Free Speech on Campus graphic

Wisconsin school district declines to punish high school students for Nazi-salute prom photo – November 2018

Baraboo, WI

In November 2018, a Twitter post with a photo showing a group of high school boys in Baraboo, located about 40 miles north of Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, giving an apparent Nazi salute, went viral and sparked an outcry online. The Baraboo School District  investigated the photo, but ultimately opted not to punish the students, citing First Amendment protections.

Further Details

In November 2018, a photo went viral showing a group of more than 50 young men giving what appeared to be a Nazi salute while they smiled and laughed. The photographer, a parent of one of the students pictured, took the photo shortly before the Baraboo High School prom in May 2018.

The photo did not gain attention online until an account called @GoBaraboo tweeted it out on Nov. 11, writing: “We even got the black kid to throw it up #BarabooProud.” The Baraboo police could not readily identify the user behind the account, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

After news of the tweet spread, the photographer wrote an apology online before removing the photo from his website, where it had been posted since May. But he also claimed the image captured the boys waving goodbye to their parents, according to the Associated Press. Yet, as Wisconsin Public Radio reports, there appears to be no consensus as to the motive behind the gesture. A student present when the picture was taken said the photographer had asked the students to “give some type of ‘Yeah!’ symbol,” but didn’t believe they were asked to do the Nazi-like salute specifically.

The mother of a Baraboo High School student not pictured in the photo said that “some of the kids were like ‘No, you don’t understand, that’s not what it was.’ If you go to football games on Friday nights, you’ll see all the parents, all the adults, all the cheerleaders doing the Blue-Gold, they put their hands like that. Other kids were like ‘Yeah, it was kind of confusing.’”

Jordan Blue, a student in the photo who did not make the gesture, said he felt “scared” and “uncomfortable” when the photographer told the boys to raise their arms.

“My peers should not have raised it in this specific way that was the offensive way and hurtful way,” Blue said to CNN. “It was a scary moment and it was very shocking and upsetting.”

On the same day the photograph was tweeted out, the Baraboo School District announced it would look into the incident. “The school district is investigating this situation and is working with parents, staff and local authorities,” wrote Superintendent Lori Mueller in a message to parents, according to the Washington Post. “If the gesture is what it appears to be, the district will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address the issue.” On Twitter, Mueller wrote that “the photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo.”

Outcome

School district decides not to punish teens for apparent Nazi salute

Following the investigation, Mueller announced on Nov. 26 that the school district would not be punishing the students, who are now in their senior year, according to NBC News. The students’ First Amendment rights were cited as the main reason.

“As previously stated, we cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved,” Mueller wrote in a letter to students and parents, according to the Baraboo News Republic. “Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions.”

Though it declined to punish the students, the school district said it would take several educational steps to enhance empathy in schools, including sending students to visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, according to the AP.

Critics online argued that the school district’s decision revealed a hypocrisy around Free Speech in high schools, pointing out that student athletes who sought to kneel during games to protest racial injustice faced greater backlash from public schools than students believed to have participated in a Nazi salute.  In September 2017, a Louisiana high school principal threatened to punish any athlete who did not stand for the National Anthem.

By Dec. 3, more than 39,000 people had signed a petition calling for the school district to suspend the students for their apparent Nazi salute.

Concentration camp memorial condemns students’ actions on Twitter

On Nov. 12, the Auschwitz Memorial, a museum in Poland documenting the Auschwitz concentration camp used by the Nazis during the Holocaust, where more than a million died, condemned the photo on Twitter, writing “It is so hard to find words…This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising.”

Peaceful demonstration in response to photo

Wisconsin Public Radio reported that, on Nov. 12, about 70 people gathered outside a Baraboo courthouse to denounce the original photo by taking their own, providing a counter-narrative to the negative attention the community had received since the incident became public.

External References

School says it will ban student athletes from playing if they take a knee during national anthem, The Independent

Apparent Nazi salute at prom investigated by Wisconsin school district, Washington Post

Twitter User Who Posted Controversial Baraboo Photo Yet To Be Identified, Wisconsin Public Radio

Fallout continues for Baraboo students in wake of photo showing what looks like Nazi salute, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Latest: Photographer: Controversial photo ill-timed shot, AP

School district won’t punish teens who gave apparent Nazi salute in viral prom photo, NBC News

Baraboo School District ‘not in a position to punish’ students for prom photo, letter states, Baraboo News Republic

Wisconsin district unveils plan after Nazi salute photo, AP

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded December 10, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Arkansas high school censors investigation by student newspaper – November/December 2018

Springdale, AR

An Arkansas school district censored a high school newspaper’s investigation into the transfer of multiple high school football players between schools within the district. After the school demanded the article be taken down and suspended publication of the Har-Ber Herald, the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) became involved and advocated on behalf of the newspaper, its reporting, and its adviser.

