Tuesday, July 01, 2003

They need GOP safe space training 

At Cal Poly SLO, there's been another violation of free speech:
On November 12, 2002, Steve Hinkle, an undergraduate and a member of the Cal Poly College Republicans (CPCR), posted fliers advertising a speech by Mason Weaver, author of "It's OK to Leave the Plantation." In that book, Weaver argues that dependence on the government puts many African-Americans in circumstances similar to slavery. Weaver's speech was sponsored by both CPCR and the student government. The flier contained merely the title of the book, a photograph of the author (who is African-American), and the time and location of the speech.

When Hinkle sought to post a flier on a public bulletin board in the Multicultural Center, several students approached him. They claimed that they were "offended" by the flier and that it was in violation of the Center's posting policy. Hinkle left to check the policy, confirming that he was indeed in compliance. While he was gone, one of the students called the university police. The officer summoned to the Center stated in writing that he was investigating a report of "a suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature."

The students in the Multicultural Center admit trying to prevent Hinkle from advertising the event. Charges were brought not against these censors, however, but against Hinkle himself. On January 29, 2003, Cal Poly charged Hinkle with "disruption" of a "campus event." The students who objected to the posting of the flier claimed that they were holding a Bible study dinner and meeting at the time of the incident. The university's "finding of facts" notes that the Bible study group is not officially recognized, that the bulletin board is in a public "student lounge area," and that no notice of any kind indicated that a meeting was underway at the time.

In February, Cal Poly subjected Hinkle to a lengthy hearing. He was denied the right to have a lawyer present at the proceedings, but his faculty advisor made a transcript. At that hearing, Cornel Morton, vice president for student affairs, told Hinkle: "You are a young white male member of CPCR. To students of color, this may be a collision of experience.... The chemistry has racial implications, and you are naive not to acknowledge those."

On March 12, Vice Provost W. David Conn found Hinkle guilty. Conn ordered Hinkle to write letters of apology to the offended students. The sentencing letter from Conn stated that the text of the apology would be subject to the approval of the Office of Judicial Affairs. The letter also warned that "there is no parameter or guarantee regarding the confidentiality of the letter [of apology]" and that "this decision is final." Conn informed Hinkle that if he did not accept this punishment, he would face much stiffer penalties, up to expulsion.

FIRE is representing Hinkle, and has put up a copy of his flyer. It's not as informative as I would have wanted it, and perhaps more information would have helped make it less offensive. But given that the students in the Multicultural Center went to the nuisance (shades of our Israeli flag incident?) and created a commotion, I doubt it. What is telling about the reply from the university's lawyer is that nowhere does he refute the point that the meeting that the university claims was disrupted by Hinkle's posting is a legitmate campus function -- stating "many of your factual assertions concerning the circumstances related to the meeting Mr. Hinkle disrupted are incorrect" is itself an assertion -- which FIRE states it was not. Therefore I fail to see the time and place requirements asserted for the university's restriction on Mr. Hinkle's speech rights.

As a request, if anyone can point me to where courts have ruled that universities can deny lawyers to students in disciplinary proceedings, I'd be grateful. I'm unaware of where the rule comes from.

UPDATE 7/2/03: Erin O'Connor and Eugene Volokh are on the case and reports that FIRE has a copy of a letter by the investigating officer saying he never saw Hinkle there and that there was no disruption found. Time to fact-check SLO's ass.