Oregon Student Expelled Over Threat Seeks Return

July 26, 2012

A Portland State University graduate student expelled after allegedly threatening violence against a faculty member wants to return to the university.

Henry Liu has filed for an administrative review of his expulsion. A hearing is set for Aug. 3 in a case that raises questions about the balance between student rights and campus safety in an era of school shootings at both the high school and university level.

The university banned Liu, who was in the conflict resolution program, from campus this spring after a classmate reported to police that the student was upset with a professor and talked about guns in the same conversation.

Police found four unloaded guns in Liu’s apartment, along with ammunition and survival gear.

Though he was never charged with a crime, the university expelled Liu last month for providing misleading information and being a possible safety threat.

The 33-year-old Liu told The Oregonian newspaper he did not threaten a faculty member, and was expelled based on hearsay.

"My name’s been smeared and so much has been taken from me," he said. "My future is uncertain and I miss school."

Because Liu is not allowed on campus, university officials will have to travel to the office of Liu’s lawyer for next month’s hearing.

The incident began April 19, when Liu complained about the conflict resolution program to a 55-year-old classmate.

According to a campus police report, the woman said Liu talked about firearms and said he was ready to use a .45-caliber weapon on the chairman of the program.

The woman reported her concerns to police the following day and the authorities showed up at Liu’s apartment that afternoon. Liu, after first denying he had guns, showed police where they could find his four legally purchased firearms — one of which was a semi-automatic weapon.

Liu told The Oregonian that he initially lied about his weapons collection because he saw officers ushering his neighbors out of the apartment building and he did want to cause them undo alarm.

The police transported Liu to a Portland hospital for a voluntary psychiatric evaluation and he passed, according to his lawyer, Michael Rose.

Liu, now living with his parents in the coastal city of Astoria, contends he never spoke of harming the chairman of the programs. Rather, he expressed unhappiness with a grade he received from an assistant professor, and never talked of shooting that person.

But Phillip Zerzan, the university’s public safety chief, said this was not a "he-said, she-said" situation.

"Mr. Liu had plenty of opportunity to explain his version of events and it wasn’t quite as diametrically opposed as it is (now) presented," he said.

An Oregon State Police detective in 1998, Zerzan was on the scene at Thurston High School in Springfield after Kip Kipkel opened fire in the cafeteria, killing two students and wounding 22 others in the worst school shooting in Oregon history.

In April, he was confronted with information that a student with multiple weapons had been accused of threatening a faculty member. He said officers looked at "intent, means and opportunity," and made a decision that tried to balance the rights of the student with the well-being of those on campus.

"Targeted school violence is always a concern of mine," he said. "It’s a low-frequency occurrence, but the impact of it is so great that we want to take advantage of our opportunities to intervene and prevent it."

Besides banning Liu from campus, the university released a flier with his photo that told students to call 911 if they saw him on campus.

Liu’s attorney said the university overreacted to the situation.

"I understand how they could waive a red flag," he said. "But once the red flag was waived, the university proceeded hastily and with a focused agenda," he said.

Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that focuses on civil liberties, said Liu contacted the organization following his ban from campus, but did not respond to a follow-up email.

Shibley said colleges and universities have been extra vigilant about gun threats since the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people. He said it’s important for universities to have a system in place to protect students, but it must be designed to also protect free speech and expression.

The Portland State situation has a lot to do with how universities are being held responsible for the violent activities of their students," he said.

Schools: Portland State University