DURHAM -University of New Hampshire student Timothy Garneau thought he was being funny when he posted fliers around his dorm suggesting girls use the stairs instead of the elevator in order to lose weight.
University officials weren’t in on the joke and kicked the 20-year-old sophomore out of his dorm room last weekend.
Now a national nonprofit educational foundation devoted to protecting free speech and individual liberty has accused UNH of violating Garneau’s constitutional rights to free speech and due process. pears to be a computerized image of a woman wearing exercise gear.
The sign read: “9 out of 10 freshman girls gain 10-15 pounds. But there is something you can do about it. If u live below the 6th floor takes the stairs. Not only will u feel better about yourself but you will also be saving us time and wont be sore on the eyes.”
Garneau was accused by the university of harassment, acts of dishonesty, conduct that is disorderly or lewd, and violating affirmative action policies. On Oct. 8 he was convicted of all four offenses by the UNH judicial board.
Kim Billings, director of UNH Media Relations, said the university could not comment on the case because the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits the university from talking about student records or disciplinary action.
Garneau maintains that the flyer, which also contained an Internet link to a company that sells computer servers, was a joke.
He was responding to many student frustrations with long waits for the elevator at Stoke Hall, the university’s largest dorm. He never thought about getting in trouble when he posted it, he said.
Garneau’s punishment included eviction from Stoke Hall, an extended probation period lasting until May 2006, participation in a sexual harassment program and a 3,000-word paper on the program, he said.
“There’s no way I thought that would be the outcome,” said Garneau.
Since his eviction, Garneau, a lean young man with dirty blond hair, has been living either in his car or at friends’ apartments.
Garneau thought his punishment was unfair and turned to a faculty member of the political science department for advice after his appeal was denied. Garneau was advised to complain to local politicians and contact the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Garneau said.
After contacting politicians such as Judd Gregg and Jean Shaheen, Garneau and his mother contacted FIRE for help persuading university officials to repeal the punishment.
Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for FIRE, immediately got involved.
Lukianoff said Garneau should not have been punished for posting the flyer because it was protected under his freedom of speech rights. Even material that is offensive to some people is protected under the Constitution, Lukianoff said.
The university also used the term harassment incorrectly, according to Lukianoff, who said Garneau’s poster didn’t even come close to crossing the line.
“This is a crazy misrepresentation of the law and disregards the students’ due process rights and their constitutional rights,” Lukianoff said.
Now that FIRE is involved and word of the incident has spread, the university has offered to drop some, but not all, of the charges, Lukianoff said.
According to Garneau, he posted the sign during the first week of September, but it was removed in less than an hour. Then he didn’t hear anything about the flyer for the next week and a half.
Stoke Hall Director Brad Williams asked about the sign the next week and gave the entire floor an ultimatum – either the person who made the sign confess or he would send everyone to the judicial board, Garneau said.
Williams could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Garneau initially denied posting the sign, but admitted fault minutes later when Williams saw the sign hanging in his room, he said.
He posted letters of apology around the building and constructed a bulletin board on his floor about sexual harassment to make amends. He realized some people might have been offended by the poster and thought he should explain that his intentions were not to make fun of other students, he said.
Garneau sent a letter of appeal to the board after the decision, saying the sanctions were too severe and the punishment did not fit the crime.
On Oct. 21 he received a letter saying his appeal had been denied and he had until Sunday, Oct. 24 to vacate his dorm room.
Since FIRE became involved, Garneau received an e-mail from UNH Wednesday offering to remove the harassment and disorderly conduct charges, he said. Yet Garneau’s still out of a place to live and the money paid to live there.
Lukianoff advised him not to take any offer with UNH at this time because he has already made a sufficient effort to apologize for actions that are protected under his right to free speech.
Garneau responded to the e-mail Thursday saying the embarrassment he has already suffered and the inconvenience of not having a dorm room is punishment enough for posting the flyer. He is currently waiting for a response from the university.Download file "Student evicted from dorm for posting fliers"