Willamette removes ASWU senator for verbal harassment
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
A panel of university administrators removed Zeke Druker (‘24) from his role as an Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) senator, citing his verbal harassment towards a fellow student in a meeting last November.
The removal, which came as a result of a university conduct violation decided on March 16, bars Druker from holding any campus leadership position through the 2021-22 school year. Druker’s appeal of the decision was rejected by a university official March 24.
The panel found that Druker had made “discriminatory remarks” towards an ASWU candidate in a public ASWU meeting “on the basis of political creed, national origin, and political background.” They decided that Druker’s remarks caused personal harm to the student and prevented them from accessing an educational opportunity.
The identity of the student targeted by Druker is withheld from this story, as it is immaterial to the news of Druker’s removal by university administrators and his failed appeal.
Lisa Landreman, Willamette’s vice president for Student Affairs, declined to comment when contacted by the Collegian, citing university confidentiality requirements. The ASWU Executive Board also declined to comment. Druker furnished to the Collegian the full text of the conduct violation decision, his appeal of it and the university’s denial of his appeal.
The November meeting stretched over two hours and was adjourned without a resolution. The candidate left the meeting in tears, and several bias reports were filed against Druker. ASWU’s adviser, Lisa Holliday, had their camera off and mic muted for the whole meeting, and did not speak once. Holliday declined to comment when contacted by the Collegian.
Druker was supported in his arguments by a few other senators. ASWU’s Senate didn’t meet again until after the winter break ended in January. At least one senator resigned as a result of the meeting. The meeting recording was later removed from ASWU’s shared drive. Some of [ASWU restructuring]’s future plans, including [the new conduct policies], are motivated by the outcome of this meeting.
The university ruled that Druker’s conduct constituted harassment, which it defines as “behavior that is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it interferes with or limits a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from the university’s educational or employment opportunities, programs or activities.” The university also ruled that his conduct constituted bullying, which it defines as “abusive treatment (verbal, physical, written, or otherwise), the use of force or coercion to affect others, particularly when patterned and involving an imbalance of power (real or perceived).”
The conduct violation is solely based on Druker’s public statements in a November ASWU meeting, and the resulting sanction against him bars him from holding a student leadership position and stipulates there will be no further contact between Druker and the candidate.
Druker appealed the conduct violation decision, saying: “The finding of responsibility and conduct probation is inappropriate given the details of the case.” Druker said that his behavior was not “severe” since, according to him, he only brought up public information, made no comments on platforms outside of ASWU, and did not introduce any information that wasn’t related to the candidate’s fitness to serve. He also claimed that his behavior wasn’t “persistent,” since all behavior in question occurred in one meeting, and that his behavior wasn’t “pervasive,” since he did not attempt to contact the candidate outside of ASWU.
Druker made the following claims about the candidate in the November meeting: that they are an active member of a "fascist" organization (referring to the Republican Party), and that their social media history contains antisemitic and nationalistic remarks. Druker opposed the candidate’s nomination on those grounds, saying that while both claims “are entirely matters of opinion,” they are relevant in “considering the merits of a student leader.”
The candidate had passed a university conduct check prior to their nomination, and a later investigation by ASWU President Claire Mathews-Lingen found that no ASWU bylaws or procedures had been violated. Druker said that “conduct checks cannot be the sole relevant basis by which a Senator may determine the fitness of a nominee,” and that while much of what he’d heard about the candidate was “conjecture,” the arguments he made in the meeting were based upon public information.
According to Druker, antisemitism can be “extremely subtle” and is not obvious to those that are not Jewish. His determination that the candidate’s social media history contained antisemitism is a “sincerely and conscientiously held opinion that I have formed as a member of a targeted group.”
Druker, in his appeal letter to administrators, said that his personal judgment of the candidate would not meet evidentiary standards in conduct procedures or a court of law, but was relevant in a political process: “This is not a matter of employment or academic participation being denied or any other similar case. There are no due process protections. This is a purely political question of confidence in a nominee—like any political election.” In a position of power, Druker said, a leader cannot even be perceived to hold “oppressive biases.”
Druker sent a lengthy email to both ASWU senators and the Collegian after the November meeting, listing and displaying the posts he found to be antisemetic or nationalist.
Druker said he believes that the Republican Party is “an enabler of fascist and racist violence,” which he does not consider to be in line with ASWU’s values. His objection to the candidate was a result of the candidate’s decision to associate with the Republican Party, and that in a political process, holding a candidate to account was permissible and did not constitute harassment on the basis of “political creed.” Druker added that his remarks also did not constitute harassment on the grounds of “national origin,” as his claims concerned the candidate’s perceived nationalism, not nationality.
Druker noted that ASWU makes all candidate decisions on a two-thirds vote, so his vote alone could not bar the candidate from serving on ASWU. He also said that no candidate is entitled to a role on ASWU and thus he does not believe he denied the candidate from “accessing an educational opportunity.”
Druker’s appeal was denied on March 24. In the original ruling against him, the university stated: “We concur with your convictions, that a leader does need to stay true to their values, ethics, and morals. However, it is also important that leaders are willing to engage with people from different backgrounds and beliefs and work to not cause harm to others while advocating for their own beliefs.” In the rejection of Druker’s appeal, the university stated that its conduct violation panel followed the correct procedures and gave a fair sanction.
Read the full text of the conduct violation [here].
Read the full text of Druker’s appeal [here].
Read the full text of the appeal denial [here].
The documents contained sections that have been redacted by the Collegian to protect the privacy of the candidate.