Key Players

Halle Roberts, 17, is editor-in-chief of the Har-Ber Herald, the student-run newspaper at Har-Ber High School. As of this writing, she is in her senior year.

Paul Griep, the principal of Har-Ber High School, made the call to suspend the Herald.

Further Details

On Oct. 30, 2018, the Herald published a story questioning the legitimacy of the school district’s approval of six football players’ transfer from Har-Ber High School to rival Springdale High. Both schools are part of the Springdale Public School District, just outside Fayetteville, in the northwest corner of the state. The investigation alleged that the team members transferred for athletic rather than academic reasons, and that the district approved the move even though it violated policy.

Days after the investigation was published, school district officials demanded the story, and a subsequent editorial, be taken down, a move that broke Arkansas’s “New Voices” law, which gives student journalists legislative protections against censorship without due cause. The Herald’s staff asked the district to reconsider its decision, but the superintendent’s only response was a memo to the newspaper’s adviser, Karla Sprague, calling the article “intentionally negative, demeaning, hurtful and potentially harmful,” according to the Associated Press.

On Nov. 27, Griep suspended publication of the newspaper until the district could issue new guidelines on student media, according to BuzzFeed News. District officials called Sprague “insubordinate” before threatening to fire her, and Griep alerted the adviser that the school administration planned to implement a prior-review period for all of the Herald’s future content.

Roberts argued that attempts to change the publication policy constituted a violation of students’ rights to Free Speech. “They are trying to change the policy, which takes away our First Amendment right,” Roberts told BuzzFeed News.

Outcome

SPLC comes to Herald’s defense, republishes stories

On Dec. 3, the SPLC came to the defense of the Herald’s staff  and posted both the investigative story and the editorial about the athletes’ high school transfers on its website. “The Har-Ber Herald’s story was factual and reflected thorough reporting, including the use of public records,” the SPLC wrote. “The only discernible reason for censorship was because it reflected poorly on the district.”

The SPLC, along with nearly 30 other organizations, also wrote a letter to the school district’s superintendent expressing their concern over the censorship of the story and the treatment of Sprague.

Amid pressure, district allows stories to be republished on Herald site

On Dec. 5, the district backtracked and allowed both the investigative report and the editorial to be reinstated to the Har-Ber Herald’s website. However, the district did not comment on its new prior-review policy, according to the SPLC.

External References

Arkansas school district allows paper to post banned article, AP

A High School Newspaper Was Suspended For Publishing An Investigation Into Football Players’ Transfers, BuzzFeed News

Censored story: Athletes transfers in question, Student Press Law Center

Censored editorial: Hear me roar, Student Press Law Center

SPLC spearheads coalition to fight censorship incident in Arkansas, Student Press Law Center

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded December 10, 2018

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Maine professor barred from teaching after offering course credit for lobbying US senator — October 2018

Portland, ME

As part of an initiative to offer “pop-up” courses in social justice at the University of Southern Maine, Professor Susan Feiner offered students one course credit for taking a bus to Washington, DC, to lobby Republican Senator Susan Collins during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. After the university learned of Feiner’s plans, it barred her from teaching there again.

Key Players

Professor Susan Feiner, of the University of Southern Maine (USM), was barred from teaching at the university on October 3, 2018. For 21 years as a tenured professor, Feiner had taught both economics and women and gender studies, but she retired from full-time teaching on July 1, 2018. She subsequently became head of USM’s Social Justice Pop-Up Program, run out of the Frances Perkins Initiative. One of the program’s “pop-up” courses offered students a free bus trip to Washington, DC, to talk with Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, about how she would vote on the then-pending nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and a single course credit for doing so.

The University of Southern Maine is a public institution based in Portland. University President Glenn Cummings barred Feiner from further teaching in the University of Maine system.

Further Details

On October 3, 2018, Professor Susan Feiner created a “pop-up” course with the Frances Perkins Initiative that offered students one course credit to take a bus to Washington, DC, to discuss Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court with Senator Susan Collins. Over a 22-year career in the Senate, Collins had earned a reputation for centrist views and for taking her time making decisions, and she was considered a swing vote heading into the final days of the confirmation process for Kavanaugh, who was the object of last-minute allegations of sexual misconduct while in high school. She was the last Republican senator to announce a decision on Kavanaugh’s appointment and was the object of much lobbying.

Feiner developed the course, “Engaged Citizenship,” by advertising the opportunity through another professor on Facebook, but without going through traditional registration processes. Feiner told the Portland Press Herald that she had planned to fill out the proper form to register the class during the bus ride to DC, but that she thought it was not necessary to do so immediately.

