Advocates for suspended WSU football player say university conduct board needs review

By: Natasha Chen

Updated:

SEATTLE - A state senator, a former NFL player and members of the Asian Pacific Islander community met in Seattle Monday to discuss what they call a lack of due process in student conduct review at Washington State University.

In September, Robert Barber, a WSU football player from American Samoa, was expelled for his alleged involvement in a July brawl.

He appealed that decision and is now suspended for the 2016-17 school year.

He is one credit away from graduating.

Barber and another football player, Toso Fehoko, were arrested in September by Pullman police. They were booked and released, because they “are not an immediate danger to the public and are not a flight risk,” according to a Pullman Police Department press release.

Police said Barber knocked someone unconscious, and Fehoko broke someone’s jaw.

The case is now in the hands of the Whitman County prosecuting attorney. That office told KIRO 7 that a decision on whether to charge the two students will likely not be made until at least December.

Even if Barber is charged, State Sen. Michael Baumgartner R-Pullman, said the university should still be focused on educating its students.

“Robert Barber should still be finishing his degree. Unless someone is an ongoing threat to some sort of harassment or a real threat to physical violence that makes it unsafe, they should go through the process of the criminal justice system, but they should be in school finishing their degree,” Baumgartner said.

Baumgartner cited the law passed recently that eliminates out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for K-12 students, except for extreme circumstances.

He said Gov. Jay Inslee and the WSU regents should put Barber’s case on hold while the conduct board process is reviewed.

Others, including former NFL quarterback Jack “Throwin’ Samoan” Thompson, said the conduct board process doesn’t offer as many student protections as similar processes at such schools as the University of Washington.

“You can have an attorney with you, but they can’t say anything,” Thompson said. “If it takes adopting a Husky deal, then so be it.”

WSU told KIRO 7 they do allow students to have an attorney present. That attorney can even prepare statements for the student to read, but the attorney is not allowed to speak.

The University of Washington told KIRO 7 students are allowed to be represented by an attorney who can speak and ask questions of the witnesses.

“I don’t think I would have known about the discrepancies here that we see between WSU and UW. And I’m wondering, why is that?” said Puao Savusa, a WSU alumna.

Savusa, whose family is from American Samoa, said she worries about whether people who grew up there would be able to properly advocate for themselves, in a foreign system in their second language.

“I just think they get caught up in situations like these and don’t know what to say, don’t know what they’re doing, and they probably don’t even know that they’re being wrongfully punished,” she said.

WSU directed KIRO 7 to a statement made by Melynda Huskey, the interim vice president of student affairs.

“WSU’s standards of conduct for students embody high standards and expectations for all students,” Huskey said. “The same process applies to all WSU students, regardless of their race, status or affiliation. And that, of course, includes students who are varsity athletes."

“Numerous court cases have found our process meets all legal due process requirements,” she said. “The university has no reason to implement or support an unfair process. There is no benefit to anyone in over-penalizing students. The process is designed to ensure student safety, while also being fair, reasonable and consistent.”

WSU is now hiring an outside law firm to review the practices of their conduct board.

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