RD452 - SB 1389 Report: Letter of Good Standing

  • Published: 2017
  • Author: State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
  • Enabling Authority: Rule 20 (o) of the Rules of the Senate of Virginia

Executive Summary:
In 2015, Virginia enacted legislation requiring registrars of public and private institutions of higher education to include notations on student transcripts in situations in which a student was permanently dismissed or suspended as a result of misconduct involving sexual violence, or withdrew from the institution while under investigation for such misconduct. (Va. Code § 23.1-900; full text included in the appendix). By providing a mechanism to alert institutions about problems during the transfer process, the law seeks to prevent bad actors from avoiding the consequences of their actions at one institution and potentially reoffending at a new location.

In the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session, Senator Monty Mason introduced SB1389, which would have amended Code § 23.1-900 to add a duty of each registrar to require that the dean of students or similar individual of any institution, within or outside the Commonwealth, to submit a letter of good standing of any student who seeks admission. The bill was passed by indefinitely by the Senate Committee on Education and Health; however, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) was requested by the Senate clerk to study the subject matter of the bill and to submit a report by November 1, 2017.

As introduced, the bill raised the following concerns for SCHEV and the higher education community:

1. Virginia cannot grant its institutions of higher education authority over out-of-state institutions to mandate compliance with any particular process.

2. In the absence of authority over an out-of-state transferring institution, a requirement to obtain a letter would essentially devolve to the applicant. In instances in which the applicant’s previous institution refused to provide a letter or did not provide one in a timely manner, the Virginia institution would be prohibited from accepting the student. This would be an unwelcome constraint on institutional decision-making regarding admissions and have a chilling effect on transfer applications and have a detrimental effect on enrollment goals.

3. Virginia Code § 23.1-900 has drawn criticism due to the permanent stigma of the notation that implicates a protected property interest and, therefore, increases the risk of lawsuits claiming denial of due process to students who face adverse disciplinary action related to allegations of sexual violence. Adding another requirement, such as a letter of good standing, may serve only to increase such risk.