Public Comment

UC Must Respect Due Process Rights

By Carmen Comsti, Sean Graham and Nathan Shaffer
Thursday January 28, 2010 - 08:44:00 AM

A Jan. 13, 2010, Student Conduct panel upheld an “interim suspension” placed on UC Berkeley Junior Angela Miller, a student activist who is accused of violating the Code of Student Conduct for participating in a demonstration on Dec. 11, 2009. The panel’s suspension banned Ms. Miller from campus property, ordered her not to communicate with any faculty or student, and evicted her from off-campus housing.  

The suspension immediately and clearly violates Ms. Miller’s First Amendment rights, due process rights, and California landlord-tenant law. As future lawyers, we think this proceeding threatens fundamental values of freedom and process. The panel, consisting of Christine Wildsoet, professor in the School of Optometry; H. Faye Lawson, student advocate, Office of the Dean, Haas School of Business; and Chen Ling, undergraduate student, issued a confused ruling that focused on irrelevant issues and eviscerated Ms. Miller’s basic rights.  

At a minimum, we urge the campus community to take a legally grounded, straightforward and resolute position: the UC Berkeley, must respect students’ fundamental due process rights in the disciplinary process.  

California law is clear that the rules governing disciplinary hearings at public universities are subject to constitutional due process guarantees. University of California is a state agency that must follow constitutional due process, such as the right to a fair hearing before disciplining students. The law prohibits UC Berkeley from expelling or suspending any student arbitrarily. Irrevocable due process rights include notice of specific charges, notification of the evidence gathered by the university, such as the names of witnesses and a statement about witnesses’ proposed testimony, and a hearing that is consistent with the circumstances of a particular case, including a right to counsel.  

In Ms. Miller’s case, the hearing panel considered irrelevant issues and faulty evidence when making its decision. Ms. Miller was not notified that a witness would testify at the hearing. One witness referred to evidence but never produced it. Any evidence against Ms. Miller was not sufficient to support criminal charges following her arrest on campus in December.  

The evidence the hearing panel relied upon was wholly unrelated to the charge that Ms. Miller posed a danger of “physical abuse, threats of violence, or conduct that threatens the health or safety of any person.” The hearing panel instead focused on Ms. Miller’s grades, her extracurricular activities, and her unwillingness to renounce social justice organizers on campus. Ms. Miller was denied legal representation.  

We believe in the strongest possible terms that UC Berkeley must respect Ms. Miller’s First Amendment rights by immediately lifting its gag order; acknowledge its complete lack of proof that Ms. Miller is a danger to anyone; allow her to attend classes; and issue a public apology. We also call on UC Berkeley to affirm the basic values represented by free speech and fair discipline processes by immediately revising its Code of Student Conduct to reflect prevailing values of fairness and dissent.  

Currently UC Berkeley is more closely aligned with the McCarthy-ite policies that swept college campuses in the 1950s than the values represented by the Free Speech Movement of 1964. The attack on Ms. Miller’s rights is only a thinly veiled assault on student expression and activism.  


Carmen Comsti, Sean Graham and Nathan Shaffer are students at UC Berkeley School of Law.