Thursday, February 26, 2009

Threats Justify Expulsion

Those of us who are responsible for enforcement of rules governing student discipline may find a recent decision of the Oregon Court of Appeals of interest. The student conduct at issue is described in the court's opinion:

The relevant facts are not in dispute.  Petitioner was a student at PSU [Portland State University] beginning in fall 2001.  During his time there, he rented a dormitory room in the Ondine student housing facility.  While living in the Ondine, petitioner had had contact with the assistant director of residence life (assistant director) on multiple occasions regarding petitioner's conduct, including a July 2004 flooding incident in the Ondine for which petitioner was believed to have been responsible.  The assistant director, who oversaw issues relating to conduct in student housing on the PSU campus, was required to live on campus as part of his job, which he did with his partner and their young child. 

In September 2004, petitioner told two acquaintances that he wanted to kill or harm the assistant director and his family, stating specifically that he knew where the assistant director and his family lived, and that he wanted to take a baseball bat or a Mossberg shotgun to the assistant director's knees.  On previous occasions, petitioner had shown both acquaintances guns and ammunition that he kept in his room.  Several days after making those statements, petitioner instigated a physical altercation with the two acquaintances on an unrelated matter.  In reporting that incident to a PSU public safety officer, the acquaintances reported petitioner's comments about the assistant director and his family to the officer and to the director of residence life, telling them that they were afraid for the assistant director's and their own safety.  Soon after, the director of public safety at PSU and the dean of students told the assistant director about the comments that petitioner had made and recommended that the assistant director and his family live off campus for a few days.  The assistant director agreed, moved his family to an undisclosed location, and obtained a temporary restraining order against petitioner.

The court concluded that expulsion from school on the above facts was justified:

We cannot say that PSU officials acted unreasonably in responding as they did to petitioner's stated desire to harm or kill the assistant director and his family.  Consequently, the statement did disrupt PSU activities.  Furthermore, we cannot identify a relevant privilege or principle that would operate to prevent PSU from expelling petitioner as a student for causing that disruption.  Hence, we conclude that PSU did not violate Article I, section 8, by finding in charge 4 that petitioner's statements about his desire to harm or kill the assistant director and his family disrupted PSU activities.

(Mike Frisch)

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