REPORT: Innocent until proven guilty not a sure thing at majority of top schools

A new study found that students’ due process rights are in jeopardy at more than two-thirds of America’s top colleges and universities.

Over 70 percent of the top 53 institutions in the United States, as rated by U.S. News and World Report, do not guarantee that students have the presumption of innocence when it comes to disciplinary hearings, according to a report published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The study, which gathered data throughout 2018, graded each of these top universities in the U.S based on the policies instituted by the school. FIRE awarded each college a grade on a scale from zero to 20 points, where an “A” ranges from 17 to 20 points and an “F” is zero to four points. 

In its findings, FIRE claims that “[o]f the 53 institutions and 104 policies rated for this report, none received an ‘A’ grade.” 

[Related: STUDY: Most top schools deny ‘basic elements’ of due process]

Additionally, less than one percent of the schools obtained a “B” grade overall. The majority of the top institutions received either a “D” or an “F.”

Since the policies varied from school to school, FIRE graded each college in 10 different areas, ranging from a statement declaring the presumption of innocence to students having the right to a hearing with a panel to adjudicate the claim. 

Some of the top universities, including Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Notre Dame, received no higher than a “D” and none of them had a “meaningful presumption of innocence” when it came to accusations of sexual assault.

[Related: NY court slams university for denying student due process]

Additionally, the vast majority of the colleges do not require “timely and adequate written notice” before the holding of a disciplinary hearing and many have one standard for adjudicating sexual assault charges, but another set of standards for non-sexual misconduct charges.

 The report also found that, in order to expel a student, less than six percent of the top schools required either a panel’s unanimous agreement based on fact-driven findings or clear and convincing evidence to support claims made against them. 

“As a number of courts have recognized, the ability to cross-examine witnesses in real time is particularly crucial in campus sexual assault cases, which often lack witnesses and physical evidence and therefore may rely heavily on the relative credibility of the accuser and the accused,” the report stated.

[Related: Judge dismisses claims in UNM due process case]

FIRE also found that a substantive hearing, which is fundamental to due process, was required by less than one-third of the schools.

While the Department of Education proposed new regulations in November to put more constitutional safeguards in place, many colleges have yet to implement any type of new policy. 

Campus Reform reached out to multiple schools for comment, but none responded in time for press.

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