RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A packed room of supporters and opponents spoke out last night on a bill to allow college students to be represented by attorneys if they face being suspended or expelled. It was a heated debate on student rights.
"He was blindsided by the accusation," said mother Sylvie Casper.
She trembled as she testified about the struggle her son is facing. She says her son, a student and football player at William and Mary College, was accused of sexual assault.
"It's been devastating, very upsetting. My son is devastated," she said.
Casper says facing possible expulsion, he withdrew from the school.
But later, she said, "He was found not guilty on all charges and we approached the school and asked them if they would change his transcript so that he might be able to apply to another school and they declined."
Delegate Rick Morris, (R) - Carrollton, proposed a bill to let students to have attorneys represent them when facing college suspension or expulsion hearings. It would apply only to public colleges and universities and only for misconduct cases, such as alcohol, theft, or assault cases, not academic dishonesty.
"Not everybody can stand in front of a tribunal and be able to articulate what exactly happened," explained Delegate Morris. "This allows a student to have a voice so that their voice can be heard during this disciplinary and expulsion proceedings."
North Carolina passed a similar law last year. Years earlier, three Duke University Lacrosse players were expelled from school, but were later cleared of rape charges.
But several Virginia university and college officials spoke against the bill, saying their Judiciary Committee or Honor Code trials are run by faculty and/or students, and are aimed at talking directly with the student and mentoring him or her to correct the behavior.
Testified Dr. Ruben Rodriguez, VCU Dean of Students, "These students can go through five different levels, from a one-on-one meeting, to a full hearing, to an appeal.
And some school officials pointed out that they allow attorneys to advise students during the proceedings. Said Dr. Josh Bacon, Director or James Madison University's Judicial Affairs, "The attorney can be there. The attorney can advise the student not to speak. They can give questions to the offending student."
In the end, the House Higher Education subcommittee wanted more time to consider the bill and tabled it for the year. Delegate Morris says he'll reintroduce it next year.