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WSU announces second, broader, review of student discipline

Steven Bischoff, a retention counselor, speaks at the Washington State University board of regents open meeting on Friday, Nov. 3, 2016, at the Compton Union Building on the Pullman campus. In the background is state  Sen. Michael Baumgartner, left, and suspended football player Robert Barber (in white shirt and tie). (Jacob Thorpe / The Spokesman-Review)
Steven Bischoff, a retention counselor, speaks at the Washington State University board of regents open meeting on Friday, Nov. 3, 2016, at the Compton Union Building on the Pullman campus. In the background is state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, left, and suspended football player Robert Barber (in white shirt and tie). (Jacob Thorpe / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State University will undertake a broad review of its student conduct process following widespread criticism of how it handles criminal accusations and expulsions.

The university also will start using “emergency rules” to create a full adjudication process for students facing expulsion or accused of sexual assault, following a court ruling.

Those rules will go into effect in January, said Christine Hoyt, special assistant to WSU President Kirk Schulz.

The 15-member task force is comprised of faculty, staff, students and alumni. It is led by Craig Hemmens, the chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

“Our goal is to revise our conduct process to reflect best practices nationally,” Schulz said in a news release Friday. “We are committed to implementing conduct standards that provide a fair and equitable process for all students while protecting the safety and rights of the entire WSU community.”

The creation of the task force comes after a previously announced review led by attorney Marc Lyons that’s focused on alleged racial and ethnic bias on the part of the student conduct review board. Lyons’ review is expected to be completed in January and will be considered by the task force.

The task force review is a broader look at student discipline, with the goal of creating a revised student conduct process by the start of school in the fall.

Earlier this month the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that WSU, along with 26 other universities, must implement a more comprehensive adjudication process for students facing expulsion. The ruling was in response to the expulsion of a WSU doctoral student charged with third-degree rape and molestation of a 15-year-old girl in 2014.

Although the ruling was in response to a different case, it shares similarities to the controversy surrounding WSU football player Robert Barber, who was expelled in September for his alleged beating of a fellow student.

“I think it has morphed on us, in a way,” university spokesman Rob Strenge said of the task force. “The court ruling has increased the complexity of the work that the president wanted this group to do.”

According to the court ruling, the university suspended the doctoral student following his arrest and denied him access to campus. WSU then expelled the student after an hourlong hearing.

“I think the president had always intended to look at this issue,” said Hoyt, the special assistant to Schulz. “There are a number of things that have occurred that have caused us to move that process up to be immediate.”

Although the university has defended its student conduct process in the past, Strenge said the court ruling changed the nature of the review. Initially, he said, the university was going to look specifically at procedural issues that led to a court ruling allowing Barber to continue playing.

According to a Whitman County judge, WSU’s conduct board destroyed questions Barber submitted to the board, and paraphrased the questions.

Following the court ruling the university will look to create a fully adjudicated process for major cases.

Hemmens, the task-force chair, has taught at WSU since 2013.

In May, he wrote a letter to The Spokesman-Review criticizing head football coach Mike Leach’s address at Donald Trump’s rally in Spokane. He wrote that Leach “made a conscious decision to take advantage of his position to advocate for a particular political ideology.”

Prior to teaching at WSU, Hemmens taught at Missouri State University.

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