July 3, 2018 Print

Both sides of the isle have criticized American universities for their management of student misconduct cases. Proper disciplinary hearings are rare, and those that do exist are often considered “kangaroo courts.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an Atlas Network partner, has released a new survey, “Proceeding Accordingly: What Students Think about Due Process on Campus." This new survey brings to light students’ overwhelming support for due process.

“The general purpose of the survey was to learn more about student attitudes towards due process on campus and to find out how, if at all, those attitudes vary depending on the type of misconduct alleged,” said FIRE's vice president of policy research, Samantha Harris. “The survey showed that, overall, students are very supportive of due process rights in a variety of contexts. While there were some variations depending on the type of misconduct alleged and the political leanings of the survey respondents, the general takeaway from the survey is that students believe their classmates are entitled to a fair process before they are punished by their university.”

A large majority of students — 85 percent — think accused classmates should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, 98 percent of students think it is important or very important that students have campus due process protections in college.

“We hope the survey draws additional attention to the issue of due process on campus,” continued Harris. “Despite the fact that colleges are now adjudicating a wide variety of non-academic misconduct — including things like sexual assault, which may also have criminal implications — the processes that many universities have set up for deciding these cases are simply inadequate. A finding of responsibility by a campus tribunal can have lifelong consequences in terms of future employment, graduate school admission, etc., and the protections afforded to students in campus proceedings should reflect the seriousness of the outcome.”

FIRE’s recent survey builds on their previous report, “Spotlight on Due Process 2017,” which focused on collecting data on university protections. According to the report less than 30 percent of America’s top universities guarantee a presumption of student innocence in misconduct cases. Combined, these surveys portray a student demand for procedural fairness that is absent.

“FIRE is fighting for due process on a number of fronts,” said Harris. “Through this survey and through our annual report on campus due process — the first of which came out in 2017, with a follow-up due this fall — we hope to bring the public's attention to this serious problem, since we believe deeply, to paraphrase Justice Louis Brandeis, that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We also teach attorneys and student advocates how to represent accused students in campus proceedings to ensure that their rights are protected, and we submit amicus briefs in due process cases to help educate the courts about the issue of due process on campus.”

FIRE collaborated with YouGov (California), a nonpartisan research and data analytics firm, for this project. YouGov used an online survey to question two- and four-year undergraduate students at American higher education institutions from January 29, to February 12, 2018. They provided FIRE with 2,225 responses from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Responses were broken into three groups. FIRE treated the first third as a control group and asked them questions about due process protections in a situation in which a student “broke a rule.” The second third were asked the same questions about a student who “drank alcohol.” The final third of the sample were asked the same questions about a student who allegedly engaged in “sexual misconduct.”

“The rights to free speech and due process are both under threat on campuses today,” concluded Harris. “FIRE works with students, faculty, alumni, journalists, and the general public to help ensure that these abuses are brought to light and that students and faculty who want to fight back against them are not alone.”

Read the full report here.