Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Minefield of Texas A&M Student Discipline

Navigating the labyrinth of administrative rules and procedures in student disciplinary hearings at Texas A&M University can be daunting, even for the well informed. At the beginning of the fall semester I posted here, here, and here about disciplinary procedures, sanctions, and student rights. These posts are must reads for students who find themselves embroiled in the administrative system of student discipline at the University.

A few weeks ago two young A&M students contacted me about a disciplinary hearing which had gone badly for them. A young woman had charged these boys with sexual assault which was fully investigated by the College Station Police Department. The criminal case was presented to the Brazos County District Attorney who refused to prosecute for lack of credible evidence. The boys had talked with the detectives (without legal counsel) and given their stories. Luckily, the sexual assault case was refused. However, this aggrieved woman then took her case to the Student Conflict Resolution Office at Texas A&M. She made a complaint of sexual assault and the boys were given notice of hearing which would address the merits of the woman's complaint.

Since the boys had been "exonerated" by local law enforcement, they wrongly assumed they could walk into the student hearing, tell their side of story again, and everything would be alright. Well, they were dead wrong.

After the hearing the boys were found responsible for violating sections of the University student rules prohibiting sexual assault and suspended for one year of school. They were required to complete several remedial educational courses before reapplying to the University without any guarantee of readmission. Finally, they were saddled with a permanent blot on their educational records which would follow them around forever.

Then they called my office for help.

The Appeals process was a minefield in its own right. Winning any appeal is like a snowball surviving in . . . well, you know where. Anyway, the Appeals panel would give great deference to the original panel's finding of responsibility. So, we worked like dogs to develop a showing the boy's student rights were violated and the evidence was insufficient to support the original finding of responsibility. After 3 1/2 hours of testimony and two hours of deliberation, the Appeals panel remanded the case back for a new hearing on the merits. We were relieved, to say the least. Although we'd hoped for a dismissal, as least we had another rare bite at the apple.

The moral of this story? Students involved in disciplinary proceedings should never assume things will be alright. They must call a qualified lawyer immediately to help them navigate these treacherous waters. Disciplinary sanctions on one's educational record can haunt you as much as a criminal conviction. Unfortunately, the students mired in these matters are very naive. They rarely tell their parents what's going on. A HUGE mistake.

Please don't err by failing to act. Call an experienced College Station student rights attorney immediately if you find yourself in trouble with the University. Tell your parents. Remember, you'll only get one bite at the apple . . . make it a good one.

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