Much concern has been raised in recent years about due process for college and university students brought to account on various accusations, including sexual assault and harassment, by campus panels.
In many instances, the accused are not allowed lawyers or witnesses, or to question witnesses, as they would be in a court of law.
Now, the University of New York at Buffalo has been reprimanded by the Supreme Court of New York for its handling of an accusation of “harassment” and possession of a weapon against student Tyrone Hill.
The state’s high court said the record was “devoid” of evidence supporting university officials’ claims, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Further, the university had wanted to hold another review on the issue, in its own disciplinary system, but the court refused outright.
“We decline respondent’s invitation to remit this matter for a new hearing in light of its failure to transcribe the disciplinary hearing,” the ruling said. “Annulment and expungement is the prescribed remedy for an administrative determination that is unsupported.”
The court took the university to task for its failure to uphold due-process rights.
“Finally, we are compelled to express our dismay at respondent’s cavalier attitude toward petitioner’s due-process rights in this case, and we remind respondent – and all other colleges and universities, particularly state-affiliated institutions – of their unwavering obligation to conduct student disciplinary proceedings in a manner that comports with fundamental notions of due process for the accused, that renders determinations consistent with the facts, and that respects the presumption of innocence to which all students are entitled.”
FIRE said that according to Hill, he was receiving a ride home from his football teammate, Zachary Lefebvre, when a group of freshman football players taunted Lefebvre, prompting Lefebvre to get out of his truck to approach them.
“During this time, a UB student called the police about a man with Lefebvre’s features holding a gun in a truck. The police report describes the driver exiting the truck and pointing a gun at the group, causing them to run off,” FIRE said.
“The police identified Lefebvre as the suspect, who allegedly denied the charges by claiming Hill had brandished the gun. The police then searched Lefebvre’s pickup truck, found an Airsoft gun, and charged him for possessing a gun on school grounds. They questioned Hill about his involvement, who told them he did not see a gun during the altercation. The police declined to charge Hill,” FIRE said.
However, the evidence didn’t dissuade university administrator from demanding that Hill meet about the incident.
“The administration confronted Hill about Lefebvre’s accusation that Hill had the gun and the police report, where he reiterated that he did not see a gun. Despite the police declining to charge Hill, the school found him responsible for harassing the players by brandishing a gun at them and possessing a weapon on school grounds, resulting in a two-year suspension.”
Among the “due process” failures, Hill’s complaint alleged, were administrators refusing to provide the full names of witnesses, disallowing cross-examination, prohibiting counsel, refusing to transcribe the hearing and preventing his access to evidence.
FIRE said the decision “serves as a reminder that due process is an essential component to any fair system of adjudication.”
“The right to notice, the opportunity to be heard, and the presumption of innocence are designed to elicit truth and achieve correct outcomes in campus tribunals, where a student’s substantial time and financial commitments to their education hangs in the balance. When universities disregard these rights, their determinations lose a great deal of credibility. That’s one reason why rudimentary due-process protections are constitutionally required at all public universities.”