Students protesters charged with violating the conduct code say they are being turned away from the University of Oregon’s student legal counseling.
Some of the 13 students who were charged after protesters interrupted UO President Michael Schill’s Oct. 6 State of the University speech say they were told that receiving legal aid from the UO is a conflict of interest.
But the Office of Student Advocacy (OSA) states on its website that it “provides legal advice and assistance to students charged with student conduct code violations.” The website states that it informs students of their rights, helps obtain incident reports, assists in administrative conferences and appeals, and discusses alternative resolutions and sanctions.
However, the OSA’s website also states that “OSA attorneys are prohibited from representing students in litigation involving the ASUO, or in a claim against any officer, agent or employee of the ASUO, the University, or any other department or agency of the State of Oregon, and any officer, agent, or employee thereof.”
According to Tobin Klinger, the Senior Director of Public Affairs Communications, the OSA follows the Oregon State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct when looking into possible conflicts of interest. “Individual circumstances dictate whether or not they fall under conflict of interest state codes,” said Klinger.
“We are committed to helping students with a multitude of issues,” said Hilary Berkman, the director of the OSA, and an attorney.
The OSA has been provided with a contract between the UO and Berkman. According to Berkman, the OSA and herself are obligated to follow certain policies regarding conflicts of interest, which are the policies established by the Oregon State Bar.
The OSA must “advise the affected student of the existence and nature of the conflict and the fact the Contractor must decline or withdraw from representation of the student due to the conflict,” according to Section 8.1 of Attachment A of the contract and the Oregon State Bar.
Charlie Landeros, who prefers to go by the pronouns they/them/theirs, was one of the students turned away by OSA. They led a student protest that forced Schill to cancel his State of the University speech on Oct. 6. Landeros said they sought help from the OSA after being charged with violating the student conduct code for their role in the protest.
Landeros said they were turned away and left without legal advice.
“I was told that it was a ‘conflict of interest,’” said Landeros.
According to Landeros, they were not advised of the nature of the conflict, only the existence of a conflict of interest. Landeros said that the OSA told them to look up the conflict of interest, but that the OSA did not explain how or why there was a conflict of interest.
According to Landeros, they called the OSA on Friday, Nov. 17 to receive clarification as to why students wouldn’t receive assistance. A student representative at the OSA explained that an appointment would need to be made in order for any questions to be addressed, Landeros said. Landeros provided contact information and set up an appointment for the following week, they said.
Later that Friday afternoon, Landeros received a call from the OSA and was informed that their appointment was being canceled, they said. When Landeros asked why the appointment was canceled “[they were] told that ‘answering that question was beyond the scope of their job,’” Landeros said.
According to Landeros, when they asked if the OSA representative was instructed to cancel the appointment and not help, the representative again repeated that “answering [their] question was beyond the scope of their job.”
According to Landeros, other students that participated in the protest are also being turned away from the OSA. “It feels very isolating and confusing as to why I am being refused help,” said Landeros.
“I just do not understand why people who are supposed to be taking a stance for what’s right are refusing to do so,” said Landeros.
Landeros said they went to the OSA on Monday, Nov. 19, without an appointment, to talk in person instead of over the phone to see if that would change things. “They absolutely refused to help me,” said Landeros. “They said that helping me would be a conflict of interest. I tried to ask for more explanations, they gave me nothing,” they said.