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Ryan Johnson, Published September 12 2012

NDSU president: 'No decisions have been made' about petition fraud discipline

FARGO – Disciplinary decisions concerning the 10 North Dakota State University football players accused of petition fraud have not yet been decided, President Dean Bresciani said in a written statement Wednesday.

In the statement, his second in two days, Bresciani said all students charged with crimes are subject to the university’s internal disciplinary review process. As student athletes, they also face possible review by their team or the athletics department.

“I apologize for any confusion caused by our athletics department comments about the student disciplinary process,” he said in the statement. “Contrary to what has been suggested or implied, no decisions have been made.”

Head coach Craig Bohl said Monday that the players could face discipline but won’t be suspended, echoing athletic director Gene Taylor’s statement after the team’s win over Colorado State that the accused players won’t be suspended.

It wasn’t clear if Bresciani’s Wednesday statement referenced possible athletic discipline or the disciplinary review that applies to all students.

Attempts to reach Bresciani and Taylor weren’t successful Wednesday.

Fifteen people, including 10 current members of the football team and three former NDSU players, were charged late last week for violating North Dakota election law by forging names on petitions that would have put initiated measures on the November ballot to legalize medicinal marijuana and create a conservation fund.

Bresciani said a disciplinary decision will be made “after an appropriate institution review process.”

“Our core values are rooted in integrity through principled action and ethical decision making as well as accountability to the people of North Dakota,” he said in the statement.

How process works

All students accused of violating the university’s code of student conduct, as well as those facing criminal charges, are subject to an internal disciplinary review, according to Dean of Student Life Janna Stoskopf.

The process, which typically takes 15 to 20 days to complete, could result in four levels of punishment if a student is found to be in violation: a warning, probation, suspension or expulsion from the university.

Student athletes also could face separate punishment from their team or the athletics department, Stoskopf said.

She said the university is guided in this process by the values of respect for the NDSU community and respect for the protection and rights of others.

But the disciplinary process also aims to help students learn from their mistakes, Stoskopf said.

“Our goal is to help people understand how the decisions that any of us make have an impact on those two values and how do they fit within those values,” she said.

The university has a lower burden of proof than the courts, only needing to find a student “more likely than not” broke a law or the code of conduct to decide they should be punished.

Because of the split processes, the accused NDSU students could end up with three separate punishments – one from the university’s internal disciplinary review that applies to all students, another from the football team or athletics department as student athletes and yet another from the court system on the criminal charges.

Stoskopf said the university is now “following our established procedures” in this process as officials consider review the accused students. But because of federal privacy laws, details of reviews aren’t publicly available and won’t be announced when a final decision is made.

Review planned

Chancellor Hamid Shrivani said Wednesday that in the wake of this petition fraud case, the North Dakota University System will look at current student disciplinary processes to ensure consistency across all 11 public colleges and universities.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said the case has put the focus on NDSU as lawmakers wait to see how the university deals with the accused students.

“I think for NDSU, the onus is on them on how they handle the situation,” he said. “But they still must remember that until these guys are formally charged that you’re always innocent until proven guilty.”

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, said he’s “disappointed” in how NDSU has handled the situation so far, and he would like the university to be more transparent about what has been done so far.

He said the state should look at how universities have dealt with similar cases in the past and find a consistent way to punish students accused of crimes. But he said this situation is unique in some ways, especially because many of the accused admitted to investigators that they had forged signatures.

“It isn’t like they’re going to be found innocent,” he said. “From a perspective of a legislator, I think election fraud is an extremely serious offense and it’s an affront to the process that they’ve been allowed to live under. The disrespect that they’ve shown I think is incorrigible.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587