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

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Lone Star College Clarifies that Free Speech Is Permitted Outside Free Speech Zones – September 2018

Tomball, TX

On June 6, 2018, Lone Star College uploaded maps to its website after announcing its new “Free Speech Zones” policy. The maps indicated where on each of the school’s six campuses “Free Speech Zones” are designated. When a student called to see whether Free Speech would be protected outside of these zones, campus administrators evaded the question until public outcry prompted an answer, which was a revised “Speech and Conduct on College Premises” policy adopted by the Board of Trustees three months later.

Key Players

Lone Star College is a community college system in Texas, which has six campuses, all serving the North Houston metropolitan area; this incident occurred on the Tomball campus. Students and free speech activist groups criticized the college for its vague free speech policy, which, according to Campus Reform, protected freedom of thought, but did not mention freedom of speech outright.

Campus Reform is an online news source that describes itself as “a watchdog to the nation’s higher education system,” and was rated as having a “right bias” by a media fact-checking group.

Quade Lancaster is a student at Lone Star College, who was demoted from his position as student council president. Lancaster took the demotion as an attack on his First Amendment rights, because it occurred after administrators learned of a conversation he had with other student government members, in which he voiced support for the Second Amendment in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Florida. Over the following months, he would push Lone Star College to revisit and revise its Free Speech policy.

Further Details

In early March 2018, Quade Lancaster expressed support for the Second Amendment in a conversation with fellow student government officials, but referred to his peers’ counter-arguments as “bullshit,” according to his account in Campus Reform. Subsequently, Shannon Marino, program manager for Lone Star College and the administrator responsible for student government, demoted Lancaster on the grounds of his use of profanity.  But Lancaster claimed he was demoted for his unpopular conservative views, since the students with whom he conversed had “dropped F-bombs” throughout the conversation.

When the college uploaded maps to its website on June 6 to accompany its new Free Speech Zone initiative, Lancaster contacted administrators multiple times to clarify where exactly Free Speech would be safeguarded on campus, but got no response. Although Lone Star’s policy says it protects “free speech rights” and the “free exchange of ideas,” the maps seemed to imply that only in those designated areas  would Free Speech be honored; Lancaster wanted to know if students were allowed to express themselves freely throughout the campus.  Campus Reform reached out to college officials and to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which helped pressure the administration to clarify Lone Star’s Free Speech policy.

On September 6, 2018, the Board of Trustees approved a new “Speech and Conduct on College Premises” policy. It said:: “All persons are permitted to engage in speech activities in Free Speech Zones. Designation of certain locations as Free Speech Zone does not diminish students’ or employees’ right of speech or expression on other premises.”

Outcome

FIRE lauds Lone Star College’s Policy Clarification

In a statement to Campus Reform, FIRE praised Lone Star College’s clarified policy on Free Speech. Lancaster expressed satisfaction with the change, but said he believed that the administration delayed taking action on the issue and should have had a better policy to begin with.

External References

Lone Star College Policy on Speech and Conduct on College Premises.

Lone Star College – Tomball Free Speech Zone Map.

College clarifies free speech zone policy amid mounting pressure, Campus Reform

Student claims he was punished for supporting gun rights, Campus Reform

School commits to ‘freedom of thought,’ but not speech, Campus Reform

Texas college touts confusing ‘free speech zone’ policy, Campus Reform

College hangs up on student asking about free speech policy, Campus Reform

 

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Date uploaded to tracker October 9, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Confederate monument felled at University of North Carolina, leading to arrests, university outcry – August 2018

Confederate monument felled at University of North Carolina, leading to arrests, university outcry – August 2018

Chapel Hill, NC

A Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) was toppled by a group of protesters, the culmination of decades-long tension surrounding the statue.  University officials condemned the act as dangerous vandalism, and three people were arrested on misdemeanor charges. Seven more were arrested during clashes on the issue days later. The events led to topical dialogue at nearby Duke University, where a prominent donor is affiliated with the UNC statue.

Key Players

“Silent Sam” is the nickname for the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier at UNC. The name derived from his lack of ammunition and hence, his inability to fire his gun.

Originally commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor the nearly 300 UNC students who died fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, the statue was approved by the university in 1908 and was unveiled in 1913, according to a history compiled by TIME magazine.

Over the past several decades, “Silent Sam” has been a source of tension and protest at UNC. Activity began in the 1960s, when student protesters covered the statue in red paint following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., according to TIME. The statue remained a gathering place for speeches and demonstrations by black student groups for decades.

In May 2018, UNC student Maya Little vandalized the statue with paint and her own blood to provide the “proper historical context” for it, she said. Little was also a leader in the August protest that toppled “Silent Sam.”

Julian Carr was a prominent industrialist and white supremacist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a pivotal donor at Duke University in nearby Durham, North Carolina. Among other things, Carr endorsed the Ku Klux Klan’s ideology and tactics and argued against suffrage for the black community, according to the Duke Chronicle, Duke University’s independent student newspaper.

Carr donated the land on which Duke’s East Campus would eventually sit. His contributions led to the building that houses the university’s history department being named for him.

At the dedication of “Silent Sam,” Carr,  an alumnus of UNC, said the statue was a testament to the “welfare of the Anglo Saxon race,” according to TIME. In that speech, Carr also described an incident in which he had, just 100 yards away from where the statue was erected, heavily whipped a black woman for “publicly insulting” a white woman.

Further Details

Calls for the removal of “Silent Sam” escalated in tandem with the recent debate over Confederate monuments across the country. In particular, protests intensified after the August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was sparked by the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a prominent location.

In September 2017, 22 faculty members sent an open letter to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, calling for the removal of “Silent Sam,” according to the alternative newspaper IndyWeek. The letter came amid student protests, including a sit-in around the statue.

Last year, according to The New York Times. the university said that “removing the Confederate monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus,” but that a North Carolina law made it impossible to do so on just the university’s authority, The 2015 law in question mandates that state-owned monuments, memorials, and artworks — including the “Silent Sam” statue at UNC, a public university — could not be “removed, relocated or altered” without the permission of a state historical commission.

Yet, the university also neglected calls, including one from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, to use a legal loophole that would allow UNC to remove the statue because it allegedly presented “a threat to public safety.” Furthermore, the university chose not to pursue actively the legal process for removing it, according to the Times. The state historical commission said it had not received requests for action from the university or its governors.

The university’s continued inaction reached a tipping point when, on August 20, 2018, a group of some 250 protesters toppled “Silent Sam.” They draped the statue with several banners before taking it down, including one that read “Unnamed Black women beaten by Julian Carr,” according to TIME. Protesters tried to bury the severed head of “Silent Sam,” but university officials hauled away the statue’s remains before they could do that, according to the Times, and stored them in an undisclosed location.

Reactions to the downfall of “Silent Sam” were  split. Onlookers to the event described it as historical, and characterized the atmosphere as celebratory and liberating. University officials, conversely, contended that the toppling of “Silent Sam” was a dangerous act of vandalism, but sought to reconcile that with the tensions the statue had ignited on campus.

In an open letter to the UNC community on August 21, chancellor Carol Folt acknowledged the statue had been “divisive for years” and that “its presence has been a source of frustration for many people.” Still, she noted that taking down the statue in such a manner was “unlawful and dangerous,” and that authorities were investigating the incident.

The president of the North Carolina statewide university system, along with the chair of its board of governors, echoed these sentiments, calling the events “unacceptable, dangerous, and incomprehensible,” according to the Times.

Days after the statue was pulled down, clashes broke out on UNC’s campus between protesters with Confederate flags and counter-protesters condemning white supremacy. Seven people were arrested, of whom several were charged with assault, according to The Washington Post.

Within weeks,  the university reported that it was looking into a less prominent “alternative location” on campus where the statue could stand, according to CNN. One member of UNC’s Board of Governors tweeted that “Silent Sam” would be reinstalled within three months, “as required by state law.”

Outcome

Three face charges in felling “Silent Sam”

On August 24, police filed charges against three individuals accused of toppling “Silent Sam,” according to The New York Times. All three individuals, who were said to have no affiliation with UNC, faced misdemeanor charges of rioting and defacing a public monument, the Times said.

Duke history professors call to rename Carr Building

After “Silent Sam” was toppled, history professors at Duke renewed calls for the Carr Building to be renamed, citing Carr’s white supremacist past — including his words at the dedication of the statue at UNC. Professors had expressed concerns over the name in the past, which were intensified after the violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

According to the Times, Duke’s history faculty voted unanimously at the end of the spring semester of 2018 to rename the Carr Building for Raymond Gavins, the first African American history professor at Duke, who taught there for nearly five decades. The faculty filed this request with the university at the start of the fall 2018 semester, according to the Duke Chronicle.

A Duke spokesman said the request for the name change was under review, according to the Times.

Decision to resurrect “Silent Sam” leads to protests

On Dec. 3, the university’s Board of Trustees announced plans to build an educational center to house “Silent Sam” in a less prominent part of campus. The center would cost $5.3 million to construct and $800,000 annually to maintain, according to the Washington Post. Though the university says it would prefer to remove “Silent Sam” from campus altogether and place him in a museum, the North Carolina law prevents it from doing so.

The decision to preserve “Silent Sam” on campus, and in particular the cost to do so, sparked objections almost immediately at UNC. By the night of Dec. 3, hundreds protested in the streets of Chapel Hill.

In the subsequent days, instructors at UNC announced they would withhold grades until the Board of Trustees withdrew its plan to relocate “Silent Sam.”  Some 80 instructors — largely teaching assistants — signed a petition to withhold grades, according to the Daily Tar Heel.

By Dec. 12, more than 200 UNC faculty had signed an open letter to parents calling for support of the instructors’ strike and for the permanent removal of “Silent Sam.” These signatories make up some of the more than 800 UNC undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, current and former athletes, alumni, and community members who have signed onto such letters calling for “Silent Sam’s” removal, according to the News & Observer.

UNC Board of Governors denies plan to preserve “Silent Sam”

On Friday Dec. 14, UNC’s Board of Governors deliberated on “Silent Sam’s” proposed relocation and voted to deny the proposal. The Board decided that for public safety reasons, along with the expense of the plan, it could not accept it. The Board also charged the university with recommending other options by March 15, 2019, according to The Atlantic.

External References

UNC Faculty Members Call for the Removal of Silent Sam, IndyWeek

‘Silent Sam’ Confederate Statue Is Toppled at University of North Carolina, The New York Times

Silent Sam toppled in protest the night before classes begin, The Daily Tar Heel

3 Are Charged in Toppling of ‘Silent Sam’ Statue, The New York Times

Protesters clash, arrests mount after toppling of Confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill, The Washington Post

Why UNC’s Toppled ‘Silent Sam’ Statue Has Been a Focus Point of Protest for Decades, TIME

Duke history professors ask to rename building honoring white supremacist who dedicated ‘Silent Sam’ statue, The Washington Post

Duke history department files request to rename Carr Building, Duke Chronicle

UNC is looking into a new spot for the Silent Sam Confederate monument, school chancellor says, CNN

‘Silent Sam’ decision provokes loud response at UNC, Washington Post

Nearly 2,200 grades will be held following a teaching assistant strike, N&O reports, Daily Tar Heel

UNC faculty members, in letter to parents, support Silent Sam strike and withholding grades, News & Observer

UNC Punts on Silent Sam, The Atlantic

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded September __, 2018

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded September 24, 2018

Updated December 16, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Instructor faces backlash after berating student, revealing private information on public forum – June 2018

San Diego, CA

After a lecturer at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) revealed personal academic information about a student in a public online forum, students accused her of violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The university launched an investigation into the incident in June 2018, which is still ongoing.

Key Players

Rundong Zhong is a fourth-year student of mathematics and computer science at UCSD. He transferred there from Irvine Valley College, a small community college about 70 miles north.

Susan Marx holds the rank of “continuing lecturer” at UCSD, where she teaches computer science classes, including Introduction to Programming and Fluency/Information Technology, the course in which Zhong was enrolled.

Further Details

In June 2018, in Marx’s class, Zhong asked via Piazza, a online forum instructors often use to answer students’ questions publicly, whether he could post “funny stuff” (i.e. a photo of a cat) as part of a class website project. In the assignment’s instructions, students were to choose a “picture that represents your planned UCSD academics.”

Marx rejected Zhong’s request and, in the same public comment, revealed some of Zhong’s sensitive personal academic information before ridiculing the community college he had previously attended as being inferior to UCSD. She also told Zhong he would receive no credit for the assignment unless he changed the photo in question, which he did, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Zhong consented to changing the picture, but was dismayed by Marx’s comments, which read as follows:

“Your homepage image of a cat does NOT relate to your UCSD academic career as required in Lab#1. I will reprimand the tutor who approved of it,” Marx wrote, according to a screenshot of the post circulated online. “Since you are on academic PROBATION as a Math/CS major, and failed CSE major course, please *THINK* of your actions, BEFORE you escalate your penalty to major consequences. UCSD is of the highest in international academic standings and NOT the same as your Irvine Valley College. Humor can be offensive to some and to others amusing depending on culture, politics, and ethics.”

Zhong wrote to The Chronicle that the comment made him feel that Marx did not think he was “as good as other students.” But many other UCSD students were similarly alarmed, because they saw the post as a violation of FERPA, which mandates that schools have an eligible student’s written permission to release information from his or her education record. (An eligible student means one who has reached 18 years of age and attends a postsecondary institution.) According to The Triton, UCSD’s independent, student-run newspaper, students rallied their peers to report Marx to the Office for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment or to the UCSD FERPA compliance officer. They also protested Marx’s action by creating a website that combines a summary of the incident with the original picture Zhong had posted.

Zhong saw the incident as emblematic of greater privacy concerns, and he expressed hope that his story inspires any other students who were shamed by Marx to speak up, according to The Triton.

“Every professor has the power to look through [a] student’s private information…every student in UCSD [could potentially] get private information leaked,” Zhong said to The Triton. “What we should really do is figure out who gave professors the power to look through student academic information and why.”

Outcome

University investigates the incident

On June 12, Dean M. Tullsen, chair of the CSE department, said the university was investigating the incident, according to The Chronicle. As of August 14, 2018, the investigation into the incident was still ongoing, Tullsen wrote in an email to the Free Speech Project.

“UCSD CSE department believes very strongly in treating all students with respect, and greatly values the privacy of each student,” Tullsen told The Chronicle. “Any actions that violate those principles will be taken very seriously.”

Given the case’s unresolved status, Marx did not teach her scheduled summer session courses, and was instead assigned other duties in the department. Although she apologized for her actions in statements to both publications, the open investigation precluded her from offering further comment.

“The public posting of this information was inadvertent and I am deeply sorry,” she wrote to The Triton.

External References

Instructor Faces Backlash After She Belittles Student on Class Forum, The Chronicle of Higher Education

CSE Professor Publicly Humiliates Student on Class Forum, The Triton

 

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded August 21, 2018

 

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Student demonstration at career fair prompts university investigation – April 19, 2018

San Luis Obispo, CA

During a career fair at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo (SLO) on April 19, 2018, seven students from the SLO Peace Coalition protested for 18 minutes in front of a table for the defense contractor Raytheon. Two weeks later, several of the students who participated in the demonstration received emails from Cal Poly’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, informing them they were under investigation by the university to determine whether they had disrupted the career fair. The case was dismissed two months later.

Key Players

SLO Peace Coalition (SLOPC) is a student organization at Cal Poly that urges university administration to divest from the “war economy,” which would include cutting ties with fossil fuel companies and weapons manufacturers. Its first meeting as a club was on November 10, 2017. According to its Facebook page, the SLOPC demands five actions from the university: stop making new investments in weapon producers and fossil fuel companies; divest sponsored lab spaces tied to them within two years; invest in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and other “clean” solutions; support students interested in careers outside the defense sector; and implement a “Socially Responsible Investment policy.”

Cal Poly’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (OSSR) enforces the university’s student conduct code. OSSR seeks to address behavioral problems in a “developmental and educational manner with the goal of fostering the ethical development and personal integrity of students,” according to its mission statement.

Raytheon is a US aerospace and defense contractor that earned $25 billion in 2017 and employed 64,000 workers around the world, according to the company’s website. Raytheon has close ties to Cal Poly. Ed Ware, a senior manager at the company, sits on the board of the university’s Career Services Advisory Council, and the former chairman and CEO of Raytheon, William Swanson, is on the board of the Cal Poly Foundation.

Mick Bruckner, who graduated from Cal Poly in June 2018, participated in some 25 campus protests during his four years at the university, according to an interview he gave to KCBX, the public radio station in San Luis Obispo. In addition to his involvement with the SLOPC, Bruckner has participated in protests with the Cal Poly Students for Quality Education, the Cal Poly Queer Student Association, and Time’s Up Cal Poly. He helped to organize the April 19 protest at the career fair, and was the first to receive a notice from OSSR that he was under investigation.

Further Details

Six students from the SLOPC sat on the ground directly in front of one of Raytheon’s three tables at the annual Cal Poly spring career fair on April 19, 2018, while a seventh handed out fliers, filmed parts of the demonstration, and interacted with university representatives. A video posted on the SLOPC’s Facebook page showed the students holding a banner that read, “Divest From War/Stop The War Machine/SLO Peace Coalition,” while singing a protest song based on “God Bless America” that included lyrics accusing Raytheon of “killing across the world for that war money” and calling on the company to “lay your weapons down.”

Thirteen days later, Mick Bruckner, who had helped to organize the protest, received an email from OSSR informing him he was being investigated for “violating multiple codes of conduct” when he “disrupted” the career fair, Bruckner told KCBX. He said the letter also accused him of having an “unpermitted sign.” Other student demonstrators soon received similar emails from the OSSR.

In an email to KCBX, Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote that the demonstration was susceptible to investigation due to “Campus Administrative Policy 140,” or the university’s time, place, and manner guidelines. “To ensure that the exercise of the right of free expression does not interfere with university functions…the university maintains and enforces campus regulations regarding the time, place and manner of the exercise of free expression by individuals and groups,” he wrote. Lazier said the investigation was warranted because the career fair was a private, university-sponsored event. If it were confirmed that a violation of university policy took place, he explained, the students could face disciplinary action—which could range from loss of financial aid to expulsion.

SLOPC published a petition, which had received 3,420 signatures as of August 13, 2018, calling for Cal Poly to drop its investigation. It noted several previous protests on campus and questioned why the university had chosen to investigate this one. For example, in response to a protest against a visit by activist Milo Yiannopoulos, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong had said, “As a public university, Cal Poly is required to uphold free speech rights and provide an open forum for a variety of opinions, thoughts and ideas even those that may be distasteful or offensive.”

In late May 2018, Armstrong commented on the April 19 protest, saying, “Free speech rights do not include the right to disrupt university events.”

Outcome

University investigation dropped due to insufficient evidence

Two months after the OSSR notified SLOPC student protesters they were being investigated, university officials announced that the investigation was being dropped after a preliminary review of the case. According to an email statement Lazier sent to The Tribune, a “full investigation was not warranted after finding insufficient evidence that violations of student conduct had occurred.”

SLOPC calls on university to offer academic accommodations, apology, and compensation

On June 6, 2018, after the university announced that the investigation had been dropped, SLOPC published a statement on its Facebook page asking OSSR and Armstrong to “arrange appropriate academic accommodations and compensation” for “unwarranted academic and emotional distress.” The group also called on the university to “issue an immediate apology for its disparate treatment of free speech rights on our campus” and to “implement training programs for all campus employees regarding proper engagement with student protest as well as issue a formal statement to the campus community.”

External References

Cal Poly drops investigation into students’ anti-war protest, The Tribune

Cal Poly SLO students say they face investigation, possible punishment for protesting career fair, The Tribune

Chapter 100: University Organization and Campuswide Policies, Cal Poly Campus Administrative Policies

Free speech or disruption? Cal Poly student protests sparks university investigation, KCBX Central Coast Public Radio

Raytheon ‘Who We Are’ page, Raytheon official website

The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities Homepage

Video of SLO Peace Coalition protest, SLO Peace Coalition Facebook page

Cal Poly Drops Investigation Against Peaceful Protesters, SLOPC Facebook page

Prepared by Erin Doherty ‘20

Uploaded August 20, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Syracuse University bans fraternity and suspends members for offensive skit; adjunct professor loses job after opposing decision – June 5, 2018

Syracuse, NY

As part of their pledging process, students in Syracuse University’s (SU) Theta Tau fraternity staged a skit that mocked disabled people, simulated sexual assault, and used explicit racist and anti-Semitic slurs and stereotypes. SU banned the fraternity permanently, and suspended fifteen of its members from the university for up to two years. Adjunct instructor Stuart Card expressed concern over the affair in an email exchange, and the university representative with whom he was corresponding reportedly informed him he would not be rehired to teach at SU.

Key Players

Fifteen members of the Theta Tau fraternity, some pledges and some initiated “brothers,” were suspended from the university for two years after videos of skits they had staged were sent to the school newspaper, The Daily Orange. Created as part of their pledging process, the skits featured vulgar, offensive, and racist scenes.

Stuart Card was an adjunct faculty member in the SU Engineering College before his alleged firing in April 2018. According to his LinkedIn profile, Card worked at SU intermittently between 2011 and 2018. He characterizes his work at the university thus: “I enjoyed and learned from teaching: both graduate level special topics electives in Computer Science, mostly for practitioners in local industry and a military laboratory; and service courses for non-CS [computer science] major undergraduates. I regret that in the current political climate, where free speech on campus is suppressed, I cannot continue.” He lists AZ Enterprise, where he is a principal engineer, as his primary place of employment.

Further Details

On March 30, 2018, pledges to the Theta Tau fraternity staged skits allegedly caricaturing their fraternity brothers, using racist, anti-Semitic, and ableist jokes. One of the skits was based on a member becoming mentally disabled after being “whipped” by his girlfriend, and the other depicted a member pledging always to hate black, Latinx, and Jewish people. Both mimed non-consensual sexual acts.

Videos of these skits were posted to a private Facebook group for the fraternity. Soon after, an anonymous individual sent them to the Orange, which released the first video on Youtube on April 18, 2018. Kent Syverud, chancellor and president of SU, suspended the fraternity almost immediately. On April 21, the Orange released the second video, and in response the university announced its decision to expel its Theta Tau chapter permanently.

The students involved claimed these skits were primarily intended to make fun of an older fraternity member, who was politically conservative. In a lawsuit filed against SU after the videos were released, five of the members characterized the skits as a “Roast [which] is a time-honored Chapter tradition that builds unity by satirically and hyperbolically depicting brothers.”

A few days after SU’s decision to expel Theta Tau, Card responded to an email about the matter from the College of Engineering and Computer Science, expressing his view that the university’s efforts to shield students from offensive opinions did a “disservice” to them and to the academic profession at large. He said he had been toughened in his youth by emotional and physical bullying, and that “coddling promotes weakness.” Card closed his email by urging the administration to “put me on a ‘do not hire as an adjunct any more’ list if you consider my position so objectionable as to disqualify me from further service.”

According to an email from the College of Computer Science and Engineering that Card shared with Inside Higher Ed, the university administrator who sent the initial email responded to his objections by saying, “Yes, I do consider your position to disqualify you from further service teaching our students. Your views do not align with the values of the college,” and “Kindly stop referring to yourself as an adjunct associate professor.”

Card released a two-and-a-half-page statement on April 23, 2018, titled “Why I am no longer SU faculty,” in which he described his contact with the SU administration and expounded on the reasons for his so-called “little protest” against the “propaganda” and “confusion…with which we are surrounded.” The statement and Card’s argument garnered him national attention and an interview on Fox News.

Though numerous news outlets reported that Card was “fired” for his comments, an SU spokeswoman asserted that in fact he had not been employed by the university since 2015.

Outcome

Theta Tau members given two-year suspension and other punishment

Eighteen members of the fraternity, including both pledges and initiated brothers, were investigated by SU’s student affairs office and the Department of Public Safety in relation to the skits obtained and released by the Orange. The university filed formal complaints against all 18 in April, three of whom immediately accepted unspecified punishment. The remaining 15 went through the university’s judicial process to determine their punishment, according to syracuse.com. In the meantime, SU decided to remove those students “from academic participation,” instead making “alternate class and study arrangements” for them during the judicial process, reported the Orange. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to Syverud in May 2018 to demand that the disciplinary actions against the fraternity members be revoked. According to FIRE, SU violated the First Amendment rights of the students involved. The university proceeded with the students’ punishments.

The SU administration handed down its official rulings for the 15 students on June 5, 2018, finding them guilty of violating the university’s code of conduct and suspending them each for up to two years. The students will be required to re-apply to the university if they want to resume their education there, and they will have to prove they have committed themselves to academic or professional work during their suspension, read three books related to inclusion and/or bystander intervention, and completed 160 hours of community service.

Nine suspended fraternity members file suit against SU

Five of the Theta Tau members disciplined by SU anonymously sued the university in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, also naming Syverud; Pamela Peter, assistant dean of student rights and affairs; Robert Hradsky, dean of students; and Teresa Abi-Nader Dahlberg, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, as individual defendants.

On July 10, 2018, four more fraternity members joined the lawsuit, bringing the number of plaintiffs to nine. They claim that SU ignored the satirical context of the skits and unjustly painted the fraternity members as sexist, racist, and anti-Semitic in order to protect the university’s reputation.

External References

Theta Tau pledges stage offensive skit, youtube

The second skit from the Theta Tau pledges, youtube

Syracuse University Hearing Results, June 5, 2018

Letter to Syracuse University, May 4, 2018, FIRE

Video: SU suspends Theta Tau fraternity after video of ‘extremely racist’ behavior surfaces, The Daily Orange

Complaints filed against 18 people present at Theta Tau event, The Daily Orange

SU permanently expels Theta Tau chapter, The Daily Orange

SU suspends students involved in Theta Tau videos, The Daily Orange

Syracuse University suspends, does not expel, Theta Tau students in videos, lawyer says, syracuse.com

Why I Am No Longer SU Faculty

‘Fired’ for Free Speech?, Inside Higher Ed

5 Theta Tau brothers in Syracuse frat video file lawsuit against university, syracuse.com

Four more Theta Tau members sue Syracuse University over controversial videos, CNYCentral

Fraternity Members Suspended for Racist, Homophobic Video, Inside Higher Ed

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Uploaded August 20, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

University of Southern Maine removes artwork by sex offender from campus exhibition – May 2018

Lewiston, ME

In April 2018, the University of Southern Maine (USM) removed three pieces of artwork from an on-campus art show on its Lewiston-Auburn campus, after learning that the artist had once been convicted of sex-related crimes. In the aftermath of the decision, many criticized USM for its decision, and for not using the opportunity to have a discussion on the moral complexities underlying the case.

Key Players

Bruce Habowski, a 51-year-old artist living in Waterville, Maine, was convicted of unlawful sexual contact in 1999, a felony for which he served six months in prison. According to the Sun Journal, he also had two sex-related misdemeanor convictions around the same time, one involving a juvenile. Habowski is a prolific and highly regarded oil painter, and submitted three pieces for the “Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape” art show at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn campus.

Janice L. Moore, a local painter, was the guest-curator for the show, which ran from March 12 to June 1, 2018. She was responsible for selecting the artwork to be displayed. The gallery contained about 70 pieces of art from approximately 30 artists. Moore said she did not consider the background of each artist when deciding which works to include. She was upset that the university eliminated Habowski’s paintings, saying that she did not understand why he was being punished for the crime a second time, after he had already “paid his debt” years ago.

Glenn Cummings is president of USM. He initially refused to comment on the situation, allowing the general statement the university had released to speak for itself. But following increased scrutiny and adverse reactions, Cummings made an additional explanatory statement regarding the removal of the artwork.

Further Details

The art show opened on March 12, 2018, in the Atrium Gallery on USM’s Lewiston-Auburn campus, part of the main entryway to the school. About three weeks later, university administrators received a complaint from a relative of a victim of one of Habowski’s crimes, and decided the artist’s three paintings should be removed. Moore, the curator, was reportedly “livid” about this decision, according to the Portland Press Herald.

“He was convicted for his crime and he paid his debt. The act of making art, to me, it seems is a very positive thing. You are contributing to society in a positive way. I don’t understand how that should be punished,” she said. But Moore ultimately had to defer to the decision of USM administrators, since the gallery is a university-owned and -operated gallery. Following the removal of Habowski’s artwork, she chose to leave the spaces on the wall blank, save for a note which read: “This painting has been removed by order of the USM President.”

Eventually, the university released a statement on the matter, saying only that “USM received a complaint from a member of the public. The complaint was not about the content of the art, but the artist. After careful review, USM decided to remove his works from this exhibit.” Although Habowski was not named in the statement, nor by Moore, news outlets were able to determine that it was his paintings that were removed by examining the roster of artists included in the gallery show.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) disagreed with the university’s decision to remove Habowski’s paintings, saying, “As a public institution, USM not only should uphold freedom of expression, it also has a legal obligation to do so.” FIRE cited the university’s free speech guidelines, which read, “Academic freedom is the freedom to present and discuss all relevant matters in and beyond the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research and creative expression, and to speak or write without any censorship, threat, restraint, or discipline by the University with regard to the pursuit of truth in the performance of one’s teaching, research, publishing or service obligation.”

Outcome

Critics complain about removal of artwork

Moore was not alone in decrying the university’s decision to remove Habowski’s art. The artist himself would not comment on the matter to any news outlet, but revealed to one reporter that he was disappointed the show had received mostly negative attention due to his paintings. The Portland chapter of the Union of Maine Visual Artists expressed its frustration over the decision by sending a letter to Cummings, and the National Coalition Against Censorship released a statement urging USM to return the artwork and to “adopt clear free speech guidelines for future exhibitions.”

USM president defends decision

Cummings did not initially comment on the situation, but following increasing backlash, he released a statement explaining the rationale for removing Habowski’s artwork. He observed that allowing the pieces of art to remain on display could potentially “serve as a trigger for…students and staff who have been victims of child abuse and sexual assault.” Cummings specifically drew attention to the physical location of the gallery, noting that “since the display is at the campus main entrance where…students and staff…enter and exit, the potential to trigger is very real. This is very different from a controversial speaker in which students choose—or not—to attend.”

External References

USM president defends decision to remove sex offender’s artwork in Lewiston, Sun Journal

Sex offender’s art removed from Lewiston exhibit, Sun Journal

By censoring art, University of Southern Maine misses an opportunity, FIRE

Sex offender’s artwork pulled from USM show at Lewiston-Auburn gallery, Portland Press Herald

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded August 8, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

High school valedictorian’s microphone disabled when speech veers off script – June 2, 2018

Petaluma, CA

Petaluma High School (PHS) valedictorian Lulabel Seitz had her microphone cut in the middle of delivering her commencement address. She was beginning to discuss her school’s handling of sexual assault when the interruption occurred, and she was unable to finish her speech.

Key Players

Lulabel Seitz graduated from PHS, located about 40 miles north of San Francisco, California, in June 2018. As valedictorian of her class, the 17-year-old was invited to give a speech during her graduation ceremony. According to the portion of her speech she was able to deliver, Seitz, the granddaughter of immigrants from the Philippines, is the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She will study applied mathematics and economics at Stanford University beginning in the fall of 2018, reported The Press Democrat. Seitz had the script of her original speech approved by school administrators, and it contained no mention of the school’s history with addressing sexual assault.

David Stirrat is the principal of PHS. He decided that Seitz’s microphone should be turned off during her commencement address.

Further Details

Seitz was approximately four minutes into her commencement speech at the June 2, 2018, graduation ceremony when she began to veer off-script. Her original script had been approved by school administrators, but when Seitz began discussing sexual assault — a topic not included in her text — administrators cut her microphone. She stepped to the side of the podium, reported the Press Democrat, and demanded that the microphone be turned back on, while members of the audience and her fellow students began to encourage her, chanting “Let her speak!” Despite these efforts, she was not permitted to continue.

Before her microphone was turned off, Seitz talked about struggles the school had faced during the previous school year, including dealing with the widespread wildfires that plagued Northern California in October of 2017. According to the full version of her speech, which she later posted on YouTube, she then moved into a discussion of some of her personal struggles. Seitz was allegedly assaulted on the PHS campus during high school, and she felt frustrated with what she perceived as a lackluster response from the PHS administration. She was preparing to allude to this grievance in her speech on graduation day, when her microphone was cut, although she had yet to say anything specific about sexual assault.

According to The Washington Post, the last words Seitz was able to deliver were: “The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream and to create change. Which is why even when some people on this campus, those same people — ”

Stirrat later explained that before the ceremony he and other school administrators had been alerted to the fact that Seitz might go off-script and bring up topics not covered in the script she originally submitted for approval.

According the the Press Democrat, Stirrat said he cut off Seitz’s speech because he was “trying to make sure our graduation ceremony was appropriate and beautiful.”

David Rose, assistant superintendent of student services for the Petaluma Unified School District, told the Press Democrat that turning off Seitz’s microphone was well within the school’s legal authority. “If the school is providing the forum, then the school has the ability to have some control over the message,” he said.

Outcome

Valedictorian prevented from finishing speech, posts it on YouTube

In a phone interview with the Press Democrat, Seitz said, “I thought this is a public school with freedom of speech…. Even if the administration doesn’t give me a mic, I still want to speak.”

She posted the address in its entirety to YouTube. The video includes footage of the interrupted speech from graduation day, as well as a recording of her later reciting the speech in full. In the caption to the video, Seitz wrote, “The Petaluma High School administration infringed on my freedom of speech…. For weeks, they have threatened me against ‘speaking against them’ in my speech.”

In response to Seitz’s accusation of censorship, which she repeated in interviews, school officials said that graduation speakers had been warned that if they went off-message, they risked having their microphones cut.

Assistant Principal Deborah Richardson said she told Seitz during a meeting before graduation that “the expectation is that the speech you submitted is the speech you will give.”

As of December 9, 2018, Seitz’s video had been viewed more than 414,170 times.

External References

This valedictorian began to talk about sexual misconduct at her graduation. Then her mic was cut. The Washington Post

Petaluma High School Valedictorian’s Speech Cut Off When She Veers From Approved Script, NBC Bay Area

Lulabel Seitz graduation speech, “Valedictorian Mic Cut :: Uncensored Speech,” YouTube video

Petaluma High School valedictorian ‘appalled’ after mic cut off during her graduation speech, The Press Democrat

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded July 28, 2018

Updated December 9, 2018