WSU President Kirk Schulz and the Board of Regents hear comments and address concerns about Robert Barber and the university's student conduct process in an well-attended open meeting on campus Friday morning
Washington state Senator Michael Baumgartner (R- Spokane) and many of Robert Barber’s advocates came together Friday morning on the Washington State campus to ask WSU’s Board of Regents to reinstate Barber to the football team and allow him to graduate with his criminal justice degree.
They succeeded on one of those fronts. WSU President Kirk Schulz announced at the start of the meeting that the school had worked out a way for Barber to finish his coursework off-campus and graduate as planned in December, while still serving his suspension.
Schulz also reiterated that the administration has heard its constituents’ feelings about what many have proclaimed is an unfair and racially biased conduct board process, and said that the university will review the recommendations of the attorney – Marc Lyons – who is evaluating its processes over the next two months.
But despite impassioned speeches from WSU football mothers Jill Osur-Myers, and Tracy Cracraft, Josie Salave’a – the wife of WSU defensive line coach Joe Salave’a – receiver Gabe Marks and others, the Board of Regents did not officially lift Barber’s suspension or reinstate him to the football team.
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“I’m 10 years a regent of WSU and I’m not convinced the system is broken,” said Regent Mike Worthy, who said he’s also spoken to the victims of the July party fight that triggered Barber’s legal issues.
In September, the WSU Student Conduct Board expelled Barber alleging that he concussed a student at an off-campus party in July. Barber’s sanction was eventually reduced to a suspension that began last Friday and runs through July 2017. Barber has since filed a petition in Whitman County Superior Court asking that his suspension be overturned. But in a response filed Thursday evening, WSU asked the court to disregard Barber’s plea, alleging that Barber is a threat to the WSU community.
In the midst of all this, WSU’s conduct process has come under fire. Opponents of the process allege that it does not grant students adequate due process, and point to Barber as a victim of a process that they say is, among other things, biased against people of color.
Osur-Myers, the mother of WSU offensive lineman Noah Osur-Myers, and Tracy Cracraft, the mother of WSU receiver River Cracraft, both said Barber is the victim of a racism and his sanction the result of a racially bias system that would have levied a different punishment had he been white.
“The student conduct board thinks their role is to punish and not to educate. That’s not what their role is,” Osur-Myers said. “This could be my son sitting where Robert is. But I actually think it wouldn’t be my son, for reasons of race.
“This isn’t about Robert Barber. This is about human rights for all. Let’s fix this for Robert. He’s no threat to the community. Let’s let him finish out his football season and get his degree.”
Baumgartner, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of WSU’s existing student conduct procedures, has said former WSU President Elson Floyd was in the middle of fixing the process before his death in 2015.
Worthy disputed that Friday saying, “I served eight years with Elson Floyd, and he never spoke to me once about dysfunction in this area of campus. It doesn’t seem appropriate for our board to abandon decades of process from one session today.”
Baumgartner, the Senate Vice Chair of Education, asked the board to honor the spirit of House Bill 1541 – which the legislature passed this year effectively banning the use of expulsion or suspension as a punitive measure at the K-12 level except under extraordinary circumstances – and to allow any WSU student who has been suspended or expelled this semester to return to school as the regents sort out the conduct board process.
Marks, WSU’s star wide receiver, also spoke up for Barber, saying, “You guys keep saying he still has the opportunity to get his degree in December. But we have to be real about this situation. My friend is from American Samoa. He’s been in the United States for five years. And football is the reason why he came here. It’s the opportunity for a better life for his family.”
Marks even accused the board of regents of acting interested but not actually listening – which several members of the board denied.
Baumgartner then proclaimed, “I still don’t think you guys are listening. If you don’t fix this, I (expletive) will” and stormed out of the room.
He returned later, with Barber and Barber’s attorney, Stephen Graham, in tow.
At a press conference held after the meeting, Baumgartner took issue with the university’s claim – in its response to Barber’s Superior Court petition – that Barber was a threat to the campus community.
“Rober Barber is not a threat to this university,” Baumgartner said. “They said in their filing last night that he’s a monster. The amount of blatant racism going on in this situation is outrageous. They talk about Robert Barber like he’s a savage animal. He’s a 300-pound football player.
“This is a situation that should have been solved months ago. Put everyone back in class and trust the criminal justice system. If Robert Barber is found guilty and convicted by a jury of his peers, so be it. This needs to get fixed now.”
The board also heard statements from Alex Rodriguez, the victim whose jaw was broken in the party fight, and a female WSU student who said she tried to meet with the Conduct Board to be a character witness for Barber at his hearing, but claimed the Conduct Board representative never showed up for a meeting they’d set up.
This witness also told media after the meeting that she was at the party in July, and that one of the victims offered her a white powdered substance that he was snorting. The witness, who requested anonymity due to fear of repercussions, also made the same statement to the Seattle Times in a phone interview last week.
Rodriguez earned the sympathy of the room when he sat down and spoke into the microphone, saying he attended the meeting on behalf of himself and his friend, the student who was allegedly concussed by Barber.
“Clearly I’m outnumbered here, it’s a little intimidating,” Rodriguez said. “But I just wanted to say on his behalf, I know he never would have wanted any trouble. It’s heartbreaking for me. I, for six weeks, had no ability to speak and eat food at all, and the mental trauma of the fight was there as well. It ended my ability to go to class. I had to drop one of my classes to accommodate my needs.
“I wish this had never happened.”