There has been recent news coverage of an incident on the AU
campus last April involving AU student Ben Wetmore and his unauthorized
videotaping of an event. The incident is being used as a “cause
celebre” by some individuals and advocacy organizations that have
circulated misleading and in some cases false information about what
occurred. The University maintains a commitment to protect student
privacy rights respecting confidential information and processes;
therefore, certain details and information cannot be reported. Within
that context, however, we would like to clarify what has transpired.
First, and most importantly, American University has a proud
tradition of support and defense of free speech, civil discourse, and
personal rights and freedoms. To suggest otherwise is misguided and
contradicted by the record the University has established through its
actions for more than a century.
Mr. Wetmore and others have attempted to distort the facts of
the April incident by making claims that he has been singled out for
harsh and arbitrary treatment because of his journalistic activities on
campus. These allegations are unfounded. The incident in question
centers on a contractual arrangement made between the Kennedy Political
Union, an AU student organization, and a speaker’s bureau to have
Tipper Gore make a presentation at a student-run event. The terms of
the contract prohibited photographing or videotaping Ms. Gore’s
presentation, which included copyrighted materials. Mr. Wetmore was
discovered videotaping Ms. Gore’s presentation and was told by an AU
Public Safety official that this was not permitted. He was asked to
stop. He ignored the request and the official asked a second time, and
he refused; then, a third time, and he refused. After the third request
was refused, he was escorted from the event to the hallway outside and
his tape and camera were confiscated. He was taken to Public Safety
where he made a statement, and was released. His camera was later
Mr. Wetmore was charged by Public Safety officials with
several violations of the Student Conduct Code. Following the
procedures of the Code, the issue was adjudicated by a disciplinary
conference board of two students and a Student Services administrator.
The board found that Mr. Wetmore was responsible for some charges and
not responsible for others. As a disciplinary proceeding, the
conference is not a trial or a court of law. It is an educationally
driven process that has been tested over time to ensure a thorough
review, fair treatment, and adherence to the Student Conduct Code. The
sanctions imposed are consistent with these principles. Mr. Wetmore’s
conduct in this incident was considered, irrespective of any other
activities in which he may have been engaged. At the request of Mr.
Wetmore, the Dean of Students reviewed the proceedings and found them
to be consistent and fair.
In response to Mr. Wetmore’s claims that the procedures
employed in detaining him and confiscating the tape were excessive, the
Director of Public Safety reviewed the actions of the officers and
found that excessive force was not used. Mr. Wetmore’s own request for
an independent review of his claim by the Metropolitan Police
Department (MPD) resulted in a dismissal of the claim and a
determination that no further action was warranted by MPD.
The University holds no animus towards Mr. Wetmore and expects
his return to campus for fall semester. While Mr. Wetmore has
successfully attracted the attention of the media, which has spawned
discussions on free speech and student rights, American University does
not regard this matter as a First Amendment issue.