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Updated: State Sen. Baumgartner joins with APIC to light a torch in defense of WSU's Robert Barber

SEATTLE -- State Sen. Mike Baumgartner, a Washington State graduate and tireless advocate for the university in the legislature, on Monday called on the WSU Board of Regents and Gov. Jay Inslee to immediately reinstate Robert Barber so the WSU senior can complete the one credit he needs to graduate.

Updated: One-on-one video with Baumgartner at the bottom of this article.

Flanked by representatives of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC), including WSU legend Jack Thompson, Baumgartner said the lack of due process Barber was afforded by the WSU Conduct Board in its decision to boot Barber out of school is unacceptable.

If the WSU Board of Regents and Gov. Inslee don’t act, the Spokane Republican said, he will hire Barber to work in his Olympia office until the American Samoa product can re-enroll. Making no secret of his disappointment in WSU President Kirk Schulz for what he believes is a lack of leadership in handling the case, Baumgartner added that Barber would serve on staff as his point person for fielding every funding request from WSU. He also would assign Barber to review the practices of WSU’s Conduct Board.

The remarks drew applause from an audience of about two dozen who gathered at the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa in south Seattle for a news conference called by APIC.

“Let’s be clear,” he said, “This is about getting Robert Barber his degree. This is not about football."

He said he believes Schulz, in office only a few months, is skittish about defending a football player because of the athletics vs. academics optics it might create and that is why he (Schulz) hasn’t acted.

APIC leader Diane Narasaki said Schulz failed as a leader by not ensuring a fair hearing for Barber. She also noted that the WSU Conduct Board appears to have used a bizarre March 2015 incident involving a thrown piece of beef jerky as a “strike one” offense against Barber.

APIC is a 20-year-old civil and human rights advocacy group based in Seattle.

Thompson, the legendary Throwin’ Samoan who is perhaps the most esteemed goodwill ambassador in the WSU community, said he wished he didn’t need to be on the dias because he loves WSU. Young people need to be accountable for their actions, but for the Conduct Board to deprive Barber legal representation – particularly in light of the fact English is his second language – is “absolutely not right,” he said.

He wants all the Polynesian players at WSU to know the 600,000-strong residents of the state who are of Polynesian and Asian descent are behind them. Thompson also noted that WSU coach Mike Leach is a disciplinarian who has never shied from dismissing talented players from his teams. Leach's concern about the Pullman Police Department's treatment of Polynesian players is what drew Thompson to take a closer look at indicents involving Poly players.

Thompson said he's "ashamed" of the WSU Conduct Board's system of operating and believes it needs to remodel itself after the one at the University of Washington.

Samoan community leader Dan Pritchard said all sides of the story have not come out and that by rallying the state's Samoan community he hopes to get Schulz to take action.

Attorney Arne Hedeen, a WSU graduate, said that in addition to due process concerns “there may be issues” regarding whether the WSU Conduct and Appeals boards followed their own procedures and whether the Conduct Board preserved the record for the Appeals Board. “It is expected that Mr. Barber and his attorney will make an announcement on Wednesday regarding the decision to file a review petition in Whitman County Superior Court and whether Robert will seek a stay of the suspension to permit him to attend class and play football while his review petition is considered,” he said.

Barber should be afforded the same rights as a student at the UW, whose conduct board operates with due process in mind. Hedeen added.

Baumgartner said he had no doubt former WSU President Elson Floyd would have addressed the lack of due process and fixed the situation around Barber weeks ago.

The Board recently booted Barber (a starting nose tackle on the WSU football team) out of school and will not allow him to re-enroll until July for his alleged role in a melee that erupted at an off-campus party in July. Barber is one credit and six weeks short of completing his degree.

The goal of the state education system is, barring extreme misconduct, to graduate students, said Baumgartner, who sits on the Senate’s Higher Education Committee. For Barber to be stopped one credit short is “outrageous,” he said.

The difference in Barber’s life, with a college degree vs. without a degree, is a benefit to society, Baumgartner noted, adding that WSU must remember it is an educational organization, not a branch of the criminal justice system.


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