Miltenberg: “Do Student Suspensions Violate Rights or Protect Others?,” Inside Higher Ed


Civil liberties advocates are concerned students are being unfairly suspended or placed on probation for violations of college health and safety rules related to the pandemic. But student affairs administrators say their actions are within their power to protect their campuses. About a dozen students temporarily suspended or put on probation for breaking their college’s COVID-19-related public safety rules have sought legal support from civil liberties advocates. The students say they were punished for behavior on or off campus without being given an opportunity to explain their actions or defend themselves. Andrew Miltenberg, a prominent lawyer who represents students in claims of due process violations, said he has been “informally counseling” six first-year students at Syracuse University, Notre Dame University, Elon University and other colleges who said they violated public health directives — at times accidentally — and were put on probation without a formal hearing or the chance to state their case to university officials. The Foundation for the Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a campus civil liberties watchdog, received six similar complaints during the weekend of Aug. 29 to 30 and has since been “inundated” with reports from students claiming they’re unfairly facing suspension, said Will Creeley, director of legal and public advocacy. But despite how unfair students perceive swift disciplinary sanctions to be, university student conduct officials must weigh removing individual students that pose potential public health or safety risks with the need to keep others on campus safe. Martha Compton, president of the Association of Student Conduct Administrators, or ASCA, said colleges’ conduct codes typically allow officials to initiate interim disciplinary measures, such as a temporary suspension, to keep students away from campus if they pose such risks. “There’s a balance there between the individual rights of the student to have a fair process but also the health and safety of the campus,” Compton said.

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