Ferguson Hall / credit: Albion College / Flickr
ALBION, Mich., Dec. 13, 2017 — Albion College student Alexander Tokie has been left in limbo for weeks while administrators decide whether he will be punished for sending an obviously hyperbolic joke about “ANTIFA and ISIS hunting permits.”
Tokie’s troubles started in September, when he sent an email to his fellow College Republicans with a number of suggestions, some in jest, on countering arguments about “white privilege.” As a joke, Tokie concluded his email by suggesting to his peers: “Take the liberal tears from the idiot you just destroyed in your debate, dissemble your American made Springfield M1911 .45 caliber handgun and apply the tears in order to clean the mechanism, reassemble and proceed to purchase ANTIFA and ISIS hunting permits and max out on tags[.]” The email was eventually shared to the broader campus community.
On Nov. 8, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sally Walker and Vice President of Finance and Administration Jerry White informed Tokie that he was charged with violating Albion’s policy against the “[u]se of, or threatened use of, physical force or violence.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to Albion president Mauri Ditzler on Nov. 16 to demand that the college end its investigation.
“If the hyperbolic nature of Tokie’s email is not immediately apparent to Albion’s administration, FIRE suggests that the college conduct further research on whether hunting permits can be purchased for ISIS or Antifa in the state of Michigan,” said Sarah McLaughlin, a senior program officer in FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “Hyperbolic statements are a core component of political speech in the United States, and courts have long recognized that they cannot be treated as true threats.”
After FIRE wrote to Albion administrators, the college postponed Tokie’s planned Nov. 17 hearing. However, after administrators failed to provide Tokie an update for nearly two weeks, FIRE sent a second letter to Albion asking about the status of the investigation and again demanding the college to drop the case.
Despite launching their investigation in September, administrators waited until the beginning of winter break to demand that Tokie return to campus over the holidays to defend his right to free speech. After weeks of silence, Albion administrators finally contacted Tokie this Monday to reschedule his hearing, suggesting Dec. 15 or Dec. 21. If Tokie does not choose either date, the hearing will be held on Dec. 21.
Administrators have also warned Tokie that no Albion student “could say anything he or she wanted, without being subject to the College’s oversight,” and are refusing to drop the investigation. Although Albion is a private college not bound by the First Amendment, it promises its students free speech rights in its student handbook. Albion’s accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission also requires it to be “committed to freedom of expression.”
Albion’s approach to its own commitments is to insist that they are meaningless. According to the college, “No reasonable interpretation of the Albion College Student Handbook would find a contract had been created between the college and an individual student.” But the college wants to have its cake and eat it, too: While Albion claims it need not respect the rights it promises students in its handbook, it nevertheless dictates that students will be “held responsible for the policies and procedures” in that very same handbook.
“It’s vitally important that Albion drop the charges because the college makes promises in the handbook committing itself to facilitating an atmosphere of free speech,” said Tokie. “There is absolutely no way for a college to create a new wave of politically intelligent leaders when they’ve been sheltered from each and every single opinion that is different from theirs simply because of an illiberal college policy.”
Today, FIRE again calls on Albion College to drop its investigation into Tokie’s joke, refrain from similar investigations in the future, and stand by its commitment to honor “an individual’s rights to freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression specifically as they extend to the electronic information environment.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Bill Rickards, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mauri Ditzler, President, Albion College: 517-629-0210; email@example.com
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