BROOKVILLE, N.Y, Oct. 10, 2018 — He held a gun. Then his college held a meeting.
In another shot to individual rights on college campuses, administrators at Long Island University Post called a student to a mandatory meeting after he posted photos and videos to Facebook showing him legally holding unloaded firearms at an off-campus event hosted by Cabela’s, the popular outdoor sporting goods chain.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education today is calling on LIU to acknowledge that mandatory administrative meetings about non-threatening social media posts chill individual rights.
“By calling in a student for a mandatory meeting about photos of his participation in a recreational gun event, Long Island University has sent a message to its entire student body: Watch what you say,” said Senior Program Officer Sarah McLaughlin. “Universities that promise to protect free speech should not hold mandatory meetings for students who engage in it.”
According to LIU, another student complained that junior Anand Venigalla “might have violent intentions,” seemingly due to his participation in the Cabela’s event. LIU’s director of student engagement contacted Venigalla on Aug. 7, saying it was “imperative” they meet as soon as possible. The administrator later told FIRE that the meeting was not an investigation, but warned Venigalla that it was mandatory.
FIRE first wrote to LIU on Aug. 31 to express its concerns about the school’s violation of its commitment to free expression, pointing out that “students cannot be summoned for questioning every time they post a photo of themselves engaging in recreational firearm use.”
During Venigalla’s meeting with LIU, the director also brought up an essay he wrote for a class on war, terrorism, and justice in November 2017. Venigalla mentioned in the essay that political violence against authorities, but not civilians, can be justified in certain situations, citing the Boston Tea Party as an example. It is not clear how the administration obtained the essay. The director also questioned Venigalla about a Facebook comment expressing disappointment over losing an election for a student government position, in which Venigalla said the Greek life system wields too much political power on campus. For LIU administrators, apparently three examples of constitutionally-protected speech somehow warrant a mandatory meeting with administrators.
“Free expression matters because it is through the unrestricted expression of ideas that we learn and grow in wisdom,” Venigalla said.
LIU, apparently realizing that their case against Venigalla was meritless, declined to investigate further. However, campus inquiries like this chill expression.
Though LIU is private and not bound by the First Amendment, it is legally and morally bound to honor the promises it makes to students.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.
Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Ask LIU to respect student speech