WSU DL Robert Barber's case has attracted the attention of state Senator Michael Baumgartner, who spoke out against WSU's student conduct process Monday and vowed to lead a move for change.
Washington state Senator Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) on Monday questioned Washington State University President Kirk Schulz’s leadership and called upon Governor Jay Inslee and the WSU Regents to provide leadership to reform the WSU Student Conduct Process.
Baumgartner spoke at a press conference in Columbia City called by the Asian-Pacific Islander Coalition to address concerns about what they allege to be racial profiling and an unfair student conduct process at WSU that has resulted in the suspension of WSU football player Robert Barber.
“This is a tough situation for a new president to step into and I am calling on the regents and Governor Jay Inslee to step forward, call a time out on this issue and put Robert Barber back in school and put other students who’ve been suspended or expelled back in school,” Baumgartner said at the press conference where former WSU quarterback Jack Thompson, APIC King County chair Diane Narasaki, Samoan community leader Danny Pritchard and Seattle lawyer and WSU Trustee Arne Hedeen all made statements.
Barber, a fifth-year senior from American Samoa who is one class shy of graduation, was originally expelled by WSU’s student conduct board for allegedly giving another student a concussion at a fight that broke out at a party in Pullman on July 23.
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Barber’s expulsion was ultimately reduced to a suspension through July 2017, but his supporters say the sanction is too harsh, and that Barber did not get proper due process protections in WSU’s student conduct process.
On Monday, Barber’s supporters also questioned why he and fellow Samoan football player T.J. Fehoko were the only students expelled despite the fact that the July fight involves dozens of others.
WSU announced Friday that it has commissioned an independent attorney, Marc Lyons of Coeur d’Alene-based O’Dowd and Lyons, to review its student conduct procedures and make recommendations within 60 days.
“I’ll be interested to see what that review finds, but we don’t need to wait 60 days and outsource leadership to lawyers from Couer d’Alene,” Baumgartner said. “We need leadership in this state right now on this issue and that’s what we expect.”
Baumgartner referenced House Bill 1541, legislation passed this spring to decrease the number of expulsions and suspensions in Washington’s K-12 education system, as a reason why WSU should re-examine Barber’s punishment and re-evaluate its student conduct process.
“This situation is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable to have any students expelled – not just Robert Barber, but any students – with a lack of due process,” Baumgartner said. “WSU’s student conduct board is broken and it has been broken. It lacks the basic tenets of due process, and it’s different from other universities in the state – which are better – and it needs to get fixed and the people of Washington state are going to get it fixed.”
“The reason why (HB 1541) was passed was that expulsions were falling disproportionately on students of color and minority students,” Baumgartner said. “Schools were taking challenges within the school, and instead of working to solve them, were putting them out in the community at great cost to the community.
“When you keep someone from getting an education, it’s a great cost to tax payers. Higher education should fall on the same lines. It is tremendously costly to all of us to have people like Robert Barber not allowed to graduate from school.”
If Barber’s suspension is upheld, Baumgartner said he plans to offer Barber a job in his senate office in Olympia where Barber will do constituent relations and help with initiatives to increase minority student enrollment at our state’s universities.
“He will play a lead role in the legislation that will be running to help reform our student conduct board to get a uniform student conduct board across the state,” said Baumgartner, a WSU alum and the vice chair of the state’s higher education committee. “I’ll be introducing a number of bills on higher education this year, and the first thing we’ll do is look at having a uniform system of disciplinary justice in this state.
“When high school students are looking at where they’re gonna go to college, there should be a uniform system of justice.”
Baumgartner said that if Barber ends up working for him, he would also put the Samoan lineman in charge of overseeing financial requests from state universities.
“So when WSU comes to my office and asks me for money, the first person they’re going to talk to is Robert Barber,” Baumgartner said.
Barber’s suspension began on Friday. He has since engaged an attorney, and will likely decide this week whether to file a petition in Whitman County Superior County to review his case and also ask the judge for a stay that would allow him to stay in school and continue participation in football until a verdict is rendered, Hedeen said.