After learning of the course, Maine Republicans were enraged, and contacted the university’s president, Glenn Cummings, expressing their anger over the use of public funds for what they saw as partisan purposes. On its Facebook page, the Maine Republican Party criticised the expenses, citing Feiner’s circulation of a course registration form that included a question asking students if they were willing to be arrested during the visit. On the form, Feiner also noted that, should they be arrested, the students themselves would have to post bail of $50.

Feiner defended herself, saying that no university funds were used for the course, because the money came from a private grant to the Frances Perkins Initiative. However, Cummings quickly pulled university support for the course, and released a statement on October 4 explaining the move and assuring the public that no university funds would be used to pay for the trip. “University policy makes it absolutely clear that our public, taxpayer-funded institutions must be non-partisan in terms of political activity and institutionally impartial in all political, religious and social matters that are unrelated to our universities’ core mission of education, research, and public service,” the statement said. Cummings would later reemphasize that Feiner was no longer technically a USM faculty member. On October 5, the university provost permanently barred her from teaching at institutions in the University of Maine.

Campus Reform repored that the bus was scheduled to depart Portland, ME, on the night of October 3 and arrive in Washington the next morning. But, according to The Associated Press, “University spokesman Robert Stein said that ‘as far as we know,’ no students participated in the bus trip to Washington, D.C. ‘If any students went, it was without credit and on their own.’”

Outcome

Feiner defends herself

In a newspaper column and television interviews, Feiner emphasized that although the course did not require students to protest during the trip, she did want them to witness, and optionally participate in, the “historic moment” of late-breaking controversy over Kavanaugh’s nomination. She further decried the “rabid misogyny” of the Republicans who attacked her and the officials who barred her from teaching.

Feiner barred from teaching, pending an investigation into her conduct

The current prohibition on Feiner extends to all campuses of the University of Maine system. An investigation of her conduct was launched, but Feiner speculated that the investigators did not plan to talk with her..

External References

Professor who offered college credit for trip to lobby Sen. Collins is barred from teaching, says USM.

USM president says retired professor went ‘rogue’ in offering trip to lobby Collins as college course.

Statement from Pres. Glenn Cummings, Oct. 4, 2018.

Maine Voices: I’m the so-called rogue professor. USM was my rogue adjudicator.

USM pulls credit for ‘hastily arranged’ pop-up course traveling to DC to protest.

Former USM professor explains course traveling to Washington.

UMaine ‘bars’ prof who set up anti-Kavanaugh DC trip (Update).

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Date uploaded to tracker: November 8, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Drag show and column attacking it spark controversy at John Carroll University — September 2018

University Heights, OH

A student at John Carroll University (JCU) published an opinion column in the school’s newspaper criticizing the annual drag show put on by an LGBTQ student organization. The column was criticized as hate speech by the organizers and other students, but not by the paper’s editor-in-chief.

Key Players

Declan Leary is a student at John Carroll University, a private Jesuit school southeast of Cleveland, Ohio, who writes a regular column in the Carroll News, the University’s student-run newspaper. He frequently expresses conservative views, using terms some find offensive.

LGBTQA+ Allies is a student organization at John Carroll University that supports students of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Olivia Shackleton, editor-In-chief of the Carroll News, wrote two explanations of why she decided to publish Leary’s column about the drag show.

Further Details

On September 20, 2018, the Carroll News published columns by Declan Leary and Kathleen Mackey side-by-side, both discussing the school’s annual drag show, which had been going on for six years. Leary denounced the event with strong language and called on the university to return to its “Catholic character.” He referred to participants as “troubled men” who perpetuated a “culture of sexual perversion” that was “an assault on the dignity of the human person,” and he urged the university to renew its support for traditional gender norms and “to purge this place [JCU] of the evils which have invaded it in the names of tolerance and progress.” Conversely, Mackey’s column supported the drag show, describing it both as a celebration of free expression on campus and as an event where LGBTQ students could find community and acceptance.

In calling the event “sexual perversion,” Leary’s column equated gender identity and sexual orientation in a manner that many contest. Merriam-Webster defines “drag” as “entertainment in which performers dressed as members of the opposite sex caricature gender stereotypes through the use of often outrageous costumes and exaggerated mannerisms.” People who perform in drag shows are referred to as “drag queens,” and while they may be transgender or non-gender-binary, not all drag queens have a non-traditional gender identity. Furthermore, gender identity refers to whether a person identifies as male or female or chooses not to conform to either binary; this exists outside of their sexuality, which has to do with whom they are attracted to and choose to engage in sexual activity with. Due to this distinction, many members of the LGBTQ community, which refers to persons of both non-traditional gender and sexual identities, found Leary’s conflation of the two aspects problematic.

