Lake lecture highlights importance of student advocacy

August 31, 2015

Peter Lake, the Charles A. Dana chair and director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law

Peter Lake, the Charles A. Dana chair and director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law

A recent visiting professor touched on a topic of growing importance recently during a lecture and panel at the University of North Dakota.

Peter Lake, the Charles A. Dana chair and director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law, recently provided an in-depth explanation for the change in law surrounding student advocacy to a packed audience at North Dakota’s sole law school.

Well-known for his presentations regarding the intersection of higher education law and policy, Lake provided insight to a crowd that had gathered to specifically hear about how North Dakota had become just one of a few states where law mandated that students be extended rights previously only afforded in criminal or civil cases.

He said the new law gives college and university students access to legal rights.

“The new statute that allows attorneys to participate makes this into a court-type system,” Lake said. “It doesn’t apply to every area, but definitely makes it move to a place more like a court and gives rights similar to those involved in a criminal or civil proceeding.”

There were still substantial differences between the processes employed in a “university court” versus those used in criminal or civil proceedings, Lake noted, stating that in civil systems it’s more about reparations and damages while in criminal systems it was about fines and punishments. In university systems like those put in place with the new statute, it was about something else.

“For university processes the discipline system is designed around higher education systems and/or righting wrongs like gender-based discrimination,” Lake said. “So we’re aiming to vindicate higher education interests and not award damage or punish behavior.”

In doing so, North Dakota joins states like North Carolina and Arkansas as some of the few with these university processes in place. The newfound advocacy could affect student conduct – both in a positive or possibly a negative way.

“They can help or hurt,” Lake said. “Really great advocacy can help students understand options, outcomes and relationships. I have seen advocates come in and create more drama than may have existed otherwise, however. They need to be sensitive to the context of the case. This is brand new territory.”

Due to the relative recentness of the topic nationwide, Lake said North Dakota could be a proving ground for these types of processes. After a similar debate had occurred at the federal level, Lake said lengthy dialogue resulted in a “potted plant” approach that gave universities the option of adopting similar processes, but didn’t mandate it.

“This is new within the country and it could become something talked about throughout the nation,” he added. “People are going to be watching from all over the country to see what’s going to happen. I think it also represents a nationally-growing focus on N.D. leadership in this field.”

Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Cara Halgren said the decision to invite Lake to give a lecture and participate in a panel discussion came easy to those who had seen him before.

“Several of us have had the good fortune of seeing Mr. Lake present at national higher education conferences,” Halgren said. “As we prepare to begin the new school year, many of us are educating new colleagues on our campuses about issues critical to higher education. Given Mr. Lake’s expertise in Title IX and many other areas, we thought inviting him to campus was a great opportunity for those of us at UND and our colleagues across the NDUS.”

The invitation proved successful, as was the participation from students and legal minds from throughout the state.

“We had very strong attendance and it was wonderful that so many of our colleagues from across the NDUS were able to join us for the event,” Halgren said. “My understanding is that we had representatives from nine NDUS institutions join us for the day. Moreover, our audience was diverse in that we had individuals who are just beginning their careers as well as seasoned professionals. This mix allowed for thoughtful conversation about how to best serve students.”

According to Halgren, some highlights from throughout the session included a collaboration with colleagues from the UND School of Law on the topic of student advocacy.

“Mr. Lake’s comments were very helpful and applicable to all of us working with students. Immediately following this, we held a panel presentation that prompted some thoughtful conversation about how student affairs professionals and attorneys could work together to best serve students under SB 2150,” she said, referring to the legislative act that created a new chapter in North Dakota Century Code. The section relates directly to disciplinary proceedings for students and student organizations at public colleges and universities in the state.

“This was a great opportunity for dialogue and we are excited to continue these conversations in the future,” Halgren added. “We are grateful for the collaboration and assistance from our colleagues at the UND School of Law and across the NDUS that made this event a success.”