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Review finds no evidence of racial bias in conduct cases

PULLMAN, Wash. – An independent review of Washington State University’s student conduct process has found no evidence of ethnic or racial discrimination or bias on the part of those involved in hearing conduct cases.

The findings from the review, conducted by the law firm Lyons O’Dowd, were publicly released today and posted on the university’s website at https://president.wsu.edu/student-conduct-process/documents/2017/02/lyons-odowd.pdf.

The review indicates that some of those interviewed during the law firm’s investigation perceived that football players and members of the Greek system were treated unfairly by the Student Conduct Board. The report concludes, however, “there remains no evidence of racial or ethnic bias in the student conduct process.”

WSU President Kirk Schulz commissioned the review following allegations of racial discrimination last fall in connection with the conduct board’s rulings in several cases involving members of the Cougar football team.

“One of our priorities as a university is to treat our students fairly. These findings challenge us to do better. We welcome that opportunity,” said Mary Jo Gonzales, vice president for student affairs. “Our current and future Cougs deserve a community standards process that reflects our university’s core values and best practices nationally.”

The Lyons O’Dowd report makes several recommendations to improve the fairness, as well as the perception of fairness, of WSU’s student conduct process. Among the suggestions to the university:

  • Make an independent attorney available during all adjudicative hearings and deliberations
  • Provide additional training focused on conflicts of interest, bias/impartiality and multicultural issues to conduct board members
  • Ensure conduct board members do not serve on multiple cases involving the same student
  • Send copies of misconduct notices to an advisor identified by the student (e.g., athletic coach, Greek advisor, etc.)
  • Increase the conduct board membership in order to mitigate the influence of a single individual
  • Develop written guidelines that identify the types of misconduct that are likely to result in a suspension or expulsion decision
  • Require that all sanctioning decisions for suspension or expulsion be unanimous after a finding of responsibility has been reached
  • Provide an advisor to advise the student on both the procedural and substantive aspects of the proceedings whenever a student faces potential suspension or expulsion

The university’s Student Conduct Process Task Force, announced by President Schulz in December, is reviewing the Lyons O’Dowd report and will consider its findings and recommendations as part of the task force’s comprehensive review of the conduct process. The 15-member task force will hold public forums to share its recommendations and invite discussion with the university community.

Gonzales, who began her WSU duties February 6, is serving as one of five ex officio members of the conduct task force.

The university implemented temporary emergency rules governing student conduct matters after Division III of the Washington Court of Appeals ruled December 1 that WSU and other public institutions of higher education in the state must use a full adjudication process in cases when a student faces possible expulsion or is accused of sexual assault.

 

News media contact:
Robert Strenge, WSU News, 509-335-3583, rstrenge@wsu.edu

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