In letters to Editor-in-Chief Olivia Shackleton and to Leary, his piece was denounced as hate speech. Shackleton responded with two columns of her own, explaining that she viewed the matter as a Free Speech issue, and saying that “it is unfair and unConstitutional [sic] to demand that Declan’s rights to freedom of press and freedom of speech be stripped, just because you do not like what he has written.”

The university issued a statement to cleveland.com, saying: “John Carroll University fosters a campus community where differing points of view and experiences are valued as part of the learning process. (…) We encourage respectful dialogue and communication on these cultural and societal issues.” The university has a page on its website that explains its “Hate Free Policy,” which affirms its commitment to allowing different perspectives in campus conversations, and defines bias offenses as “any conduct (harassment or physical acts) directed at an individual(s) on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability with intention to intimidate or injure an individual(s) physically, mentally, or emotionally.”

Outcome

Student editor defends column, as university reaffirms commitment to dialogue

Shackleton explained that she valued an author’s ability to express himself and to begin a conversation on campus. The university posted an extensive list of articles on its website discussing Free Speech and offered students the opportunity to report bias incidents on campus.

External References

Drag Queens and Jesuits, The Carroll News

Don’t Be a Drag, The Carroll News

Carroll News Controversy, The Carroll News

Words Have Consequences, The Carroll News

JCU’s Hate Free Policy.

Free Speech or Hate Speech? Resources Provided on JCU website

John Carroll University student column argues against drag show, incites free speech debate, Cleveland.com

 

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Date uploaded to tracker: November 8, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Artist claims censorship after removal of portrait at Massachusetts private school – October 2018

Dedham, MA

A private school near Boston removed a painted portrait by its artist-in-residence for depicting a young woman with her middle finger raised in protest in front of a hotel with a sign bearing the Trump name. The artist decried the removal as censorship, while the administration saw it as an opportunity to cultivate campus discussion around it.

Key Players

Noble & Greenough School, often referred to as Nobles, is an elite private school in Dedham, Massachusetts, approximately 10 miles southwest of Boston. The school has nearly 630 students, across grades 7 through 12. The school offers several unique features, including five-day on-campus boarding for about 50 of its students.

Nobles also features an artist-in-residence program that allows artists to live and work at the school for eight weeks, culminating in an exhibition in the school’s Foster Gallery. Artists-in-residence at Nobles receive a $2,500 stipend, plus room and board.

Catherine Hall has served as the headmaster of Noble and Greenough School since October 2017.

Nadya Cuevas is a Puerto Rican visual artist who was the artist-in-residence at Nobles in Fall 2018.

Further Details

In October 2018, Cuevas created an exhibit of 100 portraits called “FluidIdentity,” which sought to explore the artist’s Latinx identity through a variety of lenses. According to the Boston Globe, one part of the exhibit featured a series of portraits based on an online movement of women “reclaiming the #Latina tag” to push back on hypersexualized depictions of Latina women in the media.

But one of the portraits in particular, and its accompanying text, garnered more attention than most. The image in question showed a young woman (not Cuevas) raising her middle finger in front of a hotel bearing the name of President Donald Trump, as well as an accompanying canvas that featured her words.

“Me walking around DC last week,” read the accompanying text, according to the Globe. “I noticed Trump is opening a new hotel here and I had to do this. Talking down on Latinos especially my people of Mexico.”

Outcome

Administration removes portrait, sparking campus dialogue

On Oct. 5, 2018, the school removed the portrait and text, saying the level of profanity displayed (i.e. the middle finger) was inappropriate for the school setting, according to the Globe.

“In the larger art world, we certainly understand that this kind of art has a wonderful place, but in a seventh through 12th grade school we have to be judicious at times,” Hall said.

Though the portrait’s vulgarity was the ultimate deciding factor, the political message expressed also had a role in the decision to remove the piece. “Some were offended for political reasons and feeling that it set a culture of silence and made it feel less safe to speak up with different views,” Hall said, according to the Globe. “Most of what I heard was that the profanity was disrespectful to the climate and culture we’re trying to build.”

The decision was a “tough judgment call,” according to Hall, but constituted “censorship,” according to Cuevas.

“The time has come, there’s conversation of censorship. In Violation… illegal… #art #latinx i have stirred some feathers… to be continued,” Cuevas tweeted on Oct. 4, once controversy over the work had arisen.

On October 6, Cuevas posted a picture of the removed artwork and commentary on Instagram, overlayed by the word “CENSORED.” “#censorship in #art complex conversations being forced onto young people #artmatters #latinx #voice #boston,” reads the caption.

Cuevas said students have generally reacted well to her work throughout her residency, and noted the importance of developing empathy through art.

“Students approached me and said that they felt finally validated on campus […] that their voice was present now and they were excited a Puerto Rican or a Latina was showing work in their school,” Cuevas said. Students must “be empathetic to different views […] to be able to listen to others’ stories because these stories are real.”

