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Former UAF hockey player acquitted of rape says the university won't give him his degree

  • Author: Jerzy Shedlock
  • Updated: July 24, 2016
  • Published July 24, 2016

A former University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey player who was charged with and then acquitted of rape says the statewide college system refuses to hand over his petroleum engineering degree.

Nolan Youngmun, through his attorney William Ingaldson, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the University of Alaska and three individuals, who he argues are unreasonably withholding his bachelor's degree.

Former UAF chancellor Brian Rogers, interim chancellor Michael Powers and the university's Title IX coordinator Mae Marsh are named as co-defendants in the suit, which also seeks more than $100,000 in damages.

Ingaldson argues in court documents that the university has no basis to keep Youngmun's degree from him.

"(Youngmun) had completed all the requirements for graduation and the conferral of a degree. Withholding his degree was not necessary to protect the welfare of anyone else in the University community," the attorney wrote in affidavit asking the court for immediate relief.

Youngmun studied in Fairbanks for four years starting in 2011 and was set to graduate in the spring of 2015. On April 10 of that year, a fellow UAF student accused him of rape. Youngmun was found not guilty of two sexual assault charges in February.

Prior to being charged in state court, the university initiated a Title IX investigation, a federal law that establishes sex discrimination protections for schools that receive federal financial assistance.

That investigation began four days after the alleged victim came forward. According to the complaint, Marsh told the assigned investigator, "The alleged perp graduates in three weeks, we need to get the administrative investigation concluded so we can make a preponderance call and expel prior to graduation."

In late April 2015, Rogers emailed Youngmun, informing him his graduation and degree "were to be held in abeyance" pending the outcome of the university's investigation, the complaint says. Youngmun was permitted to take his final exams and complete his final projects remotely, as he'd been trespassed from campus.

The former hockey player's attorneys argue, among other things, that nothing in the UA Board of Regents policy or regulations in effect at the time of the charges — or when restrictions were placed on Youngmun — allowed the university to withhold his degree until the end of their investigation.

Additionally, even if students commit major violations of the student code of conduct, with the exception of academic fraud, nothing in the Regents' regulations or the university's bylaws allow permanently withholding a degree as a punishment, the complaint says.

In general, a section of the Regents policy provides for the imposition of a "summary restriction," said UA spokesperson Robbie Graham. She defined the restriction as an immediate and temporary limitation on a student's access to the university or its services pending the outcome of an in-house judicial matter.

"This may include withholding a degree in an appropriate case," Graham said.

It has been about 15 months since the university started its investigation, according to the complaint. Investigators have yet to schedule an interview with Youngmun, it says.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of breaching a contract and violating Title IX by not following a requirement that student complaints be promptly resolved.

Graham said the university could not comment on pending litigation.

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