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Ryan Johnson, Published September 13 2012

NDSU President Bresciani: Disciplining football players a complex process

FARGO – President Dean Bresciani admits there’s still some confusion about the complicated process of punishing students who break the law, even after he issued two statements in two days explaining how North Dakota State University is handling 10 football players accused of petition fraud.

But he said any student discipline would be an “educational process,” not a legal matter, which means it’s covered under federal student privacy laws and can’t be publicized.

“It’s a very common perception of university disciplinary processes because if the public doesn’t see what’s happening, they understandably presume that nothing’s happening, when in fact we’re actually both ethically but also legally mandated to protect the privacy of the student,” he said.

Bresciani said even NDSU administrators who deal with this process are having a hard time explaining it to the public – something he said owes to the complexity of dealing with the petition fraud case that could result in students getting four separate punishments for the same crime.

All students who violate the university’s code of student conduct or the law are subject to an internal disciplinary review that typically takes 15 to 20 days. If found “more likely than not” to have violated the code or the law, they are handed down a punishment ranging from a warning or probation to suspension or expulsion.

They also could be punished through the criminal or civil system.

Additionally, those in extracurricular activities, including student athletes, could be reviewed under a separate disciplinary process through the organization or team.

Bresciani said that means even if Bison head coach Craig Bohl or Athletic Director Gene Taylor decide the students accused of petition fraud don’t deserve a punishment from the team, they could find themselves suspended or expelled from NDSU – effectively taking them off the team through the academic review process.

He said that point wasn’t made clear enough with recent statements by Bohl and Taylor that the 10 football players accused of forging petition signatures for two would-be initiated measures on North Dakota’s November ballot would be punished, but not suspended, by the team. Bresciani’s statement on Wednesday emphasized that “no decisions have been made” about the general discipline process all students face in cases like this.

“I think we had different people talking about different processes and not remembering that the public doesn’t realize that those four processes exist; they only think one process exists,” he said. “It’s understandable confusion on the part of the public, and frankly the media.”

Bresciani issued a campuswide email Tuesday trying to explain the disciplinary process. But he said he decided to release a follow-up statement Wednesday because the original clarification needed some additional clarity.

“For people that have been confused and even angry, I recognize where that’s coming from, because from the outside looking in, it’s really confusing,” he said. “We really struggled with sending out the second notification, but it was clear that some people were still confused.”

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