Hall also saw the incident as an opportunity for campus discourse. The headmaster and the artist planned to talk with students at an assembly about the portrait and its removal, giving them the chance to engage with the issue, with Cuevas and with her art, according to the Globe.

“We’re finding that actually this alone serves as an opportunity for further conversation,” Hall said.

External References

Removal of portrait from Noble and Greenough exhibit sparks controversy, Boston Globe

Noble and Greenough School

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded November 4, 2018

 

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Utah high school censors student newspaper story about a teacher under investigation – January 2018

Herriman, UT

After the student newspaper at Herriman High School in Utah published a story about a popular teacher who had left his position without warning, the school temporarily shut down the paper and took control of its website and social media accounts. Administrators prevented the student newspaper from releasing the story.

Key Players

The Telegraph is the student-run newspaper at Herriman High School, which has 3,000 students and is part of the Jordan School District in Herriman, UT, a city roughly 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The paper publishes a physical copy once every academic quarter, but regularly posts stories on its website.

Conor Spahr, a senior at Herriman High school at the time of the incident, was news editor of The Telegraph and wrote the story about the teacher in question. Spahr and fellow student journalist Max Gordon, who was editor-in-chief of The Telegraph at the time, purchased a new website domain after the school administration took control of the paper and its social media channels. It was on this new website, The Herriman Telegram, that the two students reposted their original story. Both students have since graduated, with Gordon having enrolled in New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Further Details

In November 2017, Herriman High School history teacher Ryan White abruptly left his position at the school. He was well-liked, according to the Washington Post. Rumors swirled as to why he had left, and student journalists, wanting to know more, began digging into the story. Spahr submitted public records requests and interviewed high school’s administrators, but many of his questions went unanswered.

After a month and a half of investigation, these efforts culminated in January 2018, when The Telegraph published a story entitled “Herriman High Teacher Fired for Misconduct.” Aspects of the story corroborated allegations that surfaced during an investigation by the police and State Board of Education, in which an unnamed local teacher was being accused of having sent inappropriate messages to a student since the previous school year. The day after the article’s January 18 release, Herriman administrators removed it from The Telegraph’s website and revoked website access for Spahr and Gordon. Before posting the story, they had shown it to a faculty advisor and the school’s vice president, neither of whom had any objections to it.

The two student journalists, worried that their work would fail to reach an audience, purchased a new web domain to publish the story on their own. On January 21, their original article was posted on the end product of their hasty efforts, The Herriman Telegram. It was still there as of October 2018.

Jordan District officials commented neither on the allegations surrounding the teacher nor the article that had been taken down, according to the Washington Post. They did, however, assert the following in a statement: “Jordan School District encourages thought-provoking, informative and accurate reporting of all stories in our school newspapers.”

Outcome

Open letter calls for full return of student newspaper to students

Spahr and Gordon wrote an open letter to the Jordan School District, requesting that the high school return student access to The Telegraph’s website and social media accounts, so that they could repost the story and avoid any further administrative censorship. By July 2018, the petition had garnered more than a thousand student signatures.

Website returns without controversial post

School administrators made The Telegraph’s website live again on January 22, 2018, just days after taking it over and removing the story. However, they did not permit access to student journalists, and the article at the heart of this incident remains absent from the official website. By October 2018, the students’ website access had been restored.

External References

High school administrators in Utah censored The Telegraph. So, The Telegram was born. Student Press Law Center

Herriman High Teacher Fired For Misconduct, The Herriman Telegram

An Open Letter To The Jordan School District, The Herriman Telegram

Herriman High School students claim school newspaper is being censored, Fox13 Salt Lake City

The Herriman Telegraph website

Their school deleted an article on a teacher’s firing. So these teens published it themselves. The Washington Post

“End the Censorship of The Herriman High Telegraph,” Change.org petition

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded to Tracker: October 30, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Rutgers president orders further investigation into history professor disciplined for offensive Facebook post – August 2018

New Brunswick, NJ

In May 2018, a Rutgers University history professor posted an anti-white rant on Facebook, which the university found to have violated its policy on discrimination and harassment. In a challenge to the disciplinary action taken against the professor, the president of Rutgers called for a more rigorous investigation into the post’s language, citing the importance of Free Speech on college campuses.

Key Players

James Livingston, who lives in New York City, is a tenured history professor at Rutgers University. As a result of social media posts deemed to be inflammatory, he faced an investigation at Rutgers that led to disciplinary action.

Robert Barchi is president of Rutgers. Apparently unaware that another university office had found Livingston’s rant in violation of school harassment and discrimination rules, Barchi ordered that the matter undergo another review. He argued that the case needed to be examined by First Amendment experts who might shed light on speech and academic freedom issues.

