By Rick Dean at The Topeka Capital-Journal
Court: Navid Yeasin’s ‘demeaning’ actions occurred off campus
A Kansas Court of Appeals panel has upheld a Douglas County District Court decision ordering the University of Kansas to readmit a student expelled for actions the appeals court called “reprehensible, demeaning, and criminal behavior” involving a former girlfriend.
The appeals panel said the district court was correct in ruling that KU had no legal right to expel Navid Yeasin because his initial conflict with the woman and a subsequent series of “puerile and sexually harassing tweets” and posts to social media occurred off campus and away from any university-sponsored events.
It ordered a lifting of the stay on a district court order directing KU to reinstate Yeasin, and to reimburse him for his tuition and fees for the fall 2013 semester.
The case attracted “friend of the court” briefs filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas; the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; the Student Press Law Center, which argued that Yeasin’s social media posts were protected free speech; and Kansas State University, which said KU had no obligation to act under Title IX provisions regarding off-campus sexual harassment.
KU argued that Yeasin was expelled — after multiple warnings to stop posting sexually demeaning posts about the woman — for violating sexual harassment provisions of its student code. The university said Yeasin’s actions created an atmosphere in which the victim didn’t feel safe on campus.
The university said it was obligated to take action regarding off-campus harassment under Title IX of the Educational Acts Amendments of 1972. It said Yeasin’s ongoing social media activity violated both a Johnson County protection order and a school order forbidding him from having contact with the woman.
Yeasin and the woman, identified only as “W” in court documents, began what the courts called a “turbulent” relationship in the fall of 2012 while attending the same geology class. In June 2013 while in Olathe, Yeasin read from W’s cellphone messages she had sent to another man. He later drove the woman around Olathe with the car doors locked, refusing to open them despite her demand to be released.
The woman reported Yeasin to Johnson County law enforcement officials, who charged him with criminal restraint, battery and criminal deprivation of property. He entered into a diversion program and was directed by a protection order to have no contact with W for one year.
W also notified KU officials of the incident, and the university began an investigation. On the day it began, Yeasin began posting tweets that eventually included comments about breast implants and “mutated kids.” His tweets continued even after repeated warnings in which a university official told him the school considered such comments a violation of the no-contact order.
A student conduct hearing determined that his cumulative actions — though occurring off campus — violated Article 22 of the Student Code, as well as the university’s sexual harassment policy. It said his actions were so “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that they have the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with (W’s) academic performance or participation in the university’s programs and activities.”
Yeasin was expelled in November 2013. His appeal to the University Judicial Board was denied. He sought relief in Douglas County District Court, which ruled the university failed to prove that any of Yeasin’s actions happened on campus, and that the student code as written didn’t apply to off-campus activity. KU appealed the decision.
Writing for the three-judge panel in a decision released Friday, Judge Stephen Hill said the university took prompt action to investigate the situation, separate the antagonists and remove the cause of the conflict through expulsion.
“The trouble is,” Hill added, “the Student Code did not give the University authority to act when the misconduct occurred somewhere other than its campus or at University sponsored or 14 supervised events. There is no proof in the record that Yeasin posted the tweets while he was on campus.”
Hill acknowledged university concerns about Title IX provisions governing a school’s obligation to respond to sexual harassment situations, but found nothing in federal advisories governing off-campus activities.
“It seems obvious that the only environment the University can control is on campus or at University sponsored or supervised events,” Hill said. “After all, the University is not an agency of law enforcement but is rather an institution of learning.”
In finding the university had no authority to expel a student because of off-campus activities, the appeals court said it didn’t need to address Yeasin’s argument of protected free speech.