Asnuntuck C.C. Punishes Student Speech, Ignores This Exculpatory Video
HARTFORD, Conn., April 1, 2014—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has called on Asnuntuck Community College (ACC) to drop its disciplinary action against a student following a conversation on campus with Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. Making matters worse, ACC deprived the student of crucial due process protections, even refusing to review exculpatory video evidence.
On October 23, 2013, student Nicholas Saucier recorded on video a conversation with Governor Malloy, who was speaking at ACC that day. Saucier asked Malloy questions about recent gun legislation, and the conversation was halted abruptly when Malloy got into his car and left. A second recording shows ACC President James Lombella and a campus security officer leading Saucier off campus.
Based on this conversation, ACC suspended Saucier and charged him with violations of its Policy on Student Conduct, including harassment, threats, and failure to “[d]emonstrate good citizenship by not engaging in conduct prohibited by federal, state, or other laws.” Saucier chose to defend himself in a formal hearing rather than agree to an informal resolution requiring him to plead guilty to all charges, withdraw, and submit to a mandatory professional evaluation for readmission.
At his November 18 hearing, ACC gave itself discretion to “decide what information is appropriate” for consideration, then refused to review Saucier’s videos showing his speech to be protected by the First Amendment. It also prohibited any recording of the hearing, depriving Saucier of a fundamental safeguard colleges routinely afford students. These unwritten abridgements to ACC’s written procedures severely impaired Saucier’s ability to defend himself.
ACC found Saucier guilty of all charges. It lifted Saucier’s suspension but placed him on probation with the condition that any future conduct violations “will likely result in Suspension or Expulsion from the College.” In a letter sent January 13, FIRE called on ACC to reverse its severe violations of Saucier’s free speech and due process rights. The college has failed to respond.
“This case stands as a startling example of what can happen when disrespect for student First Amendment rights is combined with disregard for student due process rights,” said Peter Bonilla, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “ACC’s myriad violations of Nicholas Saucier’s rights, effective rewriting of its conduct procedures, and failure to rectify its errors should give all Americans great concern.”
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, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, 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.