Wednesday, August 25, 2004

What you don't hear can hurt you 

FIRE finds another acorn. This time, it's a case at Rhode Island College.
Professor Lisa B. Church, who was a coordinator for RIC's cooperative preschool program, was not even present when two adult participants in the program allegedly made comments that another adult participant considered racially "offensive." Professor Church refused to punish the offending participants based on a third-person report of constitutionally protected speech, or to make the private altercation into a school-wide issue. Yet due to a complaint filed with RIC by the offended person, Church faces formal hearings for her decision.

The planned hearing stems from an incident on February 19, 2004, in which three mothers of students enrolled in RIC's preschool engaged in a heated conversation about welfare and race. The argument ended abruptly when one mother took offense to statements made by the two other mothers that allegedly expressed negative opinions of interracial relationships and the belief that certain minority groups' rights were valued over the rights of whites. The offended mother angrily left the preschool and reportedly ignored attempts at apologies. Professor Church did not witness the conversation.

The school's attorney has reversed himself, first arguing that the school was not above the law and that the case appeared to run afoul of the First Amendment, then changing course five days later. The school's affirmative action officer went further, saying that the school may hold a different standard for discriminatory conduct than the law permits and that the disciplinary hearing with Prof. Church "is not a court of law."

The standard here is absolutely ridiculous. She does not hear the statement made between three students and does not decide to violate the students' academic freedom to speak on the possible ties between welfare and race. Instead her own constitutionally protected rights are violated by the administration.