Extreme bad behavior on a college campus will get a student suspended, but not expelled.
And that leaves a lot of people scratching their heads and asking why, said Lee Bird, vice president for student affairs at Oklahoma State University.
The answer is found in state law, specifically the Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act.
“Under state law, expulsion is not a realistic alternative. It takes too long. It's too cumbersome,” said attorney Andy Lester, who serves on the Board of Regents for OSU and the A&M Colleges. “Suspension can be done very quickly.”
Acting quickly is important when officials want to remove a student for the safety of others.
The process required to expel a college student could take months — even beyond graduation, Lester said.
High school administrators, who aren't covered by the law, can expel students according to their district policies.
The OSU student code of conduct includes a provision for expulsion, but it isn't used.
“There's no bite because there are no teeth,” Lester said. “Our administrators need to have available the tool of expulsion to encourage good conduct and discourage bad conduct.”
Former student Nathan Cochran was suspended from OSU for three years after student conduct hearings in 2012. Cochran pleaded guilty Sept. 20 to three counts of sexual battery in Payne County District Court in connection with the incidents that resulted in his suspension.
After his suspension, people asked why Cochran wasn't expelled.
The Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act requires a different standard of proof for expulsion than university officials use otherwise, Bird said.
In all other situations, university officials look for enough evidence to make it “more likely than not” that the violation is true, she said. That complies with federal regulations.
But to expel a student, state law requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, like that needed in a criminal court, to render a guilty verdict, she said.
“That creates two standards that don't agree,” Bird said.
A simple amendment to strike some language in the state law would take care of the problem and make expulsion a realistic option in the rare cases that merit it, Lester said.
“To have that ability to expel instead of suspend makes sense sometimes,” Bird said. “We're talking about a response to extreme behavior.”
Most violations that warrant expulsion are sexual in nature, said Douglas Price, associate general counsel for the OSU regents.
“We see less than one a year that would go to an expulsion hearing,” Price said.
He doesn't know why the state law includes the expulsion language.
Regardless, OSU officials are seeking to have the law amended.
“It's a good move and long overdue,” Bird said.