The case of a Portland State University student expelled last year after allegations that he threatened to harm a professor could potentially impact student rights at colleges and universities across the state of Oregon.
Henry Liu, who one year ago was a graduate student in the Conflict Resolution department at PSU, has consistently denied threatening anyone. Despite being arrested and held in a psychiatric ward for nearly a week, Liu has never been charged with any crime in the case and received a clean bill of mental health after his ordeal.
In the wake of his expulsion, Liu's attorneys sought review in the court of appeals of PSU's decision to expel him, asking the Oregon Court of Appeals to reverse that decision and require another expulsion hearing on the grounds that the university did not provide him the basic procedural rights to which he was entitled. Portland State responded that the courts have no jurisdiction over their disciplinary process.
The Court of Appeals in December ruled that it does have jurisdiction to hear the case. A request for reconsideration by the university was denied in January.
"The procedures adopted by the respondent (PSU) do not address judicial review at all," said the appeals court in denying PSU's motion to dismiss.
Now, Portland State is expected to seek review of that decision before the Oregon Supreme Court, arguing that the court has no jurisdiction over its disciplinary process and that the university alone has the right to decide what process is required. A spokesman from Portland State says the university is considering whether to appeal or not; if they decide not to appeal it means they accept the court's jurisdiction to rule on their disciplinary process.
It may prove to be a watershed moment for Oregon college students – if Liu's case establishes the jurisdictional argument and proceeds to a judgment of the merits of Portland State's disciplinary process.
If Liu wins, then every university student who has been expelled or suspended without a "contested hearing" for the prior two years – the statute of limitations -- might get the right to file suit against their college for denying them due process, and for damages.
Currently Liu, a former businessman of Chinese heritage who grew up in the Midwest, says his personal and professional life have been destroyed -- banned from Portland State before he was able to complete his studies, the incident cost him his law school admission and financial aid, and shamed his family as well.
Liu had worked successfully as a City of Portland intern who mediated a community dispute case in North Portland and was looking forward to attending law school at Willamette University, where he had already won financial aid.
Then in April of last year, an unnamed fellow student of Liu's in the Conflict Resolution department told a professor that Liu had threatened to harm another professor with a gun.
Rather than contacting Liu himself, Portland State authorities called the Portland police, who descended on Liu's apartment with campus security in tow.
There the police began evacuating Liu's building as they confronted him in the hallway outside his apartment, asking him if he was armed; according to the police report, Liu responded "no."
However within minutes, according to the police report on the incident, Liu had invited the officers into his apartment and showed them his four firearms, which he had purchased legally and which were secured, unloaded, with ammunition stored separately.
Liu was arrested and involuntarily committed to the Oregon Health and Science University psychiatric ward for a mental evaluation despite his willingness to undergo the tests on his own volition.
Friends of Liu who were interviewed by The Skanner News last year said they found him in the psychiatric ward without any toiletries or clean street clothes; they said Liu was being medicated, and spoke of being uncertain that he would be let out despite the fact that he was "not crazy."
Liu was released from the ward with a clean bill of mental health but was subsequently kicked out of PSU after the campus expulsion hearing; the results of his psychiatric exam were not allowed as evidence but a "wanted poster"–styled "timely warning" was released by the campus security department, with a photograph of Liu, identifying him as a danger to the campus.
Liu's attorney is prepared to argue in the court of appeals that the university's hearing – in which Liu was not allowed to be physically present in the room, his attorney was not allowed to introduce key pieces of evidence, and Liu's attorney was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses – amounts to a denial of Liu's due process under state law.
"The procedures adopted by the respondent (PSU) do not address judicial review at all," the appeals court, in dismissing PSU's appeal, wrote in January.
In a further wrinkle, the U.S. Department of Education on March 13 officially opened a Civil Rights investigation into Liu's treatment by the university, which Liu says marked him as "a crazy Asian shooter" – a racist stereotype.
A spokesman for PSU says the investigation is not a significant development and that
"The Office of Civil Rights is required to respond and 'investigate' every complaint," said Scott Gallagher. "Just because they are doing so does not mean the complaint has merit. We stand behind our actions and the decisions made to ensure the safety of our faculty, staff, and students."
The notification letter to Liu and his family, obtained by The Skanner News, indicates the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Education is specifically looking into Portland state's actions of:
"1. having you arrested and involuntarily committed to the Oregon Health and Sciences University Hospital on April 20, 2012;
"2. posting notices on the university campus, and the university website, and electronically to all students and university staff by e-mail message stating that you made threats of violence against the university community; and
"3. suspending and subsequently expelling you on June 20, 2012."
Liu told The Skanner News last month that he retrieved all his confiscated property –including the guns -- and has already sold every weapon and all the equipment.
At the time of the PSU incident he had been trying to sell his gun paraphernalia, as online ad listings obtained by The Skanner News showed.
The "timely warning" issued by PSU after it had Liu arrested is still on the PSU website even now, as the case winds through the court system.