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Student Conduct
3/18/2015 12:00 AM

ST. PETERSBURG BEACH, FLA. — The call for higher ed administrators to ramp up their responses to reports of sexual misconduct has become a hot topic on college campuses throughout the country. Student affairs professionals have long been addressing this issue, with a special emphasis on fair student conduct processes and victim support.

ST. PETERSBURG BEACH, FLA. — The call for higher ed administrators to ramp up their responses to reports of sexual misconduct has become a hot topic on college campuses throughout the country. Student affairs professionals have long been addressing this issue, with a special emphasis on fair student conduct processes and victim support.

But most colleges have probably overlooked one particular outcome of having an increased emphasis on this issue. It involves the students found responsible for the sexual misconduct.

“There’s an exponential increase happening or about to happen in suspensions tied to sexual misconduct, and we’re all very dialed into this process. But I haven’t heard anyone talk about what’s going to happen on the back end of when the students want to come back onto campus,” said David Karp, associate dean of student affairs and professor of sociology at Skidmore College in New York.

That’s why Karp and Robin J. Wilson, a clinical and forensic psychologist with McMaster University in Ontario, spoke about Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSAs) at the annual conference of the Association for Student Conduct Administration.

Research shows that CoSAs provide an effective way to safely reintegrate sexual offenders into the community after their release from prison, Wilson said. He thinks CoSAs could translate into a similar approach of working with students who want to return to college campuses after they’ve committed sexual misconduct that falls into a lower level of risk and severity.

Wilson has spent more than 30 years working with sexual offenders and victims and conducting public policy work and research. He now runs a private consulting practice that assists in the development of CoSA projects, with support from the federal Office of Justice Programs.

Understand the model

CoSAs tailor interventions to each individual and target specific behaviors through “radical inclusion, meaning including people in our social circles who we might otherwise have ostracized or driven out because of their conduct. CoSAs act as a buffer between the socially disenfranchised and, in this case, a fearful community," Wilson said. CoSAs invest the necessary time to ensure the person who has done wrong returns to the community safely, he said.

CoSAs involve two concentric circles of people surrounding the “core member,” or person responsible for the misconduct:

  1. The inner circle of volunteers from the community provides advice, guidance and accountability through weekly meetings and daily contact so the core member doesn’t fall back into other behaviors that led to his misconduct in the first place.
  2. The outer circle provides professional support through counselors, police officers, social workers, victim services and health services staff, and faith community representatives.

A circle coordinator ensures everything goes according to plan and that the inner circle reaches out to the outer circle as needed and that the outer circle actually responds, Wilson said. He said CoSAs operate on several core principles:

  • No one is disposable.
  • No one can overcome this alone — that’s why we need the circles.
  • No more victims (for that offender).

Research disproves the common assumptions that all sexual offenders are guaranteed to repeat and can’t be rehabilitated, Wilson said. In fact, reoffense rates are much lower than commonly believed, he said. Data shows about 15 percent of known sexual offenders will commit a new sexual offense within five to seven years, decreasing to less than 10 percent for those who have remained offense-free in the community for at least 10 years, he said.

Consider CoSA success stories

Various CoSA projects have had high success rates in the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom (Circles-UK), and Europe (Circles4EU), Wilson said.

When researchers asked core members in CoSAs what may have happened if they didn’t have their circles, they said they may have:

  • Had difficulty adjusting.
  • Had difficulty in relationships with others.
  • Become isolated and lonely.
  • Turned to drugs and alcohol.
  • Reoffended.

Wilson recalled when a reverend and church elders created a CoSA for “Charlie,” a sexual offender released from prison. Community members picketed — understandably, considering that Charlie had an actual risk rating of a 100 percent chance of reoffending within seven years, Wilson said.

But Wilson said they had to consider the alternative. “We could stand idly by and watch him reoffend or do something active about it,” he said. Communities share responsibility for both the victims and the offenders, who, despite their wrongdoings, are still community members, he said.

Charlie never committed any sexual or other criminal offense and had maintained a close connection to his circle until he died 12 years later, Wilson said. “If it can work with a guy like that, then why can’t it work on your campuses as well?” Wilson said.

CoSAs on campus deserve consideration, but campus officials would first need to gauge each violation’s severity, the campus anxiety level, and other factors, Karp said. CoSAs could benefit victims as well as the entire campus community and beyond — not just the student responsible for the misconduct, he said.That's because CoSAs provide reassurance that the administration is paying close attention to the offender, he said.

