By Ashe Schow
Due process is under attack on college campuses across the country. University administrators, under intense pressure from the Obama administration and activists, include some semblance of due process when a student is accused of a serious crime, but it typically isn’t effective.
Washington State University is a prime example of a school providing some due process, but lacking effective due process. It uses the “preponderance of evidence” standard, which allows certain hearsay evidence and doesn’t allow cross-examination (but students can write down questions to be asked of witnesses and the conduct board chair will decide whether to ask them).
Students get a week to prepare their case and can have an attorney or other adviser present at the hearing. But that person cannot speak on their behalf. Students also can’t challenge the bias of any member of the panel overseeing the case against them.
Enter WSU defensive lineman Robert Barber, who was accused of assaulting another student at a July fight that left the student with a concussion. Police investigated, and no charges have been brought (so far) against Barber.
The school sent Barber through its student conduct process and expelled him. He appealed, and his expulsion was lessened to a suspension. Barber, a fifth-year senior of Samoan descent, was just one credit shy of graduating.
Now, what Barber allegedly did was incredibly wrong, but should expulsion or suspension be the answer rather than, say, anger management or some kind of counseling? Did WSU really need to try to end his academic and possible sports career over one fight instead of trying to rehabilitate Barber?
Further, the fight allegedly involved dozens of students, yet Barber and another player, T.J. Fehoko, also of Samoan descent, were the only two expelled. Again, Barber’s expulsion was reduced to a suspension and Fehoko is appealing his sanction.
This case has gotten the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition’s King County Chapter involved. The group alleges racial profiling as a reason why Barber was punished.
Colleges and universities seem too quick to want to expel accused students rather than assess the facts and understand that they might not be dealing with incorrigible criminals but rather students who can be saved.
Washington state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, seems to understand this. At a press conference about Barber, Baumgartner criticized WSU for the lack of due process afforded to the student athlete before he was expelled.
“This situation is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable to have any students expelled — not just Robert Barber, but any students — with a lack of due process,” Baumgartner said during the event. “WSU’s student conduct board is broken and it has been broken. It lacks the basic tenets of due process, and it’s different from other universities in the state, which are better, and it needs to get fixed and the people of Washington state are going to get it fixed.”
Baumgartner brought up a state bill that banned expulsions and suspensions among students in K-12. Baumgartner said this bill was passed because most of the punishments were affecting minority students. Instead of working with the students, schools were just ending their education and sending them to the streets.
“When you keep someone from getting an education, it’s a great cost to taxpayers,” Baumgartner said. “Higher education should fall on the same lines. It is tremendously costly to all of us to have people like Robert Barber not allowed to graduate from school.”
Baumgartner said that if WSU doesn’t reverse Barber’s suspension, he would hire the student athlete in his Senate office to work on constituent relations and, as a slap in the face to WSU, the overseer of financial requests from universities like WSU
“So when WSU comes to my office and asks me for money, the first person they’re going to talk to is Robert Barber,” Baumgartner said. While Barber may be guilty of a crime, he still deserved effective due process at WSU. It’s good to see a politician standing up for students’ rights.