Proposed student conduct revisions include more training for board members

CODY COTTIER, Evergreen reporter

A university task force has announced preliminary recommendations for revising the student conduct process, including increased training for conduct board members in cultural competency and implicit bias, conflict of interest, and sexual assault and gender-based violence.

The task force expects to begin publicly vetting its proposed changes in fall, inviting the WSU community to provide feedback in public forums, task force chair Craig Hemmens said.

The group did not review specific conduct cases, but based its recommendations on the policies of other universities, as well as complaints over WSU’s current process and recommendations from an independent review.

“What we’re trying to do,” Hemmens said, “is to take from all of [our] peer institutions and other universities in the state, and all the information we’ve compiled, and figure out what seems to work best.”

The 15-member task force, which met regularly from December through April, is composed of students, faculty and staff, administrators, alumni and donors. President Kirk Schulz formed the group in December in response to months of criticism over how the Student Conduct Board handled the case of former WSU football player Robert Barber.

The board expelled Barber in September for his involvement in a fight at a party last summer, but the university Appeals Board reduced this to a suspension. In November, a Whitman County judge overturned the suspension, reinstating Barber. A jury found him not guilty of felony assault last week.

Barber’s supporters, including Asian Pacific Islander groups, WSU alumni and Washington Sen. Michael Baumgartner, condemned the student conduct process, saying the conduct board treated him unfairly and denied him due process because of his Samoan ethnicity.

The university enlisted Lyons O’Dowd, an independent law firm, to investigate the conduct board for discrimination or racial bias, but the firm announced in March that it found no evidence of either. However, it did give a list of recommendations, including the additional training the university task force has proposed.

The task force’s preliminary recommendations also include better education for students about their rights, as well as more transparency regarding the “sanctions students may face for a particular violation of community standards.”

Hemmens said many people felt that nobody understands the student conduct process until they have to go through it. Though the information is available, students are unlikely to review it without reason.

“We want to make it easier for students to find that information and to be able to understand that information,” Hemmens said. “We figure more information is better than less.”

Another recommendation is that students will have access to conduct advisers to help them navigate the conduct process. A Washington Court of Appeals decision in December also granted students the right to be represented by legal counsel in full adjudicative hearings.

Under the proposed revisions, conduct officers may also decide when alternative forms of resolution may be appropriate for a dispute.

The task force will conduct public forums at each campus, including an online forum for the Global Campus, beginning next semester. The Board of Regents must then approve the revisions to the conduct process, which are expected to be in place by 2018.