Colleges may be fine with throwing the book at students accused of sexual misconduct, but a just-released survey shows that the majority of undergraduates believes the accused should receive broad due process protections.
The survey, published Wednesday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, found that students overwhelmingly support such protections as the presumption of innocence, adequate written notice of allegations, the ability to cross-examine witnesses and the right to have a lawyer present.
Samantha Harris, FIRE’s vice president of policy research, said the findings demonstrate there is 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.”
“Campus proceedings can have permanent, life-altering consequences,” Ms. Harris said in a statement. “It’s time for colleges and universities to start listening to their students and providing safeguards that reflect the seriousness of these processes.”
The survey builds on FIRE’s report “Spotlight on Due Process,” which was released last year and found that less than 30 percent of American universities provide adequate due process protections for students.
Among the survey’s findings:
• 98 percent of students believe it is very important or important for students to have due process protections in college.
• 88 percent of students agree that students accused of sexual misconduct should have the right to provide additional evidence at their trial.
• 86 percent of students support the right to adequate written notice of allegations in sexual misconduct trials.
• 80 percent of students support the presumption of innocence in sexual misconduct trials.
• 72 percent of students believe students accused of sexual misconduct should have the right to have the active participation of a lawyer in their case.
• 72 percent of students agree that unanimity should be required to expel a student accused of sexual misconduct.
The study also found that female students and students who identify as liberal were less likely to support due process protections for students accused of sexual misconduct.
Although male and female students supported due process protections for underage drinking and rule-breaking at similar rates, women were 20 percentage points less likely than men to say that a student accused of sexual misconduct should be able to make copies of evidence.
Women were also 18 percentage points less likely than men to say students accused of sexual misconduct should have the right to look through evidence.
And 81 percent of male students supported the right to cross-examine a witness in a sexual misconduct trial, compared to 64 percent of female students.
Students who identified as liberal also were less likely than students who identified as conservative to support broad due process protections.
Just 41 percent of self-identified “very liberal” students said students accused of sexual misconduct should have the right to make copies of evidence, compared to 59 percent of self-identified “very conservative” students.
Among very liberal students, 58 percent said students accused of sexual misconduct should have the right to cross-examine a witness at a campus disciplinary hearing, compared to 83 percent of very conservative students.
Yet, when a student has been allegedly underage drinking, very liberal students were 13 percentage points more likely than conservative students to support the presumption of innocence.
YouGov surveyed 2,457 undergraduate students between Jan. 29 and Feb. 12. The overall sample has an estimated margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.2 percentage points.
Nearly 1-in-5 respondents, 18 percent, said they had participated in a campus disciplinary hearing.
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