College Cleared in Due Process Challenge Because Student Failed to Participate in Offered Process
In a case that serves as a healthy reminder of the importance of drafting and abiding by clear disciplinary policies, an Illinois Appellate Court recently held that a College did not violate a student’s due process rights because the student refused to participate in the College’s offered disciplinary-appeal process.
Zale v. Moraine Valley Community College involved a college student who made an inappropriate sex-based comment during an improvisational acting exercise. When the student’s professor and the dean of students confronted the student about his comment, the student did not apologize. Instead, he said his statements were protected by the First Amendment. The student was notified of code of conduct violations his conduct was alleged to have violated and was asked to provide dates for a hearing on the matter.
The student refused to provide that information or otherwise participate in the hearing process. A hearing was held without him, and he was found responsible for three violations of the school’s code of conduct. Following its disciplinary process, the college placed a temporary hold on the student’s account, which would be lifted if he wrote an essay about the code of conduct. The student was also given five days to appeal the decision. The student again failed to engage.
The student filed a lawsuit and received an unfavorable trial court decision. On appeal, the student argued that the college deprived him of due process. Recognizing that due process is a “flexible concept” that requires procedural fairness and an opportunity to be heard, the Court held that the college offered an appropriate process which the student simply failed to use.
As the Court noted, the student’s refusal to participate in the offered process makes this case relatively easy. But this was only true because the school implemented the process with fidelity and the process it had on the books was fair and clear. For this reason, the case is an important reminder of the importance of regularly reviewing discipline policies and procedures to verify that they are well drafted and properly used.