“It’s a very good time for us to create models where we’re building good relationships, by having CoSAs on campus. I don’t buy the model that suspension or expulsion is a good outcome. Where are we expelling them to? Is the place they’re going to as well-resourced, as well-informed, and as capable of working with that student so that student functions well in society?” Karp asked.

Address challenges

If you’re considering implementing CoSAs at your institution, Karp and Wilson offered the following recommendations to help you better manage and respond to several likely challenges:

  • Challenge: Limited time, staffing and other resources.
  • Response: “How many people on our campuses have so much energy around the issue of sexual misconduct but have no place to channel it, except for getting OCR to get your campus on the list?” Karp asked. They could pour that energy into participating as members of CoSAs, Karp said.
  • “We’re very intentional about who we accept into the circle. We want them to be balanced in most areas of their lives. We want them to be invested in the idea that things can be better. We don’t want someone with an axe to grind. We don’t want someone who thinks the world needs to be nicer to sexual offenders. Women have to have a voice in this, and we’d be foolish not to include them,” Wilson said.

    CoSAs could meet in a room in your student center and an existing staff member could coordinate CoSAs as part of their responsibilities, Wilson said.

  • Challenge: Resistance from those who just want these students removed from campus.
  • Response: Not all victims feel this way, Karp said. Although some victims have said they were able to come forward only because they knew the person would be expelled, other victims said if they knew expulsion was the only option on the table they wouldn’t have come forward, he said. Stress the full title of CoSAs, with emphasis on the word Accountability, and explain that the student won’t just be wandering campus without support, monitoring and check-ins.
  • When victims find out that CoSAs will hold the person responsible for completing sanctions or counseling, and ensure they don’t cross paths at class or the gym, victims are likely to feel reassured, Wilson said. It also saves time for student affairs professionals who would’ve had to cross-check their schedules, he said.

    In Wilson’s experience, the police and victims’ advocates groups become the voice of the community and might have the least faith in CoSAs — initially. So he takes the time to meet with them and explain how CoSAs won’t watch someone fail and victimize more people, but instead serve as a proactive alternative to sitting idly by while a person involved in sexual misconduct returns to either your campus community or another community. Formerly resistant communities that have CoSAs have now sent letters of recommendation, he said. “Everywhere we go, there’s skepticism first, and acceptance after the fact,” he said.

  • Challenge: Students who won’t accept responsibility for sexual misconduct.
  • Response: CoSAs can still work even if students don’t admit their wrongdoing; you just have to change the way you approach these students, he said. Denial or minimization doesn’t predict the risk of repeat offenses, Wilson said. But individuals who can commit to living their lives very differently than they did before increase their chances of becoming responsible community members, he said. Wilson suggested telling the student in denial: “Let’s just say you didn’t do this and it’s just a great miscarriage of justice. Let’s look at where you are in your life right now. People think or will assume you did this. They think horrible things about you because of this. So what do you want to do to change your life situation and how you’re perceived right now?” The steps they would take in response would end up being the very same steps you’d want them to take if they did admit responsibility, such as participating in a CoSA, he said.

For more information, you may contact Karp at dkarp@skidmore.edu or Wilson at r.wilsonrj@verizon.net or visit www.robinjwilson.com.

Liability
2/25/2015 12:00 AM

ORLANDO, FLA. — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Yik Yak. The breakneck speed at which the social-media world continues to grow and change presents an array of challenges for colleges and universities struggling to keep pace. Institutions face a difficult balance between boosting their social-media presence and steering clear of legal hot water and PR nightmares.

ORLANDO, FLA. — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Yik Yak. The breakneck speed at which the social-media world continues to grow and change presents an array of challenges for colleges and universities struggling to keep pace. Institutions face a difficult balance between boosting their social-media presence and steering clear of legal hot water and PR nightmares.

“There’s the feeling that everyone else is doing this, so let’s do this,” said Jacob Rooksby, assistant professor of law at the Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh. But institutions must implement a thoughtful and systematic social-media approach that furthers educational goals while limiting liability, he said. Rooksby recently spoke at Stetson University’s National Conference on Law & Higher Education.

The 140-character limit on Twitter certainly doesn’t limit your institution’s exposure to claims of defamation or other areas of liability, Rooksby said. In fact, your institution won’t get off the hook just by shifting the blame to staff or faculty members who use institutional social-media accounts, he said.

