Free speech group backs student

By on November 2, 2004

 

DURHAM — A free speech group wants the University of New Hampshire to drop all charges against a student evicted from his dorm for posting fliers that poked fun at freshmen women gaining weight.

In a letter to UNH President Ann Weaver Hart yesterday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based non-profit, urged UNH to “overturn any further punishment of Timothy Garneau and allow him to return his life to some semblance of normality.”

FIRE also called for Garneau to be allowed to resume living in UNH housing. The 20-year-old Berlin native has been living in his car for more than a week while he continues his studies as a political science major.

Garneau, 20, of Berlin, was kicked out of Stoke Hall on Oct. 24 after he posted fliers in his dorm Sept. 3 that read, “9 out of 10 freshman girls gain 10 – 15 pounds. But there is something you can do about it. If u live below the 6th floor take the stairs Not only will u feel better about yourself but you will also be saving us time and wont be sore on the eyes.”(sic)

On Oct. 8, UNH’s Judicial and Mediation Programs Office reviewed Garneau’s case and found him responsible for lying, violating affirmative action policies, harassment and disorderly conduct.

UNH accused Garneau of lying because he first denied making and posting the fliers when confronted by Stoke Hall Director Brad Williams. Garneau said he took responsibility for the fliers “within two minutes” after initially lying to Williams.

Garneau appealed the Oct. 8 decision and was initially denied. However, in an unusual move, the Judicial and Mediation Programs Office issued a “decision to set aside original charges” on Oct. 27, which dropped all but the lying charge against Garneau.

Garneau said he received the new decision from a UNH representative by hand on Oct. 29, the day after FIRE sent a letter to UNH calling Garneau’s treatment unconstitutional. UNH’s new decision was dated Oct. 27.

Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, commended UNH’s reversal in his letter yesterday when he wrote that FIRE was “pleased that UNH decided to repeal its clearly unconstitutional findings” against (Garneau).

“The latest decision indicates that UNH no longer finds Garneau guilty of committing offenses that justify excluding him from the dormitory,” Lukianoff wrote. “However, it is essential to note that one of the terms of the new decision also states that if he chooses to appeal this decision, he will not be allowed to move back into the dorms until the appeal is complete.”

“In other words, UNH’s decision states that if Garneau decides to appeal, he will remain homeless longer.”

University officials declined to comment, citing federal privacy rules.

Lukianoff wrote that FIRE also objects to sanctions imposed by UNH against Garneau including an “ethics meeting” with UNH judicial officer Jason Whitney.

“First, after unfairly and unlawfully evicting a student from his dorm for clearly protected expression, UNH lacks the credibility to lecture anyone about ethics,” Lukianoff wrote. “Second, mandatory ‘ethical training’ is a deeply troubling form of thought reform which legitimizes a particular ideology at the expense of the student’s right to freedom of conscience.”

Garneau could not be reached for comment last night.

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