Further Details

In May 2018, James Livingston, a history professor at Rutgers University, wrote a Facebook post from a restaurant in his Harlem neighborhood about his growing frustration with gentrification. “OK, officially, I now hate white people,” he wrote. “I am a white people, for God’s sake, but can we keep them — us — out of my neighborhood?” He continued on to complain that the restaurant was “overrun with little Caucasian ***holes who know their parents will approve of everything they do.” He concluded his rant with, “I hereby resign from my race.”

Several news sources, including the Daily Caller, quickly picked up the post. Livingston was soon overwhelmed with a wave of death threats and hate mail. Moreover, Rutgers University launched an investigation into his post, concluding that he had violated the university’s policy against discrimination and harassment, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Livingston attempted to appeal, arguing that his post was satirical and was not intended to be racist. However, the school stuck to its decision and said it was entertaining the possibility of disciplinary measures against Livingston. The university’s position was supported by many, both inside and outside Rutgers, who complained that Livingston’s “I hate white people” post was offensive and inappropriate. The post was removed from Facebook, for instance, for violating its standards on hate speech.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “While Livingston’s words angered many, the ruling against him infuriated others, who felt it violated his constitutional rights. A petition supporting him was started, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that advocates for freedom of speech, called on the public university to overturn the finding.”

The president of the university, Robert Barchi, sided with those who supported Livingston’s right to post. On August 29, he wrote a letter to Dean Peter March, saying that “Like many in our community, I found that Professor Livingston’s comments showed especially poor judgment, were offensive, and, despite the professor’s claims of satire, were not at all funny.” However, he went on to argue, “At the same time, few values are as important to the university as the protection of First Amendment rights — even when the speech we are protecting is insensitive and reckless.”

Outcome

In his letter, Barchi asked the Rutgers Office of Employment Equity to “more rigorously analyze the facts and the assumptions underlying its conclusions.” In essence, he overturned the decision and ordered a new review.

Additionally, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, the “university’s general counsel will also form a group to provide guidance on potential policy violations that involve academic freedom and the First Amendment.”

As of October 29, 2018, there has been no public indication of any further developments in the case.

External References

After a professor’s rant about white people, Rutgers president affirms free speech, SFGate

Rutgers President Seeks Additional Review of Professor’s Controversial Facebook Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Rutgers Considers Limits of Free Speech, The Washington Post

Prepared by Denna Nazem ‘20

Uploaded to tracker October 29, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Vermont high school newspaper censored, but ultimately prevails – September 2018

Burlington, VT

In September 2018, Burlington High School’s principal called on the school’s student-run newspaper to remove an article concerning misconduct by a faculty member. After backlash from student journalists and press freedom organizations, the principal reversed his decision, but chose to implement a new policy of a 48-hour review period before publishing stories online. Days later, the local school district commissioners reversed that policy.

Key Players

Noel Green is the principal of Burlington High School (BHS), a public high school of nearly 1000 students in Burlington, VT.

Mario Macias is the guidance director at BHS, and was the subject of the story in question.

Beth Fialko Casey is the adviser for BHS’s newspaper, The Register.

Julia Shannon-Grillo, Halle Newman, Nataleigh Noble, and Jenna Peterson were the four editors who broke the original story about Marcias for The Register. Noble and Newman were 17-year-old seniors at the time, while Shannon-Grillo and Peterson were 16-year-old juniors.

Further Details

In May 2017, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed a “New Voices” law into effect that both restricted administrative restraint of high school publications and safeguarded advisers and student journalists from discipline for publishing contentious stories, according to the VT Digger, a statewide news outlet.

On the night of Sept. 10, The BHS Register, the student-run newspaper of Burlington High School, published a story revealing that guidance director Mario Marcias had been charged with six counts of unprofessional conduct following a year-long investigation by the Vermont Agency of Education, according to the Burlington Free Press. The editors verified the facts through public records.

The article quoted an agency report that alleged Macias had created a hostile, offensive work environment, according to VT Digger.

But by the next morning, BHS principal Noel Green had ordered Fialko Casey, the adviser to The Register, to remove the article from the publication’s website. Green said the story had produced negative effects, particularly for Marcias. “In my opinion, [the article] created a hostile work environment for one of my employees,” Green later told Seven Days, a Vermont alternative-weekly newspaper.

Fialko Casey conferred with the article’s four authors, who opted to take the article down pending a meeting with Green. That meeting was postponed after Green’s later directive about a new publication policy, according to Seven Days.

In the interim, the students replaced the article with a blank page, its headline noting that “This article has been censored by Burlington High School administration,” according to Seven Days.

In a Sept. 11 interview with the Burlington Free Press, the editors said they removed the story out of concern for their adviser, Fialko Casey. This led them to call on the Student Press Law Center, which expressed the opinion that Casey was indeed protected under the New Voices law.

