Judge rules Middlebury College had right to suspend student

11/10/05 12:00AM By Nina Keck
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(Host) An Addison superior judge has ruled that Middlebury College had the right to suspend a member of the senior class for allegedly intruding into the room of another student.

VPR's Nina Keck has more.

(Keck) Middlebury senior O'Neil Walker had initially argued that he was unfairly suspended last spring - that he was the victim of racial profiling and that the college was at fault. This summer, however, Walker, an African-American, dropped his charges that the college's actions were racially motivated. And the ruling this week by Addison Superior Court Judge Cristina Reiss gave Middlebury College more good news.

According to court documents, Judge Reiss ruled that Middlebury's Judicial Appeals Board acted according to the college's rules and was within its discretion when it suspended Walker. Reiss also ruled that the college's sanctions indefinite suspension with the right to reapply after one semester, were not disproportionate or an abuse of the board's discretion.

Karen McAndrew is the attorney for Middlebury College.

(McAndrew) "The finding was that basically Middlebury's student judicial processes in this case were found to have been fair and conformed with the handbook procedures. In the setting of a private college the handbook is what governs your processes and procedures. We're viewing it as we're pleased to see that the court agreed that the procedures were fair and the outcome was legitimate."

(Keck) In this week's ruling, the court stated that its function was not to reweigh the evidence or redecide Walker's guilt or innocence, but instead to ensure that Walker had been given the opportunity to present evidence to his defense.

For months, students at Middlebury College were left wondering who to believe, a white student or an African American one. O'Neil Walker, an African American from New York City, argued that he did not enter the white student's room and that he was the victim of racial profiling at the college.

Attorney McAndrew says the college is very sensitive to issues of racial bias and if any had occurred, the college would have held a thorough investigation.

(McAndrew) "From the college's point of view there simply wasn't evidence of that. We thought there was a legitimate basis for bringing the disciplinary charges against Walker that was independent of race or racial bias."

(Keck) O'Neil Walker was attending college on a full scholarship, paid by Middlebury, but overseen by the Posse Foundation , a highly competitive program which helps promising students from inner cities attend high powered schools.

Walker's suspension last spring meant he could not graduate. However, he will be allowed to reapply for the spring semester. According to Middlebury's attorney Karen McAndrew, that's an administrative process and not the competitive process it is for a first-time admission. College officials say they would also continue to pay for his tuition.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Nina Keck.
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