Earlier this week, Kentucky State Rep. Wesley Morgan introduced two very important bills before his state’s legislature. The first bill seeks to protect the due process rights of college students who are in campus disciplinary proceedings. The second bill seeks to preserve free speech rights for all college students on their campuses.
At a time when these two civil liberties are slowly eroding on college campuses, the passage of these two bills would go a long way toward defending student rights within at least one of America’s states.
Kentucky House Bill 126
Kentucky HB 126, also known as the Student and Administration Equality Act, would protect college students’ due process rights in several different ways. First, the bill grants “a right to be represented at one’s own expense by a licensed attorney, or … a non-attorney advocate” to all students facing serious sanctions. Additionally, the supporting attorney/advocate will possess the right to “fully participate” throughout the disciplinary proceedings, which is currently not the case at many institutions due to federal regulations.
Just as important, the bill also requires that schools provide all available information to each party involved in a disciplinary case. “The public postsecondary education institution shall ensure that all parties to a disciplinary hearing, including any accused student, accused student organization, or accusing student, have access to all material evidence known to the institution, both inculpatory and exculpatory, no later than one (1) week prior to the start of any disciplinary hearing.”
Both bills contain critical protections for student rights. Granting students the right to legal counsel or other advocates and providing students with all the evidence related to their cases are common-sense changes that enable student parties to better present their arguments and defend themselves. Furthermore, similar pieces of legislation were passed “with overwhelming bipartisan support” in North Carolina and North Dakota.
Kentucky House Bill 127
Kentucky HB 127, also known as the Campus Free Expression Act, states clearly that colleges “shall not restrict the right to free expression.” In line with the Constitution, colleges can only place “reasonable” restrictions on the “time, place, and manner” of student expression. Even still, these restrictions must be “narrowly tailored … based on published, content-neutral, and viewpoint-neutral criteria… [and must] provide for ample alternative means of expression.”
The bill’s importance becomes clear when one looks at the policies of Kentucky’s two top public universities. The University of Kentucky prohibits students from making “offensive jokes,” “name calling,” or mocking and ridiculing statements. The University of Louisville can punish students for “ridiculing a person’s religious beliefs” and for “sending unwelcome mail, voice mail, or e-mail containing derogatory jokes or comments.”
Whether these bills will be passed will only be answered by time. Whether these bills should be passed, however, is indisputable.