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WSU considers fining student violators of conduct code

The Washington State University Board of Regents will consider assessing fines on students who violate the school’s code of conduct.

Bernadette Buchanan, director of the Office of Student Standards and Accountability, anticipated assessing the fines through a pilot project beginning this year, but John Fraire, vice president of student affairs and enrollment at WSU, said the idea required further consideration as well as formal approval, which could come from the board today.

“We have to get it approved by the Board of Regents because it requires a changing of the state code,” Fraire said Thursday. “Then we won’t do it until it’s properly vetted with student groups.”

The proposed change to WAC 504-26-405(1)(q) reads, “Fines. Previously established and published fines may be imposed. Fines are established each year prior to the beginning of the academic year and are approved by the vice president for student affairs.” Fraire said the Office of Procedures, Records and Forms held a public hearing Dec. 8, 2011, to solicit public comments regarding the amendments. No comments were received, oral or written, from the public regarding this proposal.

If the board passes the revision, Fraire plans to meet with student groups and department leaders at WSU to garner their feedback before implementing the fines.

“Just because they pass it doesn’t mean we’re going to do it,” Fraire said. “It just gives us the right to do it. But I want to hear all sides first.”

Representatives from WSU Police and the Associated Students of Washington State University were not available for comment Thursday.

Buchanan in October said the idea to institute fines came from a perceived disparity in her office: Only students who violated a rule involving drugs or alcohol lost money as part of their punishment. They were required to pay $75 for counseling and $20 for educational materials as part of their rehabilitation, while other rule-breakers did not incur any financial penalties. Buchanan said the system did not seem equitable.

“Should someone stealing lap tops get less of a sanction than someone who had a beer cup in their hand?” she said. “Let’s be fair.”

Through the pilot project, she intended to charge $100 to any student found in violation of the WSU code of conduct, with an additional $150 fine assessed to those who fail to pay by the established due date. She anticipated $10,000-$13,000 in annual revenue as a result, with the money going toward operations at OSSA.

To prepare for the potential changes, Buchanan said she initiated a competition among residence hall advisors to ensure they are familiar with the code of conduct, and she has answered questions from many students about the university’s rules.

Buchanan said people aren’t upset about the possible fines; mostly, they just want to know how to avoid the charges. So far, many questions have had to do with jurisdictional issues, she said, since students can be punished for violating the code of conduct even if they are off campus.

“If you’re a student here, no matter where you are on the planet you have to abide by our code of conduct,” Buchanan said Thursday.

ASWSU President Riley Myklebust in October said his group would do its best to inform students about the potential new system so they can have a voice in the matter. If a financial consequence is included in punishments, Myklebust said students most likely will think twice before violating university rules.

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