Campaign to Preserve Students’ Right to Remain Silent
In the Fall of 2014, the University and the Board of Trustees proposed to eliminate a student’s a right to remain silent without assumption of guilt during a campus disciplinary hearing as part of other substantive revisions to the University’s Bylaws Article XV.
A working group of the USS concluded that eliminating this right would have negatively impacted the due process protections afforded to students by jeopardizing their rights and future, and would have also eroded the balance and integrity of CUNY’s disciplinary process. By removing the right to remain silent without assumption of guilt, the student disciplinary procedures would have indirectly coerced students to undermine their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
After the University refused to accept the recommendation of the USS ad-hoc committee to preserve the right to remain silent without assumption of guilt, the USS initiated an online petition and worked to share the changes with the student government presidents throughout CUNY. The University Student Senate and twelve CUNY college student governments adopted a resolution calling on the Board to preserve the right to remain silent without assumption of guilt.
At the November 24, 2014 CUNY Board of Trustees Public Hearing, the USS organized a multi-faceted and broad-based coalition of students. Student government officers, students from the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities, students from the LGBT Task Force, and student representatives to the individual campuses’ faculty and staff disciplinary committee provided testimonies. The testimonies offered by the students were compelling and articulated a coherent message of the severe implications removing this right would have on the student body.
Inez Barron, the Chairwoman of the City Council Committee on Higher Education and Hunter College Alumnus, attended the public hearing after being informed by the USS of the proposed bylaw amendments. She presented to the Board her letter in support of preserving the right to remain silent. The letter was also co-signed by nineteen other city council members. Rory Lancman, Queens College Alumnus, and the Chairman of the City Council Committee on Court and Legal Services, wrote another letter concurring with Hon. Barron’s letter of support. The efforts of the USS and the individual student governments exemplified what the USS and students can accomplish as a united student body.
At their following meeting in December, the CUNY Board of Trustees voted on the proposed amendments and for the preservation of students’ right to remain silent without assumption on guilt.