A friend in the media forwarded us the following response from Hamline to yesterday’s press release about Hamline student Troy Scheffler. It is very brief, so I will quote it in full:
Hamline has never suspended a student for advocating for gun rights or for any other rights.
The FIRE organization has inaccurately portrayed Hamline’s interaction with one of its students. FIRE has inflamed the details of this student’s grievance with university policy, enacted to ensure the safety of our community. As we have already informed FIRE more than once, federal privacy laws that protect the rights of that student actually prevent the university from correcting each piece of FIRE’s press release and from articulating in detail what may have transpired with this student.
If we deem anyone to be a threat to other students or employees at Hamline, we will take swift action to ensure the safety of our community.
As with many university statements, this is actually a concatenation of non-responses, misleading statements, and confusing assertions dressed up as a substantive response. Let me take it point by point. The first two sentences just give Hamline’s opinion of what happened; people can believe those unsupported statements or not, as they wish. (That is why FIRE always provides links to the documentary evidence in its press releases, as we did here.)
The third sentence doesn’t even make any sense: “FIRE has inflamed the details of this student’s grievance with university policy, enacted to ensure the safety of our community.” This sentence would give any grammarian fits; if you can figure out exactly what it means you are a better reader than I. It sounds like Hamline is saying that the student’s grievance is with university policy that was enacted in an effort to ensure the safety of their community, which is correct—he objected to their concealed carry policies and thought that different policies would better insure that safety. But if Hamline is willing to concede that this is simply a dispute over policy, it is very hard to see how a) such a dispute is at all threatening or b) banning Scheffler from campus and ordering him to get his head examined is a reasonable response. Does Hamline do this to everyone who disagrees with their policies? If so, the problem is a lot worse than we thought. As for FIRE “inflaming” the details, whatever that means (is it a pun?), readers are welcome to read the supporting materials we provide and decide for themselves what’s happening. We are confident that readers will determine we’re not “inflaming” anything.
Now we come to the demonstrably misleading statement: “As we have already informed FIRE more than once, federal privacy laws that protect the rights of that student actually prevent the university from correcting each piece of FIRE’s press release and from articulating in detail what may have transpired with this student.” I hate to say it, but this is just meant to fool the public. FIRE got a signed FERPA waiver from Troy Scheffler in which he waived his rights to privacy in his school records with regard to FIRE employees. In other words, Troy gave them the right to talk with us about anything in his records. Hamline admits this in President Hanson’s letter to FIRE; however, Hanson refused to tell us any more about the charges against Scheffler, claiming with regard to the “other individuals” who supposedly came forward with complaints that “we have an obligation to protect the privacy rights and interests of these other individuals.”
So let me get this straight: a university gets complaints about a student that are severe enough to immediately suspend him without a hearing from the university, and then claims that they can’t tell him or FIRE what they accused him of because of the supposed privacy rights of the complainants? Even the worst criminals in America get a chance to know the identity of their accusers, be informed of the charges against them, and prepare a defense, but somehow Linda Hanson and Hamline’s administration think that one of their own students doesn’t deserve this level of consideration. This is simply and utterly unjust. At best, they are defending a gross miscarriage of justice. At worst, they are doing that and trumping up fake charges after the fact to try to legitimize their outrageous actions against Troy Scheffler. And in case you are wondering which one it is, I would like to point out that there is no mention of anything other than Scheffler’s e-mails in the letter suspending him from school and ordering a mental health evaluation. Interesting, no?
The final sentence—“If we deem anyone to be a threat to other students or employees at Hamline, we will take swift action to ensure the safety of our community”—is, I suppose, meant to reassure Hamline students and faculty that they are safe on campus. Troy Scheffler wanted to complete his degree and go on to law school. Instead he is forbidden to come to campus, is working a job to support himself, and faces having an academic record in which he is branded as a mental health risk. And, of course, according to Hanson’s letter this could happen to anyone at Hamline who happens to disagree with school policy and who has people willing to place cost- and responsibility-free anonymous accusations against him or her. If you consider this to be “safety,” you’re in good hands with Linda Hanson and Hamline University. Let me say this again so that there can be no mistake: if Hamline truly believes Troy Scheffler is a threat, it needs to tell him why.