New England Student Defense
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By Jonathan Cook

The University of Rhode Island does things a little differently than most colleges and universities when it comes to its campus disciplinary process. On most college campuses across the U.S. students charged with a violation of the code of conduct receive a “charging letter” that is, notice of the charges against them accompanied by a request for an initial meeting with a conduct officer.

At this initial meeting, students have the charge or charges against them explained. In the same meeting, students are provided with the polices and procedures governing the disciplinary process, including their right to have an adviser with them in every meeting and stage of the process, most importantly, throughout the investigation (in a nutshell its a quick meeting—here are your charges, here is how the procedure will play out and you have the right to an adviser at all stages of the process, see you next week when the investigator is ready…) Colleges and Universities proceed in this manner for several reasons, most importantly they seek to ensure accused students (“respondents”) are aware of their right to an adviser and have the opportunity to choose an adviser to consult with and be present when questions about the alleged conduct are asked.

Not at the University of Rhode Island. At the University of Rhode Island, a student receives an “informal meeting request” and is summoned to “have a conversation” with a student conduct officer before charges are filed under the guise of “determining whether or not charges should be filed.”

This is a trap. The “informal meeting” is very much formal and very much the beginning of the investigation against the student. In most cases, charges are inevitable given the school’s low, seemingly non-existent standard for moving forward. Parents of students are not allowed in the Office of Community Standards where these meetings are held. Parents are not even permitted to sit in the waiting area. I have represented students across Rhode Island and the United States and never have I seen such a self-inflicted adversarial dynamic for a disciplinary process that the University of Rhode Island claims to be educational, not adversarial.

Once parents are told to essentially go wait in the car, the student is ushered into the room for the “informal meeting” and the conduct officer kindly couches the meeting as a conversation to determine if charges should be filed. This lulls the student into false sense of trust— that is, “if I am with this kind person, and answer all of his/her questions honestly, I won’t be charged with anything.” In reality, the formal investigation has begun. Any statements made by the student being peppered questions, often leading questions, can be used as a basis to form the charges.

The lesson here is do not go to the “informal meeting” at the University of Rhode Island without an experienced advisor. The conversation you are told is informal and not a big deal, is exactly the opposite.

Remember: although it is extremely important to hire an experienced Student Defense Attorney as early in Campus Disciplinary Proceedings as possible (as soon as a notice of charges is received, if not before), it is never too late. Whether a student has already been sanctioned and is in the appeals stage or even after an appeal has been denied, an advisor with extensive experience representing and defending college students can offer invaluable help.

Jonathan Cook at New England Student Defense has represented over 150 students at Colleges and Universities nationwide from Yale University and Georgetown University to the University of Houston and Tulane University.  

These materials have been prepared by SRT for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Jonathan Cook