Phi Beta Cons

An Interesting Prosecution

Yesterday, the Chronicle of Higher Ed reported that a local district attorney charged eleven University of California students with misdemeanors for disrupting Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UC-Irvine last February. The university had already suspended the Muslim Student Association for its role in planning and executing the disruptions.

This prosecution — assuming it is supported by the necessary evidence — is a welcome intrusion of reality into the fantasy world of university discipline. For years, universities have busily erected a parallel student-conduct regime and then attempted to dispose of student disciplinary matters as if they were an independent, sovereign entity.Yet state and local laws still reach university students, and prosecutors have a responsibility to enforce those laws.  

For example, it’s common for universities to adjudicate sexual assault and even rape allegations on campus as part of a student disciplinary process. Yet these “prosecutions” are both toothless and clownish. Serious charges demand serious processes, yet universities often endeavor to handle issues internally, through informal and amateurish proceedings, that deprive accused students of basic due process while denying accusers the ability to achieve real justice. After all, what can a university court do but expel a student? And while university adjudications obviously don’t foreclose independent law-enforcement action, the students themselves often see the process as a substitution for real prosecutions — thereby lowering the threshold for filing a complaint and trivializing the ultimate consequences.

If a student believes they’ve been sexually assaulted, they should call the police, not their R.A. And if protestors rush a stage or commit misdemeanor civil disobedience, then they should answer primarily to law enforcement, not a student disciplinary committee. University students are just as much a part of the local community as any “townie,” and they should be subject to the same local justice.

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