Matt Boermeester kicked the game-winning field goal for USC in the 2016-17 Rose Bowl against Penn State. Less than a month later, he was kicked off the football team and suspended from the university after an alleged altercation between him and his girlfriend was reported. According to the report, two USC students witnessed Boermeester place his hands around Zoe Katz’s neck before he shoved her head into a wall in an alley. Katz never made a report to USC nor was Boermeester charged. Although Katz initially confirmed the altercation and even told USC’s Title IX office that she “often had bruises on her from Boermeester because he would hit her when he was angry,” she recanted her story in July. Calling the investigation “horrible and unjust,” she has been adamant in two declarations filed in court that she was never “abused, assaulted or otherwise mistreated by Matt.”
USC conducted a two-month long investigation, ultimately expelling Boermeester. However, there weren’t audio recordings or transcripts of witness interviews, and USC would not turn over security camera footage that allegedly supports Boermeester’s and Katz’s repeated assertion that nothing troublesome occurred. In August, Boermeester petitioned the court to overturn the expulsion, asking for a temporary stay until the matter was decided. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue stayed the expulsion earlier this month but barred Boermeester from enrolling in his final two classes necessary to graduate or coming within 100 yards of campus. A trial is scheduled for January 3, 2018.
Boermeester’s attorney argued that “he has a fundamental right to an education, which has been abridged by the university.” The First Circuit has held that a student’s interest in “pursuing an education is included within the fourteenth amendment’s protection of liberty and property.“ However, USC is a private institution. Private universities only grant due process rights through contract (i.e. student handbook), leaving any due process rights at the will of the university. Students at public universities, on the other hand, have a right to procedural due process before being deprived of a constitutionally protected interest in continued education. But, even within public universities, not all elements of due process in the legal system are also afforded in academia. The only due process requirements throughout all public universities are notice and some kind of hearing, and these are only in instances where students face disciplinary action, such as suspension. However, some courts are finding more due process rights, such as assistance of counsel, right to discovery, and the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, are owed to public university students.
Most courts use a rational basis level of scrutiny, meaning practically any reason the university can provide to deny students other elements of due process will suffice. USC expressed concern that the stay would prevent future victims of sexual assault or harassment from coming forward. The judge wrote in her order that she “didn’t believe keeping Boermeester away from USC for the time being would cause him irreparable harm,” compared to the possibility of deterring victims from speaking out.
USC is a private university, and as such, Matt Boermeester’s chances at receiving due process rights are a long shot.