Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Student prevails in part in UMass Amherst due process disciplinary case in First Circuit

Last week the First Circuit held in favor of a student accused of a violent assault; however, the court largely upheld as constitutional the due process provided to the student in campus adjudication.

The case adds to federal appellate precedent on the requirements of procedural due process on campus.  The First Circuit's conclusions on these facts are not new water marks.  At the same time, observers predict that the multitude of circuit disagreements in this area will lead inevitably to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In the instant case, a male student was accused of a violent assault on a female student, his romantic partner, while studying abroad in Spain under the purview of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  The First Circuit ruled that the university failed to provide adequate notice and hearing prior to imposing a five-month suspension on the student, after the allegations but well before the adjudication.  Authored by Rhode-Island-born U.S. Circuit Judge William J. Kayatta Jr., the court's holding came from a unanimous three-judge panel that included retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

The court affirmed judgment for the university as to the adequacy of the campus adjudication and consequent expulsion of the accused.  The student had challenged the adjudication for the exclusion of some evidence and the lack of opportunity to confront his accuser.  Constitutional rights in the context of the campus administrative process were not offended by those omissions, the court held, applying the flexible procedural due process test of Mathews v. Eldridge (U.S. 1976). It's the latter point, confrontation, that especially vexes critics and marks arguable disagreement with other circuit courts. 

The case arises against the backdrop of a heated national debate over higher education reform.  To my consternation, Title IX has become an area in which serious cases of sexual harassment and physical assault are lumped together on the nations' campuses with gross abuses of the rights of students and faculty.  Legitimate disciplinary processes have been perverted, and therefore caused to undermine civil rights law, by overzealous bureaucrats seeking to enforce politically correct group-think on students and to undermine academic freedom and faculty governance.  Purely in my personal capacity, I filed my own observations with the Department of Education in March.

The instant case is Haidak v. University of Massachusetts-Amherst, No. 18-1248 (1st Cir. Aug. 6, 2019).

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