Student journalists at Western Washington University in Bellingham have taken their own school to court. They allege the university violated the state Public Records Act.
The journalists at the student-run newspaper, The Western Front, requested the names of students who were found responsible, through the university conduct system, for violent or sexual offenses. The university responded but redacted the names, saying public school students' personal information should not be disclosed.
Erasmus Baxter, a WWU senior and a plaintiff in the case, says the names should be released so journalists can hold the university's disciplinary system accountable.
“I’m sure we’ve all heard of cases where athletes or other people who are doing good for the university have gotten light punishment through campus disciplinary systems,” Baxter said. “This is a way to ensure that’s not happening, but also it’s a way to ensure that no specific groups of students are receiving unfair sanctions compared to other students.”
In a statement to KNKX Public Radio, a university official said Western believes it has complied with the Public Records Act and will answer the complaint in Whatcom County Superior Court.
The student newspaper has reported on how the university handles cases of alleged sexual misconduct. The students’ continued coverage included a story, which published a couple of years ago, about a student who was readmitted to the university after serving jail time for a sex crime.
The University of Washington, in contrast to Western, said in a statement that student names can be disclosed "in limited situations involving crimes of violence or non-forcible sex offenses." The school said student privacy law allows the name of the student to be released, as well as the violation committed and the sanction imposed, but not the name of other students involved or witnesses unless they consent to that.