A recent letter from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) to the administration of New York’s Kingsborough Community College (KCC) tells a troubling story of administrative censorship through forced rescheduling, relocation, and—when those failed—an unconstitutional attempt to force a student group to give control of its forum to a hostile faculty member.
The KCC Republican Club originally planned to hold a forum—"The Economic, Political, Social, and Legal Outcome of Same-Gender Marriage"—on March 22. On March 11, however, the group was asked to postpone the event for three days "due to potential protests from outside organizations." The group was under no obligation to do so—indeed, forcing it to do so would likely have been a violation of the group’s constitutional rights. The group agreed, however, to move the forum to the later date, provided it could hold the discussion in a similarly-sized venue to the one it had reserved, anticipating a large turnout.
KCC then proceeded to tell the KCC Republican Club—suspiciously, at best—that the room it wanted was not available, and indeed would not be available for the entire months of April and May. The group, however, had reserved its desired room for a separate event on May 24, and decided to hold its forum then. KCC Dean for Student Services Paulette M. Dalpes then forced several unconstitutional and unrealistic requirements on the group if it wanted to hold its event. ADF’s letter states:
On May 18, 2010—in a hastily called meeting—she threatened to cancel the event altogether unless [club President Joseph] Hayon (1) signed a nebulous and poorly-drafted contract that no other students had to sign, (2) forced a third-party to change the content of its website, and (3) allowed a KCC official to moderate the event.
Thankfully, a letter from ADF convinced KCC to lift these unconstitutional restrictions.
KCC, however, had one more card up its sleeve, next turning to a requirement that student "group[s] must arrange for a faculty advisor to be present at every event," an unconstitutional form of prior restraint. Christopher Chapman, a KCC instructor asked by Hayon to serve as the event’s advisor, quickly took this already unconstitutional requirement to the extreme. As ADF explains:
Citing potential protests against the event, Mr. Chapman characterized the event—which had been planned for over two months—as "slipshod" and "unsafe." And he refused to participate unless Mr. Hayon agreed to three pages of conditions. These included the Dalpes-style requirement that he—a KCC employee—serve as the moderator or co-moderator, that he give opening remarks, and that he have "unilateral" discretion to shut the event down at any time. He sent Mr. Hayon these demands in a 7:30 Sunday morning e-mail, insisting on agreement by noon.
When Mr. Hayon was unable to contact the other organizers before Mr. Chapman’s arbitrary noon deadline, Mr. Chapman e-mailed [Director of Student Life Takesha] Sutton-Young, notifying her that he would not serve as advisor for the event. He refused simply because Mr. Hayon had not agreed to give him the demanded moderator’s microphone. And Mr. Chapman made clear to Ms. Sutton-Young that his refusal to appear as faculty advisor implied a veto of the event: he reminded her of the KCC rule that disallows student organizations to hold events without a faculty advisor present.
ADF seems to have been successful in guaranteeing that the KCC Republican Club’s event proceeded on May 24 without incident or censorship, but it is asking KCC to revoke this unconstitutional faculty advisor policy. Given Chapman’s appalling threats against the group, I hope KCC will see that the threats the policy poses to the First Amendment are anything but theoretical, and leave groups dramatically vulnerable to forced cancellations and hostile takeovers by agenda-driven staff. ADF’s letter goes into significant detail on each of KCC’s numerous violations and attempted violations of the group’s First Amendment rights. I encourage Torch readers to read it in full.
ADF has asked KCC to respond by tomorrow. FIRE and ADF will be closely watching the KCC administration’s response to these damning charges.