By the afternoon of Sept. 11, The Register’s reporting was confirmed by several local news outlets, according to Seven Days,

On Sept. 13, the Vermont Press Association and the New England First Amendment Coalition condemned the article’s removal and Noel Green’s directive to do so, demanding that the article be reposted and that the school district and principal apologize to the student editors.

Outcome

Green lifts ban

Later on Sept. 13, Green lifted the ban on the article, arguing that the information had by that point become common knowledge, according to The Register.

New prior-review policy implemented, reversed

However, on Sept. 13, Green also issued new “BHS Register Publication Guidelines,” which required Register editors to submit stories for review two days before publication. Green argued that such prior review was necessary, as certain content, potentially libelous and slanderous, is not protected under the “New Voices” law. Such a review period, then, would help ensure that students’ stories not commit such offenses.

But Green’s decision was met with backlash, as many pointed out that he had come to this conclusion without the consent of those who would be most affected by it.

“We are saddened that this new policy does not include contributions from Burlington High School students, reporters, or community members, or experts in the field, or school board members,” the Register editors wrote in response.

On Sept. 15, the Burlington School Commissioners reversed Green’s policy and invited students and “local First Amendment experts and organizations” to collaborate with the Burlington School Board on a new student-centered publication standard “with the aim of producing a policy that may become a model for all Vermont school districts,” according to The Register.

Macias placed on administrative leave

On Sept. 14, the school district’s superintendent announced that Macias would be placed on administrative leave, just days after Green said he would continue to work at BHS.

“”Our students should continue to rely on Mr. Macias. He is still the director of guidance,” Green told the Burlington Free Press on Sept. 11. But on Sept. 11, the Vermont Secretary of Education recommended Macias’s license be suspended for 364 days, according to the Free Press.

On Oct. 3, the Vermont Agency of Education escalated the punishment, recommending that Macias’s license be revoked altogether.

External References

Censorship of Burlington School Newspaper May Have Violated Law, Seven Days

Burlington High censorship could test Vermont’s ‘New Voices’ law, VT Digger

VPA, NEFAC Joint Statement on Burlington High School Newspaper Censorship Controversy, Vermont Press Association

BREAKING: Burlington School Board and District Administration end the restrictive ‘BHS Register Publication Guidelines’ imposed by Interim Principal, The Register

Despite Controversy, Burlington Principal Plans to Vet Student Newspaper Stories, Seven Days

Student newspaper censorship: Burlington High School editors win First Amendment battle, Burlington Free Press

Burlington guidance director Mario Macias placed on administrative leave, Burlington Free Press

State recommends revoking license of guidance director, AP

 

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded October 29, 2018

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Free Speech on Campus graphic

Student, prevented from distributing religious valentines, files lawsuit — September 2018

Green Bay, Wisconsin

On Valentine’s Day in February 2018, Polly Olsen, a student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), sought to continue a family tradition of passing out heart-shaped Valentine cards with Bible verses to friends and college staff members. When she got to campus that day and began distributing the cards, she was stopped by a security officer for “suspicious behavior.” According to the officer, because Olsen was outside of the campus “Public Assembly Area,” she was violating campus policy. Olsen filed a lawsuit in federal court on September 4, 2018, claiming that by preventing her from passing out the Valentines, the college violated her right to freedom of speech and expression.

Key Players

Polly Olsen is a 29-year old student at NWTC, where she is studying to be a paralegal. Her late mother began the tradition of passing out Valentine cards with religious messages while she was home-schooling Olsen and her siblings. Olsen says she has passed out Valentines on campus for at least four years.

Karen Smits is the vice president for college advancement at NWTC. She has been in the process of reviewing and revising NWTC’s “Public Assembly Policy” since 2017. The policy denotes the permitted areas for students and faculty to assemble that do not “interfere with the education of students and the College’s work.” It says that public assembly, picketing, and displaying signs must occur in the designated “Public Assembly Area,” and that anyone choosing to do these things must receive advance approval from campus administrators.

Rick Esenberg, of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, filed the federal lawsuit in Green Bay on behalf of Olsen.

Further Details

Olsen had been passing out Valentines with religious messages for about 15 minutes on February 14, 2018, when a campus security officer stopped her, according to the lawsuit. The Valentine cards included messages such as “You are special! 1 John 4:11,” “God is love! 1 John 4:11,” “Jesus Loves you! Romans 5:8,” and “You are loved and cared for! 1 Peter 5:7,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The officer who confronted Olsen told her she was violating school policy by not confining her activity to the designated area. According to the lawsuit, she was then sent to the campus security office to speak with the security coordinator, who allegedly told her that other members of the college community might find her religious messages offensive. The coordinator, according to The Journal Sentinel, also said Olsen was “disturbing the learning environment and walking into an area that is restricted to students without being invited or announced” — the General Studies Office in the student union.

