The Evergreen State College is taking appropriate steps to discipline students who menaced others during the disruptive student protests of late May.
College president George Bridges told The Olympian Editorial Board this week that his administration is carrying out disciplinary actions for six students who wielded baseball bats on campus in a way that was threatening or intimidating to others.
He hopes the actions can be wrapped up by the end of July — barring appeals.
Bridges did not specify what punishment may be sought by the new college disciplinary hearings officer. But he cited data showing that discipline hearings are not a rare occurrence at Evergreen. There were about 1,200 conduct complaints registered in the past academic year, which led to a finding in 475 cases that the student was “responsible” or in violation of the conduct codes.
Of those, 25 students were suspended for at least a quarter. Another 25 face sanctions that are under review, including the half-dozen identified with bats. Such menacing acts would violate existing campus codes for student conduct and also would violate criminal laws if the victims were willing to seek charges.
Bridges is taking other steps to draw clearer lines on acceptable behavior. Along with college trustees, he is seeking changes to the campus conduct code that can speed up sanctions in cases where students or faculty get out of line.
Also, a letter was in the works to students and staff that will outline campus conduct policies. The goal is to make clear to those who didn’t realize it that some protest actions — such as blocking doors to a public building or other disruptive acts — can lead to sanctions.
These are reasonable steps for the administration to take. Bridges deserves our community’s support for his efforts.
He appears to have a plan that was not so obvious to onlookers a month ago. In the wake of the May protests, video circulated on the Internet of student confrontations, which sparked harsh criticism of the college. The footage depicted hostile students who were yelling as they took over Bridges’ office and biology professor Bret Weinstein’s classroom.
Bridges patiently listened to the students but also resisted calls to fire Weinstein, whom he said has has the right to say what he wants. But Bridges did say a review of actions by a couple of unnamed staff and faculty members are under way. Bridges declined to say more.
Weinstein drew fire on campus because he openly questioned the format for this year’s traditional “Day of Absence/Presence” activities, which is his right to do. In a reversal of practice from past years – when interested students of color and faculty left campus for seminars on race — this year’s event asked participating white faculty and students to leave campus for the discussions, while students of color remained on campus.
But Weinstein helped ignite a firestorm of publicity by characterizing the event as less than voluntary during his appearances on national conservative media shows. He also wrote a guest opinion column for the Wall Street Journal that suggested whites were asked to leave campus.
A few Republicans in the Washington state Senate called a hearing last month on campus safety in the wake of the disturbances that disrupted some students’ ability to attend classes. One concern in the Senate Law and Justice Committee’s work session was the adequacy of campus police staffing, which Bridges says his police are researching before he asks for extra state funding.
Bridges is also continuing work to revise campus conduct rules, which are written in the Washington Administrative Code. His goal is a clearer rule with a greatly sped-up process for handling complaints and administering sanctions. “If it isn’t quick and clear — consistent every time — it will not be successful,” Bridges said.
The rule revision is worth doing. Bridges’ decision to involve community members and students in a review of campus rules is also a smart step.
There are racial tensions in America, and college campuses are a place where they can be — and should be — worked out in public venues in a civil manner. Bridges suggests any tensions at Evergreen are symptomatic of larger societal tensions, but he is acknowledging his campus has work to do.
His work should also emphasize the need to tolerate others’ freedom of speech that dissents from the norm.
So far, Bridges is making some good moves. But Evergreen’s response to questions of free speech and protest is still a work in progress.