The Daily Record
April 12, 2018
Universities in Maryland must develop sexual assault disciplinary provisions that allow students access to an attorney, set parameters for sexual assault proceedings and restrict the use of mediation in resolving these disputes, under legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly.
The new requirements come as U.S. Secretary Education Betsy DeVos considers rewriting federal campus sexual assault policies developed under President Barack Obama’s administration.
Stakeholders crafted the Maryland bill in an attempt to protect both sexual assault survivors and respondents to sexual assault claims by making on-campus proceedings more fair for all parties.
“It protects a number of things for students on both sides of these hearings,” said Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “It establishes fair process. What we were finding in litigating these cases is the schools sometimes just didn’t provide information, they didn’t provide access. It’s difficult to represent a student when they can’t find out when hearings are.”
Under the legislation, all universities in Maryland must adopt a revised sexual assault policy meeting certain parameters by Aug. 1, 2019. The bill passed both chambers unanimously and requires Gov. Larry Hogan’s approval before it becomes law.
One of the provisions allows students access to an attorney or advocate paid for by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Maryland’s universities took issue with that policy, especially in early versions of the bill when it was more expansive.
Both public and private universities expressed concern that making it easier to access attorneys would turn the disciplinary process into a more adversarial proceeding. They also worried that expanding the role of attorneys could serve to intimidate parties or witnesses.
“Bringing attorneys into the process is not always in the best interests of either party and can significantly delay the process,” Tina Bjarekull, president of the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association, said in a statement. “Based on the requirements of the original legislation, it would be almost impossible to resolve a sexual misconduct proceeding in a timely manner, and several provisions in the legislation were not consistent with best practices in conducting sexual misconduct proceedings.”
The state’s public universities expressed similar concerns.