Community organizations and individuals raised public concerns during the fall of 2016 about discrimination and racial bias against students in decisions made by WSU’s Student Conduct Board. Some of those decisions involved student-athletes as well as students of color.
In addition, on December 1, Division III of the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that WSU and other public institutions of higher education in the state must use a full adjudication process in conduct cases in which students face possible expulsion or are accused of sexual assault.
How is the University responding?
On Oct. 28, 2016, the University announced it would hire an independent third party, the law firm of Lyons O’Dowd, to examine the specific issue of alleged racial and ethnic bias in the student conduct process. Firm principal Marc Lyons, an expert in education law, began his work the week of Oct. 31.
On Dec. 9, President Schulz announced the formation of a 15-member task force of WSU faculty, staff, students, alumni, and donors. The group currently is in the midst of a comprehensive review of the University’s conduct process.
In response to the Dec. 1 state Court of Appeals ruling, the University implemented some emergency rules for student conduct hearings occurring prior to the adoption of the task force recommendations.
Results of Lyons O’Dowd review
The independent review of the student conduct process by the law firm Lyons O’Dowd found no evidence of ethnic or racial discrimination or bias on the part of those involved in hearing conduct cases. The report, published in March, makes several recommendations to improve the fairness, as well as the perception of fairness, of the student conduct process.
At the end of May, the Student Conduct Process Task Force announced it had identified fundamental principles and compiled preliminary recommendations for revising the University’s rules governing student conduct and community standards. The group continued refining its work during the summer and will begin extensive public vetting of proposed rules changes early in the fall semester. Public forums to discuss the recommendations, for example, will be held at each WSU campus and online for the Global Campus community during the fall.
The WSU Board of Regents eventually must approve implementation of revisions to the conduct rules. The revised rules are expected to be in place in 2018.
What is the president’s stance?
Since the arrival of WSU President Kirk Schulz on campus in June 2016, a number of individuals and organizations at the University have suggested that WSU’s conduct process could be improved and represent the University’s values better. Committed to organizational change when the need is identified, President Schulz has welcomed the opportunity to take a closer look at the student conduct process.