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State senator, supporters call on regents to overturn Barber’s suspension

Left+to+right%3A+State+Sen.+Michael+Baumgartner+with+WSU+football+player+Robert+Barber+and+his+attorney+Steve+Graham+after+the+Board+of+Regents+held+a+meeting+today+to+hear+public+concerns+over+Barber%27s+recent+suspension.
Left to right: State Sen. Michael Baumgartner with WSU football player Robert Barber and his attorney Steve Graham after the Board of Regents held a meeting today to hear public concerns over Barber's recent suspension.

Left to right: State Sen. Michael Baumgartner with WSU football player Robert Barber and his attorney Steve Graham after the Board of Regents held a meeting today to hear public concerns over Barber's recent suspension.

Left to right: State Sen. Michael Baumgartner with WSU football player Robert Barber and his attorney Steve Graham after the Board of Regents held a meeting today to hear public concerns over Barber's recent suspension.

RICK FLORES AND CODY COTTIER | Evergreen administration reporter and news editor

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In an emotionally charged meeting with WSU President Kirk Schulz and the Board of Regents on Friday, a state senator and supporters of a recently suspended football player warned things would get “much worse” if the board did not take immediate action.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), who emphasized his role as vice chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee that oversees confirmation of regents and state funding for universities, suggested the case might cost the university public prestige, funding or donations.

“If you don’t fix this, I goddamn will,” Baumgartner said before storming out of the meeting.

The regents invited public comment from numerous supporters, including Robert Barber’s fellow football players and their family members. Multiple critics said the conduct process is flawed or broken, citing what they called the conduct board’s unfair treatment of Barber. However, Regent Mike Worthy stood by the process.

“I don’t feel like the system is broken,” he said. “It has worked for years.”

Barber was originally expelled for his role in a fight over the summer in which he allegedly concussed another student. He has not yet been charged by the Whitman County Prosecutor. The Appeals Board reduced the expulsion to a suspension, which Barber again appealed to start in the spring, rather than immediately. The board did not reduce the suspension.

With one credit left to graduate, Barber would have to return to school in mid-2017 to complete his degree. Schulz said arrangements are being made to allow Barber to graduate in December.

Jill Osur, o-founder of CougFam, a site for families of athletes, said she doesn’t believe the conduct board would have taken the same action for a white student.

“If this was my son, this meeting wouldn’t even be happening,” she said. “This is a race and football issue, not a student issue.”

WSU football wide receiver Gabe Marks described football as a chance for people from American Samoa to make better lives for their families.

“Football means everything to these guys that come from bad situations,” he said. “It is their chance to try to get into the NFL so they can finally give their families a good life.”

Barber was present at the news conference and was asked by members of the media for his opinion on the situation. His attorney, Steve Graham, advised him not to speak.

Attorney Mark Lyons began an independent review of the student conduct process this week, which is expected to last for 60 days. Though some have suggested the conduct process be suspended until after the review, Schulz noted this would entail the board neglecting to review Title IX cases.

Baumgartner called on the board to reverse all non-Title IX suspensions this semester, and Worthy said the board would meet to discuss this. They did not take action.

Following the meeting, Baumgartner held a news conference on the Todd Steps, where he was asked what actions he would take against the board if they did not overturn the suspension.

“I am going to publically reserve my comments on that for now,” he said. “It does not have anything to do fiscally but I will be seeking action.”

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State senator, supporters call on regents to overturn Barber’s suspension