The lawsuit complains that the Public Assembly Policy at NWTC “has effectively deemed all remaining indoor and outdoor areas of campus, outside the prescribed Public Assembly Area, as non-public forums off-limits for student speech and expression.” The suit also claims that “there is nothing under Wisconsin law or the rules of NWTC which would make handing out Valentine’s Day cards with Bible references illegal or constitute ‘suspicious activity’ or make the female student handing out such Valentines on Valentine’s Day a ‘suspicious person.’” Olsen asks that the court declare the Public Assembly Policy an unconstitutional restriction of free speech and expression, due to its “over-broad and vague” language.

Smits has said that she invited Olsen to participate in revising the policy to include a student perspective, but, to protect Olsen’s privacy, she would not comment on “student conduct.” She released a statement to the college community on September 5, defending the policy and reaffirming NWTC’s commitment to free speech. “The student was stopped by Security in an area that is not for the public,” the statement read. “Had she been holding anything else—or nothing—she would still have prompted a call to Security.” Smits said the policy applies on campus, because “unlike a public park, not all physical areas of educational institutions are open for public assembly.” .

Olsen noted that when she passed out the Valentines, everybody was free to decline them. According to the lawsuit, the security officer who stopped her was the only individual to do so.

Outcome

College retains private attorney to handle lawsuit

On September 5, 2018, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a federal lawsuit against NWTC for restricting free speech on campus. The college has retained a private attorney to defend it.

Lawsuit requests award for “nominal damages”

In addition to asking the court to declare the policy unconstitutional, the lawsuit seeks “nominal damages” to help Olsen cover attorneys’ fees and other expenses. It also urges NWTC to stop applying the Public Assembly Policy to students and visitors.

External References

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Student Hands Out Lawsuit Over Valentine’s Day Cards, Wisconsin Public Radio

Polly Olsen lawsuit

Public Assembly Policy

Public Assembly policy reflects right to assemble and federal policy law, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College

Valentines with Bible verses at heart of free speech lawsuit student filed against college, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Prepared by Erin Doherty ‘20

Uploaded to tracker October 22, 2018

 

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Yale Rumpus retracts issue over reference to sexual assault – September 2018

New Haven, Connecticut

Shortly after the Yale Rumpus began distributing its first issue of the 2018-2019 school year, several staffers voiced concerns over a joke referencing sexual assault in the editor’s note. Before long, editors began retrieving issues from stands around campus and issued a public apology. More than a dozen students quit the publication, and several called on the two editors-in-chief to step down.

Key Players

The Yale Rumpus is a satirical newspaper at Yale University, started in 1992, that publishes four issues a year. The paper has been criticized for jokes in the past, and often references alcohol abuse and hook-up culture on the campus.

Daniel Kaylor and Kristina Cuello are the editors-in-chief of the Rumpus, and said they were the only ones involved in writing the editor’s note.

Further Details

In the first issue of the 2018-2019 school year, the Yale Rumpus published an editor’s note containing a joke reading: “We here at Rumpus are happy for and would also like to congratulate you on losing your virginity. Now, before you think ‘Shit, does Rumpus know I blacked out and let a senior on the baseball team raw me on that foul mattress in the Sig Nu basement?’ the answer is yes, but we’ll unpack that later.” According to the Yale Daily News, editors from Rumpus decided to pull the issue after other members of the staff voiced criticism of the joke in an organization-wide group chat. The paper pulled issues from the newsstands shortly thereafter, and removed the post from its website.

Rumpus posted an apology on its Facebook page, saying: “Today, Rumpus published an issue which contained unacceptable content that unintentionally referred to sexual assault. (…) As editors-in-chief, we are deeply sorry that we allowed this content to be published. None of the content was intended to reference sexual assault; its presence in the issue was a major editorial oversight entirely on the part of the editors-in-chief, who were the only ones to have access to the final version of the issue.” The apology continued by promising to review the publication’s editorial process and to “be more sensitive to the possible implications of our content.” It also included the phone number for the SHARE hotline, which is dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual assault.

Outcome

More than a dozen Rumpus staffers quit, call on editors to do likewise

According to an anonymous source interviewed by the Yale Daily News, the Rumpus will continue to publish throughout the year. As of October 12, 2018, editors Kaylor and Cuello had not publicly tendered their resignations.

External References

Rumpus retracts issue after staff backlash, The Yale Daily News

The Rumpus’ apology posted on their Facebook page.

Yale Publication Retracts Issue Over Sex Assault Joke, Inside Higher Ed

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Uploaded to tracker: October 12, 2018