Rights expert to represent photographer

By December 1, 2005

A renowned defender of academic freedom of expression will represent an Engineering junior today in a case pitting student privacy against the First Amendment.

Alan Kors, a Penn history professor, contacted the student yesterday offering to defend him during today’s meeting with Penn’s Office of Student Conduct and in all future proceedings regarding this matter.

The student took pictures of a couple who appeared to be having sex against a window in Hamilton College House and posted the photographs on a University Internet server.

Officials allege that in using the University’s server, the student violated Penn policy. The student’s name was blacked out of confidential documents obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Kors, who is a co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech advocacy group, said he hopes the University will "come to its senses" and drop charges before the case goes any further.

This is not the first time Kors has arrived at the side of a Penn student in a case involving First Amendment rights. In 1993, he defended a student charged with racial harassment in a nationally publicized case.

The case, known as the "water buffalo incident," revolved around the University’s ability to limit free-speech on campus.

Kors said that the absurd nature of the current case moved him to adopt it.

"It is as outrageous as a case could be," he said. "If a student at Penn does not have the right to take a photograph of what is in plain sight … then you have no rights. And I don’t want to teach at a university where students have no rights."

Kors added that the photographer did not perform any actions that are out of line with University policy.

"In 1993 and 1994, this University promised and made it public policy that University of Pennsylvania students would have at least the same rights as students in public universities that are governed by the Constitution," he said.

Psychology graduate student Andrew Geier — who agreed to represent the student before Kors took over his case — said he was thrilled to pass it on to the professor.

Kors "has written a book on free speech on college campuses, so I would say that pretty much would make him an instant obvious choice," Geier said. "He is an eminent speaker and researcher and scholar in his field."

Geier added, however, that he still plans to attend today’s meeting with the OSC.

The meeting follows the photographer’s refusal to accept official sanctions, which would have required him to undergo disciplinary probation until graduation, admit to violating University policies regarding sexual harassment, student conduct and use of electronic resources, write an essay discussing the inappropriate nature of his conduct and write a letter of apology to one subject of his photograph.

Kors said, however, that disciplinary action is ridiculous considering that the student acted completely within his rights.

"Penn students have the right to free speech and free expression," he said. "The University appeared to have remembered that lesson for a long time, and now it appears to have forgotten it."

Schools: University of Pennsylvania