St. Louis Community College Makes Mockery of Due Process

January 8, 2008

ST. LOUIS, January 8, 2008―St. Louis Community College at Meramec (STLCC) is adding new outrages to its campaign against student Jun Xiao, who was charged with “hazing” and “disorderly conduct” after he sent e-mails inviting his classmates to join him in signing up for a class at another college. Last week, STLCC conceded that it could not punish Xiao—who was put on probation and banned from e-mailing his classmates—for his constitutionally protected e-mails. But rather than revoking his punishment, the college kept him on probation, citing new allegations including an absurd charge that Xiao asked too many questions in his organic chemistry class. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on STLCC to end this mockery of due process and to provide its students with the fundamental rights to which they are entitled.

“STLCC is fooling nobody with these new allegations against Jun Xiao,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Ham-handedly attempting to make the crime fit the punishment is the very opposite of justice. STLCC’s charges against Xiao are absurd, and its procedures contradict even the most rudimentary notions of due process. This cannot be allowed to stand.”
Xiao, who already holds a Ph.D. from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has postdoctoral training from MIT and Columbia, signed up for classes at STLCC to fulfill medical school entrance requirements. He e-mailed his Organic Chemistry I classmates in October 2007, informing them that he was withdrawing from the class and asking if anyone would like to retake it with him. In a second e-mail, he informed his classmates of his intention to take Organic Chemistry II at another community college and asked if anyone might like to take it there with him.
On October 24, Xiao received a letter from Acting Vice President of Student Affairs Daniel R. Herbst, who informed him that he had been placed on “Disciplinary Probation” for the 2007-2008 academic year and that he was prohibited from contacting other STLCC students by e-mail. The letter also stated that Herbst—without a hearing—had already found Xiao guilty of hazing, obstruction or disruption of teaching, disorderly conduct, and failure to comply with directions of a college official. Herbst refused to provide any written clarification of the complaints and charges against Xiao, and he personally denied Xiao’s first appeal of his findings.
Xiao contacted FIRE, which wrote to STLCC President Paul Pai on December 4, reminding him of the college’s obligations as a public institution to uphold students’ rights to free speech and basic due process. The ACLU of Eastern Missouri sent President Pai a similar letter on December 19.
On January 5, Xiao received a letter from Student Appellate Hearing Committee chair Denise Sperruzza, informing him that Daniel Herbst was “dismissing all allegations relating to your inappropriate use of [e-mail]” because “you may have a constitutional right to send e-mails to other students.” Nevertheless, Sperruzza informed Xiao that his disciplinary probation would remain pending his appeal because of “the remaining allegations of misconduct”—of which Xiao was unaware until receiving Sperruzza’s letter.
Xiao believed—even after Herbst had denied his appeal—that all of the charges against him stemmed from his e-mails to his classmates and from an exchange he had had with a dean. Sperruzza’s letter, however, informed Xiao for the first time that the “obstruction of teaching” charge was based on “delaying the class with repeating of questions regarding material that had either previously been covered in the course or knowledge that you should have had prior to coming into the course.” The letter also informed Xiao that the “disorderly conduct” charge stemmed from an alleged incident “when you were verbally abusive towards the Chemistry secretary.” The letter set a date of January 11 for the appellate hearing, leaving Xiao only six days in which to prepare a defense against allegations that he was seeing for the very first time.
“Xiao has received no specific notice of the charges against him, has had no real hearings, was forced to ‘appeal’ to the same person who originally found him guilty, and now has learned that the allegations against him have changed while his punishment remains suspiciously identical,” FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Samantha Harris said. “Even asking questions in class is now apparently a disciplinary matter at STLCC. FIRE calls on President Pai to put an end to this warped series of injustices immediately and to investigate how STLCC has managed to so thoroughly abandon due process and free speech.”
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 on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
CONTACT:
Samantha Harris, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; samantha@thefire.org
Paul Pai, President, St. Louis Community College at Meramec: 314-984-7763; ppai@stlcc.edu
Daniel Herbst, Acting Vice President of Student Affairs, St. Louis Community College at Meramec: 314-984-7607; dherbst@stlcc.edu

Schools: Saint Louis Community College at Meramec Cases: Saint Louis Community College: Student Punished for E-mailing Classmates