Statement from Vice President of Campus Life Gail Short Hanson Regarding an Incident Involving AU Student Ben Wetmore
July 12, 2002
There has been recent news coverage of an incident on the AU campus last April involving AU student Ben Wetmore and his unauthorized videotaping of an event. The incident is being used as a "cause celebre" by some individuals and advocacy organizations that have circulated misleading and in some cases false information about what occurred. The University maintains a commitment to protect student privacy rights respecting confidential information and processes; therefore, certain details and information cannot be reported. Within that context, however, we would like to clarify what has transpired.
First, and most importantly, American University has a proud tradition of support and defense of free speech, civil discourse, and personal rights and freedoms. To suggest otherwise is misguided and contradicted by the record the University has established through its actions for more than a century.
Mr. Wetmore and others have attempted to distort the facts of the April incident by making claims that he has been singled out for harsh and arbitrary treatment because of his journalistic activities on campus. These allegations are unfounded. The incident in question centers on a contractual arrangement made between the Kennedy Political Union, an AU student organization, and a speaker's bureau to have Tipper Gore make a presentation at a student-run event. The terms of the contract prohibited photographing or videotaping Ms. Gore's presentation, which included copyrighted materials. Mr. Wetmore was discovered videotaping Ms. Gore's presentation and was told by an AU Public Safety official that this was not permitted. He was asked to stop. He ignored the request and the official asked a second time, and he refused; then, a third time, and he refused. After the third request was refused, he was escorted from the event to the hallway outside and his tape and camera were confiscated. He was taken to Public Safety where he made a statement, and was released. His camera was later returned.
Mr. Wetmore was charged by Public Safety officials with several violations of the Student Conduct Code. Following the procedures of the Code, the issue was adjudicated by a disciplinary conference board of two students and a Student Services administrator. The board found that Mr. Wetmore was responsible for some charges and not responsible for others. As a disciplinary proceeding, the conference is not a trial or a court of law. It is an educationally driven process that has been tested over time to ensure a thorough review, fair treatment, and adherence to the Student Conduct Code. The sanctions imposed are consistent with these principles. Mr. Wetmore's conduct in this incident was considered, irrespective of any other activities in which he may have been engaged. At the request of Mr. Wetmore, the Dean of Students reviewed the proceedings and found them to be consistent and fair.
In response to Mr. Wetmore's claims that the procedures employed in detaining him and confiscating the tape were excessive, the Director of Public Safety reviewed the actions of the officers and found that excessive force was not used. Mr. Wetmore's own request for an independent review of his claim by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) resulted in a dismissal of the claim and a determination that no further action was warranted by MPD.
The University holds no animus towards Mr. Wetmore and expects his return to campus for fall semester. While Mr. Wetmore has successfully attracted the attention of the media, which has spawned discussions on free speech and student rights, American University does not regard this matter as a First Amendment issue.