University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library (Photo: U of Utah)

University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library (Photo: U of Utah)

Could a new movement be developing that would restore common constitutional protections to college and university campuses across America?

A new survey suggests just that.

The poll of students by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found 85 percent of students think students accused of misconduct should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

FIRE noted that only 30 percent of top schools “guarantee this vital protection.”

Further, some 80 percent of the students surveyed think students accused of breaking the law should be allowed to have a lawyer help defend them in campus disciplinary proceedings.

But only three top colleges allow it, and while colleges claim “due process can be minimal because hearings are merely ‘educational,'” at least 84 percent of students say the processes are to provide justice and protection to students.

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“There’s a vast gulf between the robust protections that students want and to which they are morally entitled, and the meager protections that most colleges actually provide,” said Samantha Harris, the vice president of policy research for FIRE.

“Campus proceedings can have permanent, life-altering consequences. It’s time for colleges and universities to start listening to their students and providing safeguards that reflect the seriousness of these processes,” she said.

The survey measured student support for due process protections in three scenarios: when a student allegedly breaks a rule, drinks alcohol under the age of 21, and engages in sexual misconduct,” the group said.

The survey found that as of late 2017, nearly three-quarters of America’s top 53 universities “do not presume accused students to be innocent until proven guilty.”

And no school assessed “ensures that its students are protected by all 10 of the fundamental elements of due process.”

FIRE’s results come from a contracted survey of 2,225 undergraduate students who currently are attending two- or four-year educational institutions. The interviews were conducted between Jan. 29 and Feb. 12.

“American students think their classmates deserve many of the procedural protections outlined by FIRE in the 2017 report,” the summary explained.

“In fact, in all but one situation described in the survey, a majority of student respondents supported the 10 fundamental elements of due process highlighted in the 2017 report. … Not only do the vast majority of students think their classmates should have due process rights, but they also feel that these rights are important: 98 percent of students think that it is very important or important that students have due process protections in college.

FIRE said it’s encouraged that “student support for due process protections is high overall, and we are excited to present the results from this groundbreaking survey of college students’ attitudes toward due process on campus.”

“We hope this report will be used by students, faculty members, and college and university administrators to advocate for meaningful institutional change to campus disciplinary policies that are legally questionable and are not supported by student populations,” the report said.

Other findings:

  • 98 percent of students think it is very important or important that students have due process protections in campus judicial proceedings.
  • Female students are 8 percentage points less likely to think a student should be considered innocent by the school’s administration if the student has allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct than if the student has allegedly broken an unspecified rule.
  • More than 80 percent of students responded that an adviser should be allowed to help defend students during campus disciplinary proceedings.
  • Three-quarters of students support cross-examination in campus disciplinary proceedings (Only one-third of colleges allow that)
  • When a student has allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct, very liberal students are 19 percentage points less likely than their very conservative peers to think that those students should be considered innocent until proven guilty by the school’s administration.

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