COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 28, 2008—Colorado College has denied student Chris Robinson’s appeal of its finding that he and another student violated the school’s “violence” policy for posting a flyer that parodied a flyer of the Feminist and Gender Studies program. The school also has decided not to remove any letters about the case from the students’ files until after graduation. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is assisting Robinson in his case against the school.
“First, Colorado College trampled over Chris Robinson’s right to engage in an obvious parody, and now the school has further embarrassed itself by denying his appeal,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “The judicial procedure was a joke: the same administrator who found Robinson guilty in the first place was the final judge of his appeal. FIRE calls on Colorado College to remove this guilty finding once and for all from the students’ records. As long as they are deemed guilty for engaging in satire, the school’s extensive promises of free expression are brazen misrepresentations.”
In early 2008, Colorado College’s “Feminist and Gender Studies Interns” distributed a flyer called “The Monthly Rag,” which included a reference to “male castration,” an announcement about a lecture on “feminist porn,” and an explanation of “packing” (pretending to have a phallus). As a parody of “The Monthly Rag,” Robinson and a second student, who wishes to remain anonymous, distributed a flyer in February called “The Monthly Bag” under the pseudonym “The Coalition of Some Dudes.” The flyer included references to “tough guy wisdom,” “chainsaw etiquette,” the shooting range of a sniper rifle, and a quotation about “female violence and abuse” of men from the website batteredmen.com.
Shortly thereafter, Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste sent out a campus-wide e-mail declaring that “The Monthly Bag” included “threatening and demeaning content, which is categorically unacceptable in this community,” and asking the “Dudes” to come forward. When they did less than an hour later, they were subjected to a three-hour hearing and charged with “bias” and violating the college’s values of respect and integrity.
FIRE wrote to Celeste on March 21, 2008, pointing out that any punishment would contradict Colorado College’s own policies and advertised commitments to free expression, including a policy that states, “On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed.”
After the “Dudes” faced penalties including expulsion for three weeks, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds finally wrote to the “Coalition of Some Dudes” students on March 25, stating that they had been found guilty of “violating the student code of conduct policy on violence.” The punishments included having the finding of guilt placed in their student files and being required to hold a forum to “discuss issues and questions raised” by their parody. Although Edmonds acknowledged that the intent of the publication was to satirize “The Monthly Rag,” he wrote that “in the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence—or implied violence—of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus.” According to Edmonds, “the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality” in an anonymous parody made students subjectively feel threatened by chainsaws or rifles.
Robinson appealed Edmonds’s decision, but the final judge of the appeal was Edmonds himself. Robinson was notified on April 21, in a letter dated April 11, that his appeal had failed and that the finding would remain in his student file until he graduates.
Also on April 21, the Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, Adam Kissel, spoke on campus to some controversy. Posters announcing his speech were found to have had the words “Political Science Department” scratched out from the line “sponsored by the Political Science Department,” although that department did invite Kissel to speak.
“Colorado College should declare the students innocent immediately,” Kissel said. “FIRE will continue to pursue this case until these students’ records are completely cleared of any alleged wrongdoing. President Celeste still has a chance to do justice in this case.”
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 at Colorado College and at campuses nationwide can be viewed at thefire.org.
Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard F. Celeste, President, Colorado College: 719-389-6700; email@example.com
Mike Edmonds, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students, Colorado College: 719-389-6684; firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy Woodrow, Secretary, Board of Trustees, Colorado College: 270 Bushaway Road, Wayzata, Minnesota 55391