Twenty-seven of Washington’s public colleges and universities, including Washington State University, are failing to provide students faced with expulsion an adequate chance to defend themselves, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.
Washington State University and 26 other Washington public colleges and universities must begin using a more comprehensive adjudication process in cases where a student faces expulsion from school for violating rules of conduct, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.
Only the University of Washington and 11 other Washington schools are giving students faced with expulsion a chance to fully defend themselves, the court found in its ruling, issued Thursday.
WSU’s expulsion policies have been the focus of intense scrutiny this fall after WSU football defensive tackle Robert Barber was expelled in September for allegedly assaulting another student over the summer. Critics called the student-conduct discipline process unfair.
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The court ruled Thursday on a different case, but it shares similarities to Barber’s situation, said Pullman attorney Steve Martonick, who represented the graduate student in the case.
WSU spokesman Robert Strenge said via email that the university is still reviewing the decision but that WSU is “already firmly committed to a comprehensive review of all our student conduct procedures and this decision will be given additional consideration as part of that ongoing process.”
In spring 2014, the WSU student, who was 40, was charged with third-degree rape and molestation of a 15-year-old girl and pleaded not guilty. He said he believed the girl to be at least 16 years old, the legal age of consent.
According to the court’s findings, WSU acted on the news of the student’s arrest by suspending him and denying him access to campus, and also denying him access to a formal adjudicative hearing.
The university then used a simplified, one-hour-long hearing process that placed limits on how the student could defend himself. It issued a written decision in May 2014, expelling him and barring him from campus.
Martonick said Whitman County prosecutors later dropped the charges.
“It was horrible,” said Martonick of WSU’s decision to expel the man. “He had his family with him at WSU, he was kicked out of housing, separated from his family, had to return to his country.” The student is from Saudi Arabia.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the school should have used a full adjudicative process, as set out by the state’s Administrative Procedure Act. That Act gives defendants the right to be advised and represented by counsel, to present evidence, and to conduct cross-examination, among other things.
The ruling will force 27 Washington public colleges and universities, including many community colleges, to adopt a full adjudication process when deciding cases where a student faces expulsion or is charged with sexual misconduct that would amount to a felony under criminal law. According to the court’s ruling, those schools include Central Washington University, Western Washington University and The Evergreen State College, along with numerous community colleges.
Martonick said the court’s ruling likely wouldn’t have any bearing on closed cases, but might result in colleges and universities having to use the full adjudication process on pending cases of expulsion.
The court awarded the man reasonable attorney fees and the right to a full adjudication.