Without speaking directly to Barber case, dean of students offers insights on the how and why of WSU's Conduct Board

WHEN IT COMES to Washington State administrators commenting on the WSU Conduct Board's handling of Robert Barber's case, the phrase "bunker mentality" comes to mind. So it was with surprise and delight that Melynda Huskey, the administrator who directly oversees the Conduct Board, spent nearly 20 minutes Wednesday answering a series of questions about how the panel operates.

Huskey is WSU's interim vice president of student affairs and dean of students.

For privacy reasons, she said she cannot talk about specific cases, but she did offer wide-ranging insight on the Conduct Board's operations that help lend clarity to the how and why of Barber's case.

(OF NOTE: This Q&A was conducted before it became known Robert Barber filed a petition for review and a motion to stay with Whitman County Superior Court. This interview also took place before a January 7 Facebook post came to light, purporting to show Huskey liking a comment in which students are dubbed "little pricks." That post can be found in a tweet by Britton Ransford of CougCenter that we have linked at the bottom of this page. reached out last night and this morning to both WSU and Huskey directly seeking verification and context on the Facebook like. At press time, we had received no response.)

The following Q&Q has been edited for length and clarity: Can the president of the university overrule or alter a ruling by the Board? If so, does that apply to both expulsions and suspensions?

Huskey: I can't tell you categorically what the president can or can't do, that would really be outside my capacity. The code permits the president to have discretionary power to review after a student has been expelled or after a student organization has lost recognition from the university. So the conduct code permits him to accept an appeal in cases of expulsion or loss of recognition for a student, but not suspensions?

Huskey: That's correct. Does the Washington State code effectively, or potentially, permit the appeals board to then manipulate what cases the president may consider by changing expulsion to suspension?

Huskey: Are you suggesting the appeals board would take action to limit the president's capacity in some way? I'm asking if the appeals board effectively or potentially has that power to manipulate which cases the president could consider by changing expulsion to suspension (given the way WSU's code is written).

Huskey: The appeals board has the power to affirm, overturn or alter the sanctions and the finding of responsibility. That's what the code permits them to do. My reading of WAC 504-26-407 is that it gives Dr. Schulz the right to order a full adjudicative hearing. Why doesn’t WSU offer a full adjudicative hearing? 

(Editor's Note: In general, a full adjudicative hearing under the Administrative Procedures Act would include most or all of the following: adequate notice of hearing, an impartial panel, right to counsel, requirement that witnesses be sworn under oath,  the right to refuse to give self-incriminating evidence, guidelines for consideration of hearsay, and the right to confront witnesses.)

Huskey: So our process, which is an educational process, uses the informal hearing.  We do have the opportunity in those circumstances where it might be required to do that. We haven't done that in the past because it hasn't been required. 'Required' in which way?

Huskey: That is to say we have never had a circumstance in which our process didn't meet our needs, where we need to move to a formal adjudication process. We always review that matter. It's part of the code that we should review and determine whether or not that would be required. From a process standpoint, has a Washington State president ever accepted an appeal of a WSU student-athlete for fighting and commuted a sanction of expulsion or suspension to probation?

Huskey: I'm not sure if I can answer that question to tell you the truth. I would have to know more about the case... In my recollection of cases I have been involved with, I don't bring one to mind, but that doesn't mean that in the history of Washington State University that hasn't happened. The Conduct Board is comprised of two students and three faculty members, correct?

Huskey:  A quorum has been established in the code as a chair, another faculty or staff employee, and a student. We try to have at least five -- so a chair, two faculty or staff members, and two student undergraduates if it's an undergraduate (appearing and a) graduate or professional student if it's a graduate or a professional student (appearing). How are the five selected, who selects them and what qualifications must they have?

Huskey: We advertise broadly, we invite applications from the university community on a regular basis. We also seek out if we happen to meet someone, or know someone who has an interest in the area or who has an interest in serving. We accept applications, those applications are reviewed by the director of student conduct. We have interviews ... then recommendations come to me, and I appoint folks to the conduct board and that's that process. Are there any specific qualifications they must have?

Huskey: You have to be a student (or) you have to be an employee - current employee, of the institution under our current code... those are the qualifications. How long have the current members served on the board, faculty and student?

Huskey: Oh my goodness, there are about 45 people on the board right now, I couldn't possibly tell you what all their lengths of service are. Are there term limits for the chair and co-chairs?

Huskey: No, we don't have term limits for folks. We find typically that they are able to term limit themselves, it's a very demanding job to serve as a chair, or even to serve on the Conduct Board. Can you tell me how long the chair and co-chairs have served?

Huskey: Off the top of my head, I couldn't. Do board members go through training before taking their positions and if so, what kinds?

