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Students and their parents need to be warned about the latest serious threat to liberty on America's college campuses. They have probably already heard of campus speech codes, anti-discrimination clauses, and sexual harassment tribunals. The latest threat takes the form of "disorderly conduct" hearings. Many readers are wondering what exactly constitutes disorderly conduct. The more appropriate question might be "what does not?"
Of course, it is natural for students to have conflict in college. Many are away from home for the first time and they are just beginning to experience living on a campus together with people to whom they are not related. The transition can be a tough one. It is often compounded when more than two people are living together. This raises the possibility of coalitions, which can cause conflict to escalate.
Sometimes students turn to the administration to resolve conflicts. Other times, the university simply intervenes on its own initiative. Regardless, university involvement generally intensifies the conflict and virtually guarantees that someone will be deprived of due process. Allow me to provide an example.
In a recent case at a UNC campus, a student was embroiled in a conflict with both of her roommates. The roommates did not like her boyfriend and so they filed a complaint about an alleged violation of the visitation policy. Shortly thereafter, the university police arrived at the campus apartment and were invited in by one of the complaining roommates. Police then ordered the student out of the shower to answer questions about the alleged visitation violation.
Naturally, the student was angry about being summoned in a state of total nudity and forced to hurriedly dress in order to submit to a police interrogation. So she raised her voice at the roommates who initiated the complaint. She was then charged with disorderly conduct. And, naturally, the university set up a hearing to be conducted in accordance with Alice's Rules of Evidence - otherwise known as the student handbook.
The student's "disorderly conduct" hearing was characterized by three flagrant abuses of due process that have become routine in student disciplinary proceedings in the UNC system and, in fact, all around the country. They are described below, roughly in order of their importance: