Colorado College Board of Trustees Backs School in Punishing Students for ‘Violent’ Parody
June 26, 2008
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., June 26, 2008—The Chair of Colorado College's (CC's) Board of Trustees has affirmed the school's actions in finding that student Chris Robinson and another student wishing to remain anonymous violated CC's "violence" policy for posting a flyer that parodied a flyer of the Feminist and Gender Studies program. In a letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Board of Trustees Chair David van Diest Skilling wrote that "the College acted correctly in their handling of the students' behavior" and that "there is no need for further action." FIRE continues to call on CC to remove the guilty verdict from the students' files immediately and to stand by its own promises of freedom of expression.
"For its intransigent behavior in this case, FIRE placed Colorado College on our Red Alert list, which we reserve for the worst offenders of liberty among college and university campuses," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "Given an opportunity to right the wrong done by CC's administrators, the Board has decided to disregard the facts in this case and back the school's actions instead of urging the college to enforce its own contractual obligations to protect freedom of speech on its campus."
In early 2008, a pseudonymous group called "the Feminist and Gender Studies Interns" produced and distributed a flyer called "The Monthly Rag." The flyer included a reference to "male castration," an announcement about a lecture on "feminist porn" by a "world-famous prostitute and porn star," an explanation of "packing" (pretending to have a phallus), and a quotation from The Bitch Manifesto.
As a parody of "The Monthly Rag," Robinson and a second student distributed a flyer called "The Monthly Bag" under the pseudonym "The Coalition of Some Dudes." The flyer included references to "tough guy wisdom," "chainsaw etiquette," the shooting range of a sniper rifle, and a quotation about "female violence and abuse" of men from the website batteredmen.com.
Shortly thereafter, Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste sent out a campus-wide e-mail declaring that "The Monthly Bag" included "threatening and demeaning content" and asking the "Dudes" to come forward. When they did less than an hour later, they were subjected to a three-hour hearing and charged with "bias" and violating the college's values of respect and integrity. Only after public pressure did CC retreat to the idea that the entire matter was about the "violent" implications of mentioning a sniper rifle. Skilling's letter similarly invoked "the unprecedented wave of violence on college campuses" as justification for punishing the authors of the parody.
FIRE wrote to Celeste on March 21, 2008, pointing out that any punishment would contradict CC's commitments to free expression, including a policy that states, "On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed." But on March 25, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds wrote to the "Dudes" stating that they had been found guilty of "violating the student code of conduct policy on violence." Although Edmonds acknowledged that the publication was meant to satirize "The Monthly Rag," he wrote that "in the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence—or implied violence—of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus" and that "the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" in an anonymous parody made students feel threatened by chainsaws and rifles.
Robinson appealed Edmonds's decision, but the final judge of the appeal was Edmonds himself. Robinson was notified in an April 11 letter that his appeal had failed and that the finding would remain in his student file until he graduates. Although Celeste had argued that the students were "not sanctioned or punished," the April letter clearly stated that the letter in the file was a "discipline letter," and the Student Code of Conduct makes clear that having a letter placed in a student's file is an official punishment.
FIRE wrote to Skilling on May 16, urging him to ask Celeste to remove the guilty finding from the students' files. Skilling replied on June 18 that the board found "no basis to make any changes to the College's actions." Skilling said that because "The Monthly Bag" was "published anonymously without warning or permission" and "referenced tools and weapons of violence," the administration's actions were legitimate.
Skilling also incorrectly asserted that the two "Dudes" freely posted a second issue of the "Monthly Bag" in April after identifying themselves, but in truth the authors of the second issue, "The Coalition of Some Other Dudes," were four unnamed students.
"Colorado College's Board of Trustees obviously has an incorrect version of the facts, and the Board should ask Celeste where these facts are coming from," Lukianoff said. "FIRE will continue to pursue justice in this case until Colorado College admits its wrongdoing and removes this guilty finding. Colorado College should stop offering up excuses for shutting down controversial speech on campus and should honor its written promises to uphold freedom on campus."
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty at Colorado College and at campuses nationwide can be viewed at thefire.org.
Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard F. Celeste, President, Colorado College: 719-389-6700; email@example.com
David van Diest Skilling, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Colorado College: P.O. Box 1620, Saratoga, WY 82331