Huskey: They do. We provide about 9 hours of training prior to any hearing for conduct board members. Quite a lot of that is on reading and understanding the code, making sure that they have a full understanding of their responsibilities, we provide cultural competency training through our Office of Equity and Diversity. There's some work on consensus building, and decision making processes. And then for those board members who also serve on our Title IX Executive Policy 15 board, sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking, there's further training for them... related to investigation and adjudication of sexual assault cases. As part of the process is there training on bias, racial prejudice, and sexual orientation prejudice?

Huskey: So that would be in the cultural competency training. What consideration is given to balancing the board's makeup in reflecting the diverse makeup of the WSU student body?

Huskey: We work very hard at that. And that's something we take very seriously... We don't want any one board member to serve on an unreasonable number of boards so we try to balance the number of cases that each board member hears. We've got to make sure we've got the right students in the room and that kind of thing. And we want to make sure that we have as much gender balance as we can have, as much racial and ethnic identity balance as we can have, given what we know about what folks have shared with us or choose to identify as. So we do our best to create balance... we recognize the importance of that and we're constantly working to recruit students and employees who can help us increase that balance. What is the current makeup of the board?

Huskey: Out of the 45 folks I don't think I can give you that information off the top of my head. What accommodations if any are made for students who speak English as a second language?

Huskey: Depending on the circumstance and the nature of the concern we do have interpreters available, we have used interpreters before at conduct board hearings where that's been necessary ... if the student indicates to us, or if we observe that seems to be a challenge for the student, we will ask if that would be helpful.  We also, because these are not sort of adversarial, or courtroom kinds of proceedings, students can ask questions. Students can ask clarifying questions, you can have an advisor with you who could assist you. We would allow the advisor to speak to the student, and for them to converse back and forth. We try to provide every opportunity for the student to ask the questions that they have or to seek clarification if they don't understand an element of the proceedings. You said these are not adversarial proceedings, is that correct?

Huskey: That's correct.

COUGFANcom: How big a factor are prior offenses in determining what sanctions should be meted out?

Huskey: When sanctions are determined, the board would have no knowledge of a prior interaction with the Office of Student Conduct. At the point of sanction, once a determination of responsibility has been made, the board CAN review a previous contact with the office and see if there's a pattern of behavior or other concerns that have been raised in previous cases that might impact their decision on this  one. It's left to the board to determine what weight they would give prior offenses?

Huskey: That's correct. Have to ask: Why did the Conduct Board cite a March 2015 beef jerky incident while sanctioning Robert Barber?

Huskey: I can't possibly comment in any way on any possible case involving a current student. Do most schools, including most Pac-12 schools, treat expulsions and suspensions the same way?

Huskey: I couldn't tell you categorically what most other schools do. Expulsion is typically the most severe sanction at the disposal of an institution and so presidential review of that most extreme penalty... would I think not be uncommon. I think it's more common for those reviews to go to the vice president of student affairs. Are you familiar with the University of Washington's process? Do they treat expulsion and suspension the same way? And do they also give students charged with either one of those the right to a full adjudicative hearing?

Huskey: I don't have enough expertise in the University of Washington's conduct code to really give you information about that. You're not familiar with how the UW does it?

Huskey: I don't have enough expertise to comment. State Senator Michael Baumgartner, Jack Thompson and APIC attorney Arne Hedeen each said in a press conference Monday that the University of Washington's Conduct Board is the due process model that WSU's Conduct Board should emulate. Have you looked at the UW's policies and procedures and how do they differ from WSU's?

Huskey: Broadly, yes. Can you elaborate a little bit?

Huskey: That I have looked at the University of Washington's process broadly, not in great detail. It's certainly a different process than ours. My responsibility is really to be familiar with, to know deeply our process, and to implement that process to the very best of our abilities. Why aren't students who are brought before the board allowed to have lawyers speak in hearings on their behalf?

Huskey: That's not part of our process. And I think you would find that that is by far the most common process both within the Pac-12 and within our legislative peers. They may certainly - students may always have a lawyer present if they want to have a lawyer. That lawyer may provide all of the support and coaching and advice, prior to the hearing -- and assist in the writing of statements and assist in the writing of questions. We will pause a hearing at any point at the student's request, to allow the student to consult privately with their advisor. We certainly have students bring lawyers as advisers and we're happy to do that, we're happy to support that alternative.  But because ours are educational hearings, we ask that students represent themselves, speak for themselves. Using whatever assistance their advisor, and the conduct advisor from the dean of students office, are able to provide. How was attorney Mark Lyons and his firm selected last week to conduct the formal review of the Conduct Board's processes.

Huskey: I couldn't tell you about that. Is there any question you wish I would have asked you?

Huskey: What a good question. I should have been prepared with a list! You know, I really don't think so. I hope I've been able to answer your questions and to give you a little more insight into our process.


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