PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University’s vice president of student affairs on Friday reaffirmed the university’s support of the university’s student conduct process in the wake of questions raised by the Seattle Times and allegations made by APIC and other organizations.
In a phone call to the Associated Press, Melynda Huskey, interim vice president for student affairs, said WSU’s student conduct procedures are fair, reasonable, clear, consistent and educational.
“WSU’s standards of conduct for students embody high standards and expectations for all students,” Huskey said. “The same process applies to all WSU students, regardless of their race, status or affiliation. And that, of course, includes students who are varsity athletes.
“Numerous court cases have found our process meets all legal due process requirements,” she said. “The university has no reason to implement or support an unfair process. There is no benefit to anyone in over-penalizing students. The process is designed to ensure student safety, while also being fair, reasonable and consistent.”
While WSU is confident the university’s student conduct procedures are non-discriminatory, Huskey said WSU has retained Marc Lyons, a principal in the law firm Lyons and O’Dowd to conduct a formal review of conduct board processes and develop recommendations and findings with regard to the issues of discrimination and bias. That review will begin next week and is expected to conclude within 60 days, she said.
“Many people don’t realize that ours is a very diverse community and both our student conduct board and our appeals board reflect that diversity. Cultural competency is required training for all board members and I can tell you categorically that fairness and equity are core values among all those who serve on the boards.”
Huskey also said the university’s “hands are tied” by federal student privacy laws when it comes to responding to allegations related to specific proceedings of its Student Conduct Board.
“For the protection of student privacy under federal law, university officials may not comment publicly on the specifics of any student case – even to the point that we cannot identify students by name or confirm whether they were involved in the process,” she said. “This holds true, even when salient facts are omitted in public statements by other parties. Only the university has such an obligation.”
Any time WSU Office of Student Conduct receives an allegation of serious student misconduct within its jurisdiction, it is obligated to investigate those allegations, Huskey said.
“Allegations of student misconduct come from a variety of sources, but primarily from police, students, faculty and staff. The vast majority involve relatively minor sanctions, such as attending alcohol or drug training programs,” said Huskey. “Fewer than one percent of the allegations are referred to the conduct board, which is the only body with authority to expel or suspend students for misconduct.
“These are not criminal proceedings and they are conducted independently of any criminal proceedings that may be related to the same issue,” she said. “Unlike the criminal process, the student process stresses educational outcomes and community protection. For that reason, allegations involving violence of any kind are taken very seriously.”
Despite the fact that conduct hearings are not criminal proceedings, Huskey said students have a right to an advisor of their choosing, including an attorney who may assist the student in preparing for the hearing, including drafting written statements and questions for witnesses, and be present in during the hearing, during which they may request breaks to amend written materials or otherwise advise the student. Students may call witnesses on their behalf and ask questions of witnesses through the conduct board chair. The accused student, however, is expected to speak for himself/herself.
All students have 21 days to prepare an appeal, during which sanctions are not imposed on the student, Huskey said. An independent appeals board can affirm, reverse, or modify the Student Conduct’s Board decision. Any review by the WSU president is discretionary, and only applicable in the case of an appeals-board-affirmed expulsion or loss of organizational recognition.
“We believe all students have the right to learn in a safe environment, and see it as our obligation to provide such an environment to the best of our ability” said Huskey. “Our conduct board isn’t a criminal court and it doesn’t impose criminal sentences. Our interest is in preserving the peace and safety of our campuses. When someone acts in a manner that presents a threat to that safety, we may require that they leave, temporarily or even permanently. That serves the interests of all our students and our community.”
News media contact:
Robert Strenge, WSU News, 509-335-3583, firstname.lastname@example.org