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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSU hires independent law firm to review conduct boards in wake of Robert Barber controversy

Washington State Cougars nose tackle Robert Barber was suspended from the football team by the university’s Student Conduct Board for his role in a fight at a fraternity this past summer. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Washington State’s administration affirmed its support for the university’s student conduct process on Friday, while at the same time hiring independent counsel to formally review conduct board processes, specifically with regard to issues of discrimination and bias.

According to WSU Vice President of Student Affairs Melynda Huskey, attorney Marc Lyons, a partner in the firm Lyons and O’Dowd, will begin the review next week. The review is expected to conclude within 60 days.

The review and affirmation of support come in the wake of a recent controversy surrounding the student conduct board’s expulsion of WSU football player Robert Barber. The student conduct board, which does not have the investigative powers of a criminal court, expelled Barber from school while the Pullman Police Department was investigating his role in a fight at an off-campus party.

An appeals board subsequently reduced Barber’s punishment to a suspension, one that will cause him to miss the rest of the current football season. The Whitman County prosecutor’s office is still reviewing whether or not to press charges against Barber.

According to a Seattle Times report earlier this week, Asian-Pacific Islander advocacy groups on campus met with WSU president Kirk Schulz, expressing concern that Barber, who is from American Samoa, may have been racially profiled and treated unfairly.

Huskey expressed confidence that the school’s student conduct procedures are not discriminatory.

“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,” Huskey said. “Cultural competency is required training for all board members and I can tell you categorically that fairness and equity are core values among all who serve on the boards.”

Critics of WSU’s student conduct process note that advisers such as attorneys are not allowed to speak or cross-examine during hearings. Additionally, when considering guilt the board uses a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which is more likely to result in a guilty verdict than the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal proceedings.