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Will Legislators Protect Student Rights In Arkansas?

Updated: Apr 13

It might shock you to learn that there are places in America where you don’t have a right to an attorney. Those places are known as college campuses. This is particularly troubling, because college administrators and educrats haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over the years with their knowledge of the Constitution. Most recently, the University of Oklahoma expelled two students without any due process after a video of them reciting a racist chant appeared online. From the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

The university’s actions also present serious due process concerns. (UO President) Boren stated in a letter to the students: This is to notify you that, as President of the University of Oklahoma acting in my official capacity, I have determined that you should be expelled from this university effective immediately. You will be expelled because of your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others. If you disagree with this decision you have the right to contact the university Equal Opportunity Officer to be heard by close of business Friday, March 13, 2015. As FIRE explains in our freshly updated Guide to Due Process and Campus Justice, students at public universities who are facing expulsion have a right to notice of the charges against them and an opportunity to contest those charges. Boren, however, apparently made his decision to expel the students before affording the students a hearing, spurred by the media storm that followed the SAE video. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff noted in his book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate: “Fraternities consistently produce some of the least sympathetic cases for campus free speech advocates. Incidents like dressing in blackface and Klan robes for a Halloween party, as Tau Kappa Epsilon at the University of Louisville did in 2001, do little to endear fraternities to the public.” So it’s unsurprising that the fraternity has been harshly criticized—and everyone has the right to voice their opinions about SAE, the chant, and the individuals involved in making the video. However, the law is clear: the University of Oklahoma’s expulsion of two students, without due process, simply for their expression of racist sentiment is almost certainly unlawful and should be reversed.

Readers might also remember the Duke lacrosse case from 2006, in which players were wrongly accused of rape by the local district attorney, Mike Nifong, and then pressured to speak to Duke University administrators without an attorney present. One bill that could help students’ rights not to be trampled here in Arkansas is HB 1892, which passed out of the House Education Committee Thursday afternoon. From HB 1892:

A student enrolled at a state-supported institution of higher education who has received a suspension of ten (10) or more days or expulsion may request a disciplinary appeal proceeding and choose to be represented at the student’s expense by a licensed attorney or, if the student prefers, a non-attorney advocate who, in either case, may fully participate during the disciplinary appeal proceeding used by the state-supported institution of higher education…

You can read the entirety of the bill here. It is a step forward in ensuring that students are treated fairly.

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