University of Wyoming Suspends Students for Party, Students Cry Foul
By Chris Kramer
As pioneering hip-hop trio the Beastie Boys once sang, partying isn't just a popular pastime; it's a right that we should fight to keep.
And four former University of Wyoming students are taking the lyrics to this popular song at face value.
Four members of the Sigma Nu fraternity at the university who were involved in an incident in September involving drinking are suing UW in federal court, claiming that their constitutional rights have been violated.
The four students were suspended in October after they allegedly engaged in dangerous intoxication and inappropriate behavior at the fraternity.
University officials completely suspended Sigma Nu activities after the incident, claiming that the students' actions "endangered the health and well-being of UW students."
In addition to claiming that the allegations made against the fraternity and its students are unfounded, lawyers representing the four students filed lawsuits at the Cheyenne U.S. District Court against UW, alleging that the university violated the students' rights to free speech, due process and other rights granted by the U.S. Constitution as well as state law.
Regarding the alleged "dangerous" behavior, the lawsuits claim that UW officials trumped up the charges against the fraternity to save face from recent criticisms involving incidents of binge drinking and an off-campus murder-suicide involving UW students that took place in the summer of 2006.
Additionally, the lawsuits claim that the university officials violated the constitutional rights of the fraternity students by refusing to inform them about the charges, publicly announcing guilt before charges were officially filed or hearings conducted, refusing the students access to a lawyer, refusing the students public hearings, refusing witnesses to testify about the incidents in question, and taking disciplinary actions before a formal hearing was conducted.
Also deeming that the punishments levied were grossly excessive for the offenses claimed, the lawsuits claim that the unfair punishment could have "severe and irreparable negative consequences" on their ability to seek admissions to other universities, the military or to enter a professional work field.
The damages requested in the lawsuits include reinstatement of the students, removal of any negative documentation from their student files, payment of their attorney fees and payment of "compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages."
With universities like the University of Oregon and Harvard in the news for their involvement in the copyright infringement lawsuits filed by the RIAA against students who participate in illegal downloading of music, the question of the accountability that universities bear for their internal policies has become more crucial than ever.
The charges made against University of Wyoming could, therefore, prove to be influential in future cases in which a private organization oversteps its bounds by stripping students of rights they have as citizens.
After all, on campus, the school has every right to enforce its own policies; outside that, however, the right to party is unalienable.