Letter from American University Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Faith C. Leonard to FIRE, June 26, 2002

By on June 26, 2002

June 26, 2002

Mr. Greg Lukianoff
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
210 West Washington Square, Suite 303
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Dear Mr. Lukianoff:

Your letter of June 11, 2002 raises several issues regarding the judicial case of Benjamin Wetmore at American University. I have been asked to respond to you on behalf of the university since I oversee the operations of Judicial Affairs and Mediation Services. Mr. Wetmore has confirmed that I may communicate freely with you about his case. For ease of reference, I am including a letter dated May 8, 2002 to Mr. Wetmore which explains the disciplinary conference board’s findings and sanctions.

First, you have expressed a general concern that Mr. Wetmore may have been subjected to harsh and arbitrary treatment because of the content of his journalistic activities and political speech. There is no basis for this assertion. The facts of this case were straightforward. Mr. Wetmore was videotaping a speaker at an event on campus. Public Safety officers advised him that he could not videotape because the university’s agreement with the speaker stipulated that there would be no recording of the event. He was directed to turn over the videotape. Mr. Wetmore refused and was belligerent in his interaction with the Public Safety officers. A disciplinary conference board, charged with fact-finding responsibilities under the university’s disciplinary policy, found Mr. Wetmore responsible for some of the charges and not others.

Specifically, you asked about Mr. Wetmore’s having been charged with “theft of property or services or knowingly possessing stolen property.” The board ultimately found Mr. Wetmore responsible only for “possession of stolen property”, not theft. The board came to this conclusion based on Mr. Wetmore’s refusal to relinquish the tape after he had been informed that the university had an agreement with the speaker that the event would not be recorded in any way without the permission of the speaker.

You also asked about the charges against Mr. Wetmore for “disruption, disobeying officers, and disorderly conduct.” You assert that these charges “do not appear at all warranted from the record.” Mr. Wetmore had the opportunity to present his side of the story as did Public Safety before a fact-finding board. The board was persuaded that the testimonies and evidence supported clearly and convincingly that Mr. Wetmore engaged in those activities. Again, I refer you to the attached letter for the board’s rationale.

While there is no right of appeal in cases heard by a disciplinary conference board, I did, at Mr. Wetmore’s request, conduct an administrative review of his case, and as I noted to Mr. Wetmore, I determined that the “process was procedurally sound and the sanctions consistent with precedent.” I understand that Mr. Wetmore feels unfairly treated by this process, but I found no evidence of unfair treatment given the facts of the case, the findings of responsibility, and the sanctions applied.

In addition to your concern about judicial procedures, you reference a letter from Vice President and University Counsel Mary Kennard to Mr. Wetmore addressing Mr. Wetmore’s videotaping of the president’s residence. That letter is not relevant to Mr. Wetmore’s judicial case. His case was based strictly on the facts pertinent to the events of April 8, 2002.

You also inquired about the activities of Public Safety officers. While Public Safety reports in another division of the university, I can assure you that the director of the department takes any allegation of police misconduct seriously by reviewing all such allegations and taking all necessary actions. I understand that the director has reviewed the allegations of inappropriate conduct by her officers during the April 8th incident and has determined that there was no misconduct.

I refer you to American University’s Student Conduct Code if you have additional questions about our judicial process. Please be assured that the university is concerned about students’ rights and responsibilities and that the Code makes manifest our commitment to fairness, equity, and a just community.

Sincerely,

 

Faith C. Leonard, PhD
Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students

cc: Benjamin Wetmore

Schools: American University