SEATTLE – Did Robert Barber get a fair shake?
That's the question being raised by a supporter of the embattled Washington State University student-athlete who starred for the football team, but now finds himself suspended, just short of earning a degree.
"We don't feel he was given justice," said Jack Thompson, a WSU legend, nicknamed "The Throwin' Samoan,” during his days in the Palouse.
Thompson's since been a big WSU ambassador, contributor, and recruiter to the campus. Yet, Thompson sat in the South Seattle church founded by his parents, with a noticeable pain in his face, conflicted by what he sees as an injustice.
"The system is, I'm ashamed of it, as a Coug, and it has to get changed," said Thompson.
Thompson was joined by State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, another WSU alum, and members of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, who say that Barber wasn't given due process.
It all stems from a fight at a Pullman party earlier this year, in which a couple of people were injured, and one man's jaw was broken. It took Pullman Police months to interview witnesses, and finally declare that a pair of football players were to blame.
WSU's conduct board took swift action, first expelling Barber, and then suspending him until 2017, effectively ending his academic and athletic career. Whitman County Prosecutors however, have not charged him.
"If there was a general melee with scores of people fighting, why were Pacific Islanders the only students arrested and expelled?" said Diane Narasaki, the Executive Director of ACRS.
Narasaki directly accused WSU's new President Kirk Schulz of not acting to correct the situation with another hearing.
"President Schulz failed to use his discretion and leadership,” she said.
At issue is whether WSU should allow students, like Barber, to have legal representation and call witnesses, like UW does. Thompson said Barber, who’s from American Samoa, was a "victim of an inadequate process.”
State Sen. Baumgartner said the late WSU President Dr. Elson Floyd was aware of the student disciplinary review differences, and was working to correct it.
"The situation is unacceptable," said Baumgartner. "Washington State's student’s government board is broken."
He called on Governor Jay Inslee and the WSU Regents to get involved, to "step forward and put a time out on this issue, and put Robert Barber back in school.”
Inslee said in a statement that it is an issue internal to WSU and should be handled through the university.
WSU referred to a Friday statement which said, in part, "WSU’s standards of conduct for students embody high standards and expectations for all students. 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. 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.”
ACRS said a filing is expected in Whitman County on Wednesday calling for a stay in Barber's suspension. That would allow him back into class, and perhaps with the WSU football team.
Baumgartner stressed, however, this issue was not about football.
"This is not about getting Robert Barber back on the football field,” Baumgartner said. “This is about getting Robert Barber back in the classroom and getting him his degree."