Panel Paper: BYOA: An Econometric Analysis of Right to Counsel Legislation in North Carolina

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Soldier Field (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Christopher J. Ryan, Vanderbilt University; American Bar Foundation and Adam Ross Nelson, University of Wisconsin

In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation affording a student enrolled in the UNC System schools, who is accused of violating university disciplinary or conduct rules, “the right to be represented, at the student’s expense, by a licensed attorney or . . . advocate who may fully participate during any disciplinary procedure or other procedure adopted and used by the constituent institution regarding the alleged violation.” (N.C. GEN. STAT .§116-40.11(a) (2015)). The law was the first of its kind, and since its passage, other states have followed suit, adopting similar right-to-counsel laws. Yet, as yet, the effect of this law on student disciplinary processes has not been studied.

This study analyzes the effect of this law may have on the number of disciplinary referrals for alleged conduct violations. Specifically, we use difference-in-differences estimation we compare North Carolina higher education institutions to other similar institutions nationally on the basis of research intensity, institutional size, and urbanicity. Tracking student conduct and disciplinary process data from these institutions and their comparison group institutions pre- and post-adoption of the statutory regulation of student disciplinary processes, we model differences in outcomes between the North Carolina institutions and comparison group institutions. While the legislature may not have intended to cause a change in disciplinary referrals or to modify student behavior, this study seeks to discern whether legislative regulation of student disciplinary processes may have produced unintended consequences.

With the earliest available data, this study provides evidence that statutory regulation of student conduct administration in North Carolina may have unexpectedly altered the number of drug related referrals to campus disciplinary processes. However, the results suggest that the number of liquor related referrals has been unaffected. The suggestion that institutions in North Carolina are seeing significantly fewer students accused of incidents that constitute violations of drug laws would be no cause for concern if there were evidence that students were engaging in less drug related behavior, but ACHA-NCHA provide evidence to support the notion that rates of drug and alcohol use do remain relatively unchanged over time. Generalizing the national trends viewed by the ACHA-NCHA to North Carolina, the number of drug related disciplinary referrals before and after the statute’s effective date should also have remained steady. If future studies confirm or refute these findings, an important pragmatic implication of this study is that state institutions affected by laws similar to N.C.G.S. § 116-40.11 may now be leaving some types of student misconduct unaddressed.

For the sake of avoiding unintended and undesirable results, both legislators and administrators may find these results pertinent when evaluating policy decisions related to legislative regulation of student conduct. These results may also be an important consideration when planning policies that modify if or how attorneys may participate in student conduct and disciplinary processes.