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This Week in FIRE History: Madness at the University of New Hampshire

It has been two years since FIRE intervened at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) where sophomore Tim Garneau had been evicted from his dormitory and was living out of his car after being charged with harassment and “conduct which is disorderly, lewd.” What could he have possibly done that was so horrible that university administrators would throw him out of his home into the New Hampshire cold? Garneau, who lived on the top floor of his dorm, was frustrated with waiting at the elevator for people who were only going up one or two stories; to encourage these people to take the stairs he posted a flyer with a picture of a woman in outdated workout gear with the caption:

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. [sic] 

To most of us the flyer seems quite innocuous, but in university-administrator-la-la-land such a posting constitutes not only harassment, but also disorderly conduct and a violation of the affirmative action policy! Tim was not only kicked out of the dorm but sentenced to mandatory psychological counseling and writing a 3,000 word essay on his horrible crime. FIRE was forced to intervene, arguing that Garneau’s flyer did not come close to harassment and that “its message (was) clearly and fully protected” by the Constitution and UNH could not in good faith “attempt to re-characterize the posting of the flier as ‘harassment’ in order to punish him.” UNH refused to cooperate, but after FIRE took the case to the press, UNH relented.

Garneau was allowed to return to the dorms and went on to become a FIRE intern this summer. As for UNH, it received a “Dishonorable Mention” in The Boston Phoenix’s “Eight Annual Muzzle Awards.” Good going, guys.

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