Say your student newspaper publishes an article describing your campus’ unhappiness with the university administration. Say, after the publication of that column, the university president comes to your newspaper’s office and begins dressing down members of the staff and the newspaper as a whole. You might even say that the president spent "the time reaming them about their coverage." Then, two days later, your newspaper’s faculty advisor is mysteriously placed on paid administrative leave, informed that he is being investigated for undisclosed misconduct, and told not to discuss the details of his leave.
Would you be a little suspicious about said investigation? I sure would.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been fleshing out an abstract hypothetical. This is actually what happened to assistant professor and advisor to the Pasadena College Courier Warren Swil at Pasadena City College, a public institution in California.
The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) has the details on the case and the suspicious circumstances surrounding the professor’s leave:
[Editor-in-Chief Nicholas] Saul also took issue with the suddenness of Swil’s removal and the lack of due process.
"I understand that once an official complaint is filed against a person, the school can’t ignore it," he said. "But is there some sort of protocol that they have to tell them … or investigate the matter before doing it?"
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the gag order prevents Swil from properly asserting his innocence, even though the college has publicly named him as the subject of an investigation.
"Generally speaking, a broad gag order on a public employee is unenforceable under the First Amendment," LoMonte said. "It’s unfair to order the employee to refrain from defending himself."
