OPINION: Dixie State University Lawsuit And The Millstones Of Justice

March 8, 2015

By Dallas Hyland at the SU Independent

Last week, three Dixie State University students, with the assistance of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), filed a lawsuit against the school for the unconstitutional restrictions placed on the First Amendment Rights of the students.

FIRE maintains that DSU is a repeat offender of First Amendment rights citing the incident in 2012 where student, Indigo Klabanoff was thwarted, hazed, and threatened by the administration for attempting to have a club using Greek Letters in its name. (That was the school’s contention but it was seen by some as a thin veil trying to mask the schools outright resistance to having a sorority on campus)

FIRE has listed DSU on the top ten list of worst free speech offending schools in the country.

Taken at face value, one might think this is not a big deal. It is and here is why:

FIRE repeatedly warned DSU it was in violation of federal law when it interfered with Klabanoff. The warnings were dismissed as inconsequential and the school carried on with business as usual thinking that FIRE went away.
Apparently that was a big miscalculation as FIRE clearly has not gone away but rather issued its warnings, stood back, and waited for DSU to do it again. And do it again they did.
In its thwarting of the three students efforts to exercise their First Amendment rights, the school again tried to mask it intentions citing to “free speech” zones and using campus police to intimidate students. A pattern mind you all to familiar it appears at DSU.

Incidentally, this entire country is a free speech zone but it could not be more especially true than on a public university campus. Agreed?

The outcome of this law suit is a ways down the road but make no mistake of it, it is not trivial and it won’t be ignored or explained away by the DSU administration. They are defendants and their opponents are well lawyered up and ready to go the distance to see justice through.

But this is the tip of an iceberg for DSU so to speak.

Also last week, discontent among faculty and staff over treatment of its adjunct professors was reported as well as the somewhat controversial firing of tenured professor Varlo Davenport. As we reported here last week, Davenport maintains he was deprived of his due process rights by the college and that his firing was premature based on the facts. It is suspect that given he was exonerated unanimously by an investigative inquiry and that no charges were filed by campus police either, he was still dismissed. Witness accounts of the event are consistent with his story as well.

An interesting development came about when reporter Spencer Ricks of the campus newspaper The Dixie Sun published an extensive account of the issue.

Steve Johnson is the director of public relations for the school and released an email to The Independent stating that DSU could not comment on the firing of Davenport due to the Family Educational Rights and Protection Act. (FERPA) In essence, Davenport has rights of confidentiality and the college, while seeming to have violated his due process rights, seems intent in at least protecting his right to have it be private. Even if Davenport is open to talking about it,the college is maintaining the shield. For who exactly, is questionable however.

Here’s why:
In The Dixie Sun article it states, “In an email, Johnson said regardless of the university’s official stance, “I feel confident that in time the truth will come out, and I expect the same attention afforded to the truth that is currently being paid to the rhetoric currently out there.”
Pay attention here because words have an exact meaning. He’s implying there are two stories here and that he knows something we don’t know. Something ominous that despite his exoneration additionally condemns the besmirched Davenport. So much for FERPA.
Johnson is implying that in addition to the findings of his hearing where Davenport was completely and unanimously exonerated, and in addition to witness accounts that we have read, his account of the events is accurate; that there is something else out there that he was terminated for that was not officially documented per school policies and procedures or state and federal laws. Johnson is hinting that there is an ominous reason that was not part of the actual proceedings that led to the school presidents decision to override the staff of the school and fire Davenport.

As these events have unfolded, and as per our request that people with information about this case or others like it contact us at The Independent, what is becoming a common assertion is that DSU capriciously, arbitrarily, and selectively applies a loose and vague interpretation of its own policies as well as state and federal laws to exact with impunity personal hostile agendas under the guise of carrying out school policies. It even goes as far as to introduce a threatening presence of law enforcement, warranted or not to intimidate people.

We have received a litany of correspondence from the community as well as employees and students of the college who fear retaliation but are speaking out about the “air of intimidation” the administration is putting out in emails and “rhetoric.”

In the business of reporting, arms length sources that report similar situations and facts garner attention and lend to credibility.
Furthermore, it is becoming quite visceral for the students and faculty of DSU, that if one persons civil rights are fair game, everyones are.
It is said that the millstones of justice turn slowly, yet grind exceedingly fine. It’s fair to say DSU is about to find out.
See you out there.


Schools: Dixie State University Cases: Dixie State University – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project