Today’s press release reveals yet another egregious violation of students’ rights to due process, free speech and freedom of conscience. Hamline University has suspended student Troy Scheffler after Scheffler replied to an e-mail from Hamline Vice President of Student Affairs David Stern to the Hamline community offering counseling for Hamline students in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. In his reply, Scheffler wrote that a ban on students’ right to carry concealed firearms on the Virginia Tech campus was part of the problem and that Hamline should eliminate similar policies. He also criticized the school’s diversity programs.
Two days later, Hamline University President Linda Hanson e-mailed the campus community to offer additional consolation regarding the Virginia Tech shootings. Scheffler again replied by e-mail, criticizing Hamline for its ban on concealed weapons and for other matters of university governance. Hanson replied the following day, offering Scheffler the opportunity to meet with university personnel to discuss his views. But on the following Monday, before Scheffler had even responded to Hanson’s invitation, he was hand-delivered a letter from Dean of Students Alan Sickbert notifying him that he was placed on interim suspension, effective immediately, due to his “threatening” e-mails to Stern and Hanson. Scheffler then contacted FIRE. As today’s press release relates:
FIRE wrote to President Hanson on May 29, 2007, vehemently opposing the sanctions against Scheffler, since neither of Scheffler’s e-mails even came close to meeting the legal definition of a “threat.” FIRE also pointed out that Hamline maintains a “Freedom of Expression and Inquiry” policy that encourages the public expression of opinions and the freedom to examine and discuss all questions of interest. FIRE wrote that “it is difficult to reconcile these admirable commitments to freedom of expression with Hamline’s hasty actions against Scheffler.”FIRE also informed Hamline administrators that subjecting Scheffler to a mandatory psychological evaluation poses a grave threat to liberty at Hamline. FIRE wrote, “A psychological evaluation, to be overseen by a Hamline administrator, is one of the most invasive and disturbing intrusions upon Scheffler’s individual right to private conscience imaginable. Because Scheffler has shown no proclivity toward violence and has made no threatening comments, this psychological evaluation seeks to assess his political opinions….”Hanson responded to FIRE on June 11, 2007, claiming that there were several reasons for Scheffler’s suspension, including the e-mails, his failure to meet with administrators when invited, and “critical input from various members of the Hamline community.” FIRE addressed each of those claims in another letter to Hanson on September 17, 2007. Not only did FIRE reiterate that Scheffler’s e-mails were not threats, but it also pointed out that Scheffler was given less than one full business day before his suspension to respond to the invitation from school officials to discuss his views. FIRE also noted that the alleged information from “various members of the Hamline community,” which supposedly played a role in determining Scheffler’s sanctions, had not even been revealed to Scheffler himself, denying him the right to defend himself or present his side of the story. In a September 28, 2007, response, Hamline’s attorneys refused to address FIRE’s concerns that Scheffler has been denied his due process rights.