Taranto on a Kangaroo Court at Auburn University

If you missed this great column by James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal, here’s your chance to read it.

I had my own run-in with university kangaroo justice, fortunately much less serious than what Taranto describes. Just before I was going to graduate college, a friend with whom I had a falling out chose to escalate a minor personal dispute (involving, trust me, nothing remotely approaching illegal conduct) into a complaint with the university judicial process. I was told that no lawyer could be present, that there were no precedents that could be relied upon, and that my fate rested in the hands of the random students who sat on the judicial committee.

I pointed out to the associate dean in charge that the rules allowed him to dismiss the charges on the equivalent of summary judgment. He acknowledged that he could. I added that the charges were absurd, that even the strictest, most literal interpretation of the rules wouldn’t cover the alleged conduct. He agreed. I continued that nevertheless, the standards of behavior in the school manual were so broad and vague, and the discretion given to the student board so broad, and the lack of any governing rules of interpretation so glaring, that they could still “convict” me, really for any reason or no reason–they wouldn’t even have to issue an opinion. He nodded. I therefore asked him to exercise his authority to dismiss the charges. He refused, stating that he’d rather let the process play itself out, at which point he might or might not choose to intervene. Oh, and meanwhile I wouldn’t be allowed to graduate until the “case” was resolved.

Well, I didn’t want to deal with this nonsense, but I was at a loss as to how to proceed. Finally, an idea struck me. I marched over to the associate dean’s office, and filed a counter-claim against my accuser, on very similar grounds. The associate dean, said, “you can’t do that,” and I responded, “oh yes, according to the handbook I definitely can–as you told me, the handbook allows any student who feels he’s been wronged within the terms of the handbook to file a complaint, and I feel I’ve been wronged.” “But,” he added, “your charges are absurd.” “No more absurd,” I responded, “than the charges leveled against me, that you in fact agreed were absurd. I have notes of our conversation, and if don’t allow my complaint ‘to play itself out,’ but let his continue, the university will be hearing from my attorney, and you will be named personally as a defendant.” The associate dean very soon “requested” that the original charges be dropped, on pains of him dismissing them outright.

And that was my experience with my university’s “justice” system.