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College hearings lack procedural safeguards

College students do not lose their constitutional and legal rights when they enter their freshman year and step forth on campus. However, a students' rights group gave a failing grade to colleges for the protections it affords students in college campus disciplinary hearings in a report it issued last year.

Due process and other rights, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, have not kept pace with the increased enforcement duties undertaken by colleges in areas such as sexual assault, illegal drugs and underage drinking. It reviewed 53 universities across the country along with several Massachusetts colleges.

Almost three-fourths of colleges do not grant accused students the presumption of innocence until they are proven guilty. Only 47.2 percent of colleges require that the adjudicator, who acts as a judge or jury, be impartial.

Most colleges had one standard for deciding sexual assault charges and another standard for other offenses. Cornell, the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin-Madison were the only colleges in the survey permit the active participation of legal counsel in non-academic cases.

In sexual assault cases, only 37 colleges in the study allow meaningful cross-examine of witnesses in some cases. Only two grant this right in all cases.

A large fraction of universities provided some other protections. These included adequate written notice of charges, reasonable time to prepare a defense, a ban on conflicts of interest by the adjudicator, and access to and the right to present evidence.

In addition to insufficient procedural safeguards, many institutions had inconsistent, ambiguous and inaccessible disciplinary policies. Policies posted on websites had these problems.

Massachusetts colleges did not fare well in the study. Boston College had an overall grade of D and an F in sexual misconduct cases. Boston University posted an F in most cases and a D in sexual misconduct allegations. Harvard had an F in both categories. Tufts and MIT posted a D in both areas.

An attorney can help fight allegations and assure that due process is afforded to student defendants. An experienced attorney can also assure that all legal avenues are used to defend a student.

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