: Students are expected to take an active role in responding to allegations of misconduct. Therefore, it's in the student's best interest to engage in the process. The Office of Student Conduct will communicate directly with the student. In some cases, attorneys are not allowed to participate directly in any part of the conduct process, however, a student may at any time seek assistance from legal counsel.
  • Standard of Proof: The burden of proof will be such that the respondent will be presumed not responsible for the violation(s). Responsibility of the respondent must be established to the satisfaction of the student conduct review board or administrator by a preponderance of the evidence. A student will be found responsible of the alleged violation(s) if it is more than likely he/she violated the Student Code of Conduct or university policies.
  • Financial Ability/Inability: It's fundamentally unfair to have a student conduct process wherein the outcomes are determined based upon whether the student has the resources to hire an attorney. This is not just an affordability issue for the student but for the institution as well.
Image courtesy of Rafa Bordes at Pixabay
 

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