I am writing in response to the June 25, 2019, Parthenon editorial, “Open letter to Marshall University.”
The column misrepresents the university’s actions in response to the February 2016 sexual assault allegations against former student Joseph Chase Hardin. In giving readers the impression the university failed to act to protect the campus community, the editorial does a distinct disservice to Marshall University’s students, employees and alumni.
For instance, the editorial asserts Mr. Hardin “should never have been allowed to remain a student on campus after he raped another student in 2016,” referring to former student Alicia Gonzales, who accused Mr. Hardin of sexual assault in a university residence hall in February 2016.
Public court documents show administrators took immediate and decisive action to protect Ms. Gonzales and the entire university community throughout both the student conduct investigation and the separate criminal justice process, including the following:
· 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);
· Expelling Mr. Hardin at the conclusion of the initial student conduct investigation, including maintaining the no-contact order and residence hall restrictions (March 2016);
· 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);
· 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
· 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 could—even going beyond what was required by its own policies and state and federal law—to protect the accuser and the university community. To put it simply, if a student is not found guilty of sexual assault through the campus disciplinary process or the criminal process, a university cannot just kick him or her out.
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.
And, finally, the columnist writes of the coverage of this case in the media, “That is not the kind of press we like to see.”
On this point, I could not agree more. I was educated as a journalist at Marshall University myself and would suggest that perhaps the damage caused to Marshall’s reputation has not been done by any action or inaction by the university, as is claimed in the editorial, but by careless reporting in the media and a rush to judgement without a level-headed review of the facts on all sides of the issue.
Nobody from The Parthenon has contacted our office about this case. If they had, we would have been happy to share the university’s viewpoint and the public documents. That’s the way real journalism works.
Senior Vice President for Communications and Marketing
Note: The details in this letter to the editor are taken from publicly available court documents; therefore, their disclosure here is not in violation of The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records, including student conduct proceedings. Furthermore, Ms. Gonzales has chosen to reveal her identity in media interviews.