Over the past several weeks, there has been a great deal of news coverage regarding Marshall University and its response to sexual assault allegations against former student Joseph Chase Hardin.
There has been a constant drumming in most of the news coverage and social media discourse that the university failed to take measures to protect former student Alicia Gonzales, who accused Mr. Hardin of sexual assault in a university residence hall in February 2016.
Although it may make a compelling story to lead newspaper and television audiences to the conclusion that the university did not protect Ms. Gonzales - and by implication, the Marshall community as a whole - that narrative is misleading. In giving readers the impression the university failed to act, this storyline has done a disservice to Marshall University.
A series of public documents on file in U.S. District Court right here in Huntington - all readily available to journalists - show administrators took immediate and decisive action to protect Ms. Gonzales and the university community throughout both the student conduct investigation and the separate criminal justice process, including the following:
n Issuing an order prohibiting Mr. Hardin from having any contact with Ms. Gonzales or her friends and banning him from all residence halls while the student conduct investigation was being conducted (February 2016);
n Expelling Mr. Hardin at the conclusion of the initial student conduct investigation, including maintaining the no-contact order and residence hall restrictions (Mr. Hardin immediately appealed his expulsion to a Student Conduct Hearing Board.) (March 2016);
n Determining that the decision by a Student Conduct Hearing Board to exonerate Mr. Hardin upon his appeal of his expulsion was unwarranted and consequently banning him from Marshall University property until the conclusion of his criminal trial, allowing him to take online classes only (May 2016);
n Keeping the no-contact order in effect during Mr. Hardin's appeal of his campus ban and subsequently affirming the ban upon review of his appeal, even though Ms. Gonzales had already made the decision to transfer to another school effective with the fall 2016 semester and there would be no opportunity for interaction between her and Mr. Hardin (August 2016); and
n Prohibiting Mr. Hardin from being in the residence halls and Rec Center and from participating in any extracurricular activities for the entire 2017-18 academic year, even after he was allowed to plea down to a misdemeanor battery charge in his criminal case, (January 2017).
This series of actions demonstrates Marshall University took every legal measure it felt it had at its disposal to protect the accuser and the community. To put it simply, if a student is not found guilty of sexual assault through the established campus disciplinary process, a university cannot just kick him or her out.
Marshall University was able to expel Mr. Hardin for a second charge on June 11, 2019, when the university's student conduct process determined he violated policy related to sexual harassment and sexual conduct in another case. The decision to do so came at the conclusion of a months-long investigation and when all appeals were exhausted.
The respected Chronicle of Higher Education took a balanced look at this case in a June 14, 2019, article, "A Student Is Expelled After Multiple Sexual-Assault Accusations. Could the University Have Stopped Him Sooner?" I recommend the article to anyone who is interested in learning more about the challenges faced by universities in these types of cases.
Ginny Painter is senior vice president for communications and marketing at Marshall University.