And some students’ posts would make any higher ed administrator cringe. Hateful and disrespectful speech about faculty, staff and other students isn’t anything new. But the platform has changed. Instead of whispers and notes heard and seen by a few, social-media posts instantly appear before thousands on Yik Yak or Twitter, and often anonymously. Banning a particular platform won’t solve the problem, Rooksby said.

Gain perspective

“Some of the most important speech is anonymous. And hate speech is not punishable under the Constitution unless it rises to the level of defamation or a true threat,” Rooksby said.

The best starting point is developing social-media policies/guidelines, he said. Don’t assume existing policies cover social media. Ensure policies define what’s covered, what’s not, and whether and to what extent policies address student and employee activity, he said.

Your institution should also coordinate its social-media activities, which happens at very few institutions. “There’s really no one in charge. Think of the benefit of brand. Corporations have entire departments overseeing social media,” Rooksby said.

Many institutions have lost track of how many accounts bear their institution’s name or other identifying marks, or which institutional representatives actively represent the institution on social media, he said. Such lack of awareness could bring all kinds of trouble to bear on the institution, he warned.

Use social media for branding

Instead, your institution can harness the power of social media for branding, promotion and reputation, Rooksby said. Here’s how, according to Rooksby:

  • Identify a social-media coordinator and create a social-media hub. For example, Harvard University’s website has a social-media page that lists all its social-media accounts so people can connect to them from one central place.
  • Manage the message. Ensure your institution creates and uses its very own hashtag. It can be a valuable opportunity to take back control, have influence, and overcome the negatives on social media.
  • Reclaim your institution’s name. Find out if student organizations or others use your institution’s name/insignia/logo in their Twitter handle or Facebook page. Then, reclaim it. Otherwise, consumers could reasonably believe the other party is your institution. If your reclaiming efforts are met with free speech concerns, explain that they can continue saying whatever they want but you’re acting to prevent confusion and to protect your trademark.

Conduct social-media training, review sessions

Annual social-media training and review sessions can help ensure your institution has a safe and effective plan for handling social media, Rooksby said. Invite staff and faculty members responsible for maintaining institutional social-media accounts or contemplating creating new ones.

Rooksby suggested asking your institution’s social-media coordinator, legal counsel, public relations/marketing staff, or information technology director to give presentations on the following key topics:

  1. Institutional vs. personal accounts:
  2. Emphasize that institutional social-media accounts are maintained and operated by faculty or staff for the good of the institution. When using personal social-media accounts, faculty and staff should take care to distinguish they’re not speaking for the institution.

    Institutional accounts should bear institutional trademarks, but personal accounts should not. Institutional users must not “like” products, candidates or political causes.

    Some states have laws prohibiting employers from requiring employees to provide log-in/password credentials for social-media accounts or accept their friend requests. Many laws don’t cover shoulder searches, which means a supervisor boss could ask an employee to pull up her Facebook page at work. But Rooksby discourages that practice, because less knowledge is better when it comes to your employees’ private social-media use, he said.

  3. Account logistics:
    • Explain how to select appropriate names for institutional accounts across platforms (e.g., you want @university’s name to be the Twitter handle for the institution, not the fencing team).
    • Review the platforms and accounts your institution uses, as well as known or perceived limitations of activity.
    • Identify the social-media coordinator who keeps the central repository of institutional accounts.
    • Emphasize maintaining accurate, up-to-date access information for all institutional social-media accounts.
    • Establish communication channels between everyone responsible for institutional social-media accounts in order to encourage uniformity and prevent overlap.
    • Discuss how each institutional account relates to others.
    • Explain procedures for establishing new accounts within established platforms versus establishing new accounts within emerging platforms.
  4. Institutional rules and norms:
    • Review your institution’s social-media policy, guidelines and goals. Note how they intersect with other policies, such as student conduct codes and faculty policies.
    • Discuss positive social-media events that supported your institution’s social-media goals.
    • Review lessons learned from recent negative social-media events involving your institution.
    • Emphasize the importance of accuracy, transparency (of identity), respect, timeliness, sensitivity and interconnectivity in all institutional social-media use.
    • Remind everyone of the permanence of online posts.
    • Address how academic freedom and freedom of speech apply to social media. It doesn’t mean faculty/staff can post whatever they want and the institution can’t object or respond to it.
  5. Legal concerns:
  6. Advise institutional social-media account users to take the following steps to help reduce risk of liability, including defamation and privacy violations:

    • Obtain written consent from photographed individuals whenever possible, or at least verbally ensure they know their images could appear on social media. Avoid portraying the views/beliefs of others.
    • Don’t publicly disclose private facts about others, or anything that’s offensive.
    • Don’t post content that’s negative, derogatory, and could be proven false.
    • Ensure accessibility for all, especially if social-media use is required to fulfill curricular or co-curricular activities.
    • Limit posting others’ material, and always provide attribution. Even better, link to the original or ask permission.
    • Don’t rely on disclaimers to prevent defamation claims. For example, it’s not enough to state on your profile page, “All views expressed are my own. Retweets do not imply endorsement,” or to preface insulting posts with “In my opinion….”
    • Balance privacy versus safety concerns. Don’t let unnecessary fears of privacy violations keep you from sharing your concerns about a student’s post. “These are your thoughts about someone else and you can act on those,” especially when it concerns a public post, Rooksby said. In fact, you have a duty to respond, he said. “The risks are definitely greater in not reaching out,” he said.

Craft sound social-media policies, guidelines

The fact that social-media platforms change so quickly only underscores the critical need for carefully crafted social-media policies and guidelines.

“It’s somewhat tricky to write a set of policies that will apply for the future without being so broad that it will be meaningless,” Rooksby said.

He said social-media policies/guidelines can play a critical role by:

  • Protecting your institution’s reputation. You don’t want a disgruntled employee using your Twitter handle to send out insulting posts, for example.
  • Promoting brand uniformity and strategic engagement with constituents.
  • Preventing surprise in the event of litigation.
  • Minimizing personnel issues.

To develop effective social-media policies/guidelines for your institution, consider following Rooksby’s tips:

  • Address overarching concerns instead of tying policies/guidelines to any specific platforms.
  • Use wording that’s easy to understand and follow. Steer clear of anything too long or unwieldy to actually enforce, or so vague or broad that it could come across as impinging on academic freedom or values.
  • Consider “time/place/manner” restrictions/guidelines instead of a banned-words list that is difficult to enforce. For example, you might require student-athletes to refrain from social-media posts two hours before or after games.
  • Ensure institutionwide distribution and awareness of the policies/guidelines.
  • Determine how you’ll decide whether questionable posts cross the line and become a violation. Consider whether the posts violate any professionalism codes or rise to the level of a true threat, defamation or harassment.
  • Clearly articulate any ramifications for ignoring applicable policies/guidelines.

Jacob Rooksby provides social-media audits, trainings and consultations for institutions. You may contact him at rooksbylaw@gmail.com.

Legal
2/6/2015 12:00 AM

Colleges and universities choose to partner with outside legal counsel on a variety of student affairs issues. That might include the development of policy and procedures; advisement regarding employment matters; reviewing contracts and other legal documents; conducting internal investigations relating to student misconduct or Title IX sexual violence issues; and helping resolve disputes, claims and litigation.

Colleges and universities choose to partner with outside legal counsel on a variety of student affairs issues. That might include the development of policy and procedures; advisement regarding employment matters; reviewing contracts and other legal documents; conducting internal investigations relating to student misconduct or Title IX sexual violence issues; and helping resolve disputes, claims and litigation.

When partnering with outside legal counsel, you can help ensure a successful partnership by addressing these areas:

  1. Understanding the scope of work and implementing the approach. Institutions retain outside counsel for their expertise on a wide range of legal issues. Institutions lacking knowledge of a potential major compliance violation may retain outside counsel to assist with drafting or revising internal policies and procedures or conducting a compliance audit. Institutions with that knowledge might retain outside counsel to perform the investigation and represent them during the investigation, resolution and follow-up process.
  2. To receive greater value from your partnership with outside counsel while demonstrating financial responsibility, consider hiring more staff, even though that means additional salaries/benefits, because more staff will decrease the possibility of compliance violations occurring and increase your unit’s ability to support outside counsel when necessary. Consider using internal staff to:

    • Conduct preliminary investigations to determine whether a full investigation by outside counsel is necessary.
    • Collect documents, locate witnesses and schedule interviews.
    • Conduct investigations that are smaller and less time-consuming.

    However, delegating work to outside counsel proves more beneficial when you’re:

    • Responding to initial inquiries. An attorney can help ensure deadlines are met.
    • Conducting major investigations. An attorney conducting a major investigation gives the Office for Civil Rights and other government agencies the impression of objectivity in the findings. Additionally, an attorney with expertise in conducting interviews will ensure you have all relevant information.
    • Taking a problem-solving approach to an allegation or violation. An independent review of your student affairs unit gives the appearance of propriety. Using outside counsel provides an institution with an outside perspective when internal staff disagree about the handling of an allegation or violation.
    • Needing legal expertise. Outside counsel have experience navigating the investigation and resolution process plus expertise dealing with due process and evidentiary issues.
    • Needing additional resources. The right outside counsel will have the resources for success in the investigation, resolution and follow-up processes, including drafting and editing documents, conducting thorough investigations and interviews, and so on. Delegating this work allows internal staff to focus on daily responsibilities.
  3. Manage the relationship. When you decide to work with outside counsel, establishing communication guidelines and tracking expenses are two of the most important components to a successful partnership.
  4. Consider the following issues when establishing communication guidelines:

    • Designate the primary contacts for outside counsel. This could be your institution’s chief executive officer, a member of the general counsel’s office, the student affairs vice president, or the dean of students, for example.
    • Determine the method (e.g., phone conferences, in-person meetings) and frequency of communication (e.g., regularly scheduled, task completion–based scheduling) between outside counsel and your institution.

    When tracking outside counsel costs, consider requiring:

    • Monthly bills in a specific format.
    • Matter budgets prior to beginning the partnership, and budget updates, if necessary.
    • No changes in hourly rates or assigned attorneys without prior written approval.
    • Periodic written matter updates based upon the matter strategy and plan.
    • Limits on internal charges (e.g., copies, faxes, mailing).
  5. Evaluating the performance of outside counsel. While the outcome of a matter is a crucial metric, it’s important to understand that partnering with outside counsel neither prevents the occurrence of a violation nor guarantees a violation won’t result in significant consequences to an institution. Therefore, consider the following additional metrics when evaluating performance:
    • Was the matter resolved based upon the firm’s investigation plan and compliance violations strategy and completed within an appropriate time frame?
    • Were attorneys responsive to your communications?
    • Was the matter handled within the agreed-upon budget (absent exigent circumstances)?
    • Were your objectives and goals met?

    If you believe outside counsel is underperforming or overcharging, directly communicating that information to them is bound to improve your partnership.

Law and Campus
8/13/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: Gamage v. State of Nevada, No.: 2:12-cv-00290-GMN-VCF (D. Nev. 03/19/13).

Ruling: The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to allow the case to proceed.

Case name: Gamage v. State of Nevada, No.: 2:12-cv-00290-GMN-VCF (D. Nev. 03/19/13).

Ruling: The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to allow the case to proceed.

What it means: When a public higher education institution dismisses a student for academic dishonesty, such as plagiarism, it must give the student due process.

And that due process could include permission for the student to be represented by an attorney at a hearing.

Summary: Sujanie Gamage submitted a dissertation to her advisory committee in the chemistry program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in February 2011.

A chemistry professor filed a report in June 2011 alleging that Gamage’s dissertation contained plagiarized text.

After a hearing, the university’s academic integrity appeal panel found Gamage had committed plagiarism. She was removed from the program.

Gamage sued, disputing the academic misconduct and claiming violation of due process rights because she was prevented from being represented and/or assisted by an advisor at the hearing.

The university filed a motion to dismiss.

The judge said the Due Process Clause prohibited arbitrary deprivations of liberty.

Noting the complaint alleged UNLV prevented her from returning to the university and effectively from being admitted to another higher education institution, he ruled Gamage had adequately pled a deprivation of constitutionally protected interests.

The judge refused to dismiss the case.

You Be the Judge
8/7/2013 12:00 AM
Christopher Reichert enrolled in Ellzabethtown College in the fall of 2007. He informed the college he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a seizure disorder, and learning disabilities in written expression and reading fluency. Reichert encountered difficulties in his sophomore and senior years.

Christopher Reichert enrolled in Ellzabethtown College in the fall of 2007. He informed the college he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a seizure disorder, and learning disabilities in written expression and reading fluency. Reichert encountered difficulties in his sophomore and senior years.

He allegedly had a heated exchange with a professor when he attempted to drop a course. The professor reported the incident to the department chairman and a meeting was arranged to discuss other complaints against Reichert. The chairman concluded Reichert should be expelled because he represented a threat to others.

The provost overruled the chairman’s decision after Reichert and his parents protested. But Reichert claimed the provost and faculty members devised a multipart plan to force him out. Reichert alleged he was denied further accommodations, rumors were spread about him, and faculty members were told to “make a record of all [his] inappropriate behaviors.”

After a meeting between Reichert and the dean of students, the dean scheduled a disciplinary hearing, which was rescheduled because Reichert had a seizure. Additional meetings were scheduled to discuss Reichert’s professional competency and a plagiarism accusation. Because Reichert suffered a mental breakdown, the college allowed him to take a medical leave of absence but told him he had to face those hearings before returning.

Reichert filed a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his civil rights as a person with a disability. He also asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, alleging a conspiracy to violate his civil rights.

Reichert v. Elizabethtown College, et al., No. 10-2248 (E.D. Pa. 04/10/12)

Did the court dismiss the student’s claims?

A. Yes. The court dismissed the claims for violation of civil rights because the university was a private entity and wasn’t acting under color of law.

B. Yes. The court dismissed the claims alleging conspiracy because he couldn’t show that two or more people conspired to have him dismissed.

C. No. The court upheld the claims for violation of civil rights because the university, by virtue of being a recipient of federal funds, acted under color of law.

D. No. The court upheld the conspiracy claim because the allegations were sufficient to establish a possible conspiracy among college officials with the objective of having the student dismissed.

Correct answer: A and D.

The claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 were dismissed because Reichert couldn’t show the college was a “state actor.” But the judge noted Reichert’s allegations established the required elements for the § 1985 claim. Because he alleged the individual defendants held at least one meeting to unlawfully remove him and also asserted other allegations of disability-based discrimination, the judge decided not to dismiss the claim.

Editor’s note: This feature isn’t intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

Law and Campus
8/1/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: State of Illinois v. Oduwole, No. 5-12-0039 (Ill. App. Ct. 03/06/13).

Ruling: Illinois’ Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding that a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student was wrongly convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat.

Case name: State of Illinois v. Oduwole, No. 5-12-0039 (Ill. App. Ct. 03/06/13).

Ruling: Illinois’ Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding that a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student was wrongly convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat.

What it means: To prove a charge of attempting to make a terrorist threat, the prosecution must introduce more than just a few writings that appear to be threatening from a student who aspires to be a rap singer, plus weapons without bullets, and the opening of a PayPal account under a pseudonym.

Summary: Olutosin Oduwole, a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, opened a PayPal account under the name “Jeff Robinson” on May 3, 2007. On July 16, the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms informed campus police Oduwole had recently purchased four pistols.

Campus police decided on July 20 Oduwole’s vehicle had been left unattended for more than two days. In accordance with university policy, a campus police officer prepared to tow it away. During a routine inventory of the vehicle’s contents, the officer found bullets in the console.

He also found a piece of paper depicting an inhaler and handwriting. Much of the writing was unconnected words, but it also had the phrase: “SEND 2 to … paypal account if this account doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next 7 days then a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated university. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!”

Oduwole was immediately arrested and charged with attempting to convey a terrorist threat. A loaded pistol and nearly 2,000 pages of writings were seized from his room pursuant to a search warrant. A large percentage of the entries appeared to be rap lyrics or writings related to aspiring to have a rap career.

A more thorough search of the vehicle uncovered a knit cap with a ski mask hidden behind the back seat. The searches didn’t yield any indication of plans to distribute a threat or ammunition for the handguns Oduwole had purchased.

A forensic specialist concluded the handwriting on the paper was Oduwole’s.

A Microsoft Movie Maker file was found on the hard drive of his computer, but the file had been deleted. However, some captions remained in a compressed drive and the picture files had names of universities such as Harvard University and Penn State.

At his trial, Oduwole produced evidence he was an aspiring rap artist, and an expert testified the handwriting amounted to the beginning of a song.

Oduwole was found guilty of illegally possessing a firearm and attempting to make a terrorist threat. He appealed only the terrorist threat conviction.

The state argued the handwritten phrase on the paper, the creation of the Movie Maker file, and the opening of the PayPal account either individually or collectively was sufficient to support the conviction.

But the appellate court said there was no evidence Oduwole ever had a plan to disseminate the writing on the paper.

And it said PayPal accounts and Movie Maker files weren’t specially designed for unlawful purposes.

Finally, the court found no evidence Oduwole targeted anyone in whom he intended to instill fear. The panel didn’t mention a fake name on his PayPal account or the ski mask hidden in his car.

The panel concluded the evidence merely showed activities consistent with a variety of scenarios. It reversed Oduwole’s conviction.

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    Claudine McCarthy
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    Claudine brings two decades of extensive and varied experience in journalism and publishing to Student Affairs Today. An award-winning editor, Claudine keeps up with the ever-changing world of student affairs by staying in close contact with experts on various hot topics and by attending professional conferences
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