This may sound like a simplistic answer, but one of the first questions when evaluating a private or public college matter is "what do their policies say?" This is because colleges generally are supposed to follow their own written policies. This seems obvious, but despite the fact written policies exist, colleges do not always follow them. This failure may be asserted against a college to the student's advantage to lessen a proposed punishment or reverse an action taken by the college..
State and federal laws are of course always important and can define mandatory items required of colleges. These often will be memorialized in college policy, particularly in the public colleges. But, colleges also have areas which remain unaddressed by state or federal law. Colleges may then create a policy to fill the gap which they may thereafter be obligated to follow.
For example, there may be no state or federal law regarding internal hearing appeal rights, or the right of an attorney to attend a college discipline hearing. These matters thus may be defined in college policy.
I have been involved in multiple matters where colleges had written policies which were not followed. This gave me leverage to resolve a seemingly unresolvable matter. For example, I became involved in a situation where a California university student had already had his discipline hearing prior to my involvement. The outcome had been very negative for my client. However, when I reviewed the matter and found numerous breaches by the college of time limits, hearing rights, and other items outlined in the college policy, we were able to renegotiate the matter and reduce the penalty to an amount which was less than half of the original penalty. This was a great outcome indeed.
Best of luck!
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814