Colorado College President Blogs on ‘Monthly Bag’ Case, Makes Errors, Spins Untruths

By on July 17, 2008

This week the President of Colorado College (CC), Richard Celeste, blogged for a second time in the disgraceful case of two male students convicted of “violence” after they posted a parody of a feminist newsletter. The story is well known to Torch readers, but Celeste gets some of his facts wrong and shamefully spins others. Here is his entire post from July 14, with commentary:

Follow-up to ‘The Monthly Bag’

I’d like to keep you updated on “The Monthly Bag” and one group’s reaction to the college’s response. See my previous blog entry for the beginning of this story.

This first entry was a gross misrepresentation of the facts. FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley wrote at the time that his post was “a transparent and poorly-executed effort at spin that nobody could find convincing if they knew even one fact of the case outside the carefully selected facts Celeste gives his readers.” Celeste’s entry ignored his own original campus-wide email blasting the students for the “demeaning” content of their parody, ignored the three-hour kangaroo court proceedings, and lied in stating that “no sanctions or punishments were issued”when the result was a disciplinary letter that was to stay in the students’ files until graduationofficially, according to the student handbook, a sanction.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a freedom of expression advocacy group, targeted CC in March, launching a media campaign against the college. FIRE said CC administrators violated the students’ rights to freedom of expression and punished the students needlessly (though the students were never sanctioned).

Still a lie. See the Colorado College Pathfinder, page 33: “Sanctions are the assigned consequences for a student or group of students who have been found responsible for violating college policy…. Warning: a formal notice from the college that the behavior is unacceptable. A copy of the written notice is placed in the official student file maintained at the dean of students’ office.”

FIRE called for the college to remove conduct letters from the students’ files (the letters will remain in their files only until they graduate, and won’t be shared with anyone outside the college, including potential graduate schools, employers, etc.).

This is new information, previously undisclosed. It is good to know that CC does not plan to share the disciplinary letters outside the college. It would have been proper for the two students, not the general public, to get the news first. Even so, this letter must be in the files for some reasonpossibly to be used against the students if they commit some new offense. It is a classic example of chilling campus speech.

A second, completely new conduct committee reaffirmed the college’s findings, saying the students were in violation of the college’s conduct code, but should not be punished or sanctioned.

If this is actually true, then the sanction letter should not remain in the students’ files. (By the way, FIRE has permission to disclose such elements of the case to the public; does Celeste?)

During its regular meeting in May, the CC Board of Trustees also examined the issue, and again, supported the college’s actions.

As we reported in June, it appears that the Trustees were fed false or misleading information. The continuing spin from President Celeste makes me guess that the information came from him.

In June, Colorado College Board of Trustees Chair David van Diest Skilling ’55 sent this letter to FIRE to communicate the board’s finding. FIRE promptly responded by placing CC on its “Red Alert” list (which also includes Brandeis University, Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University and Valdosta State University).

False. As the case history shows, FIRE placed Colorado College on the Red Alert list on May 15, a full month before receiving the reply from Skilling. We wrote Skilling on May 16. Our prompt response to Skilling’s reply was a press release.

An interesting note: In 2007, FIRE reviewed 346 colleges and universities, and fully 96 percent of them did not pass its test for free speech (only 2% passed; 2% were unrated). From FIRE’s web site:

“Of the 346 schools reviewed by FIRE, 259 received a red-light rating (75%), 73 received a yellow-light rating (21%), and only 8 received a green-light rating (2%). Six schools did not receive any rating from FIRE. Surprisingly, public schools, which are unambiguously legally bound by the First Amendment, actually had a somewhat higher percentage of “red light” ratings; a full 79% of public schools were “red light,” 19% “yellow light”, and 2% green.”

This may be the first time we’ve seen the “everybody’s doing it” defense of violations of freedom of speech. For more, see the post by FIRE’s Samantha Harris on the accuracy of FIRE’s ratings.

The spin and duplicity on the part of President Celeste are fooling nobody who really knows the facts of the case. If it is really true that the students are to have no sanction whatsoever for their protected speech, then Celeste should take a close look at page 33 of the Pathfinder, realize that the letter in the students’ files really is a sanction, and then remove the letters immediately. That’s not so hard, is it?

Schools: Colorado College