Group investigates LCCC

September 30, 2010

CHEYENNE — A national education watch group is investigating claims that Laramie County Community College President Darrel Hammon has restricted free speech on campus, according to a group official.

The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education defends freedom of expression for students and faculty on college campuses, said the group’s vice president of programs, Adam Kissel.

FIRE, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization, is looking into allegations that Hammon and other administrators have restricted the free expression of faculty, staff and students, Kissel said. The complaints have come from current and former employees, Kissel said.

"They have a fairly consistent set of stories where they think the president and other senior administrators have abused their authority to restrict expression of people on campus," said Kissel. "The allegations mostly involve the college president."

LCCC Trustee Tom Bauman said he has never heard of FIRE and is not sure if the organization is credible.

"This comes as surprise to me," Bauman said Wednesday. "I’m wondering what the undercurrent of this is. I’m just amazed by some of these things."

Bauman said he thinks free speech is exercised at LCCC.

"I think people pretty well speak their mind," said Bauman, adding that faculty and staff speak openly at board meetings.

FIRE started receiving the complaints about LCCC about a month ago, and so far there are six different complaints, said Kissel.

Kissel said one complaint involves an administrator allegedly removing a poster depicting John Belushi from the movie "Animal House" because the image did not reflect the college’s values.

The poster reportedly had profanity on it, but such language is protected speech, whether college administrators agree with it or not, Kissel said.

In another complaint, it is alleged that Hammon intercepted a letter that the student government president sent to the LCCC Board of Trustees. Hammon allegedly told the trustees to ignore the letter, Kissel said.

"We are taking these allegations seriously," he said.

Kissel would not comment specifically on other complaints, saying the investigation is ongoing.

The investigation should be completed in about a week, said Kissel. Once the probe is finished, FIRE will determine whether the allegations are substantiated.

If there is merit to the charges, FIRE will send a letter to Hammon and the board informing them of the violations. FIRE will give the college about three weeks to respond to the allegations before going public with the charges.

The hope is that colleges will correct their problems to avoid negative publicity, Kissel said.

FIRE takes out an ad in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges issue to expose the "worst" schools.

"We draw attention to the abuse and give them a fair chance to respond," said Kissel. "If they don’t back down, we increase the attention."

If the college corrects the problems, there could be no publicity given to the case, said Kissel.

Hammon did not return a message seeking comment by press time.

Kissel said FIRE is in the process of obtaining documents to back up the allegations. Typically, FIRE does not contact the college being investigated until all the information from the complainants is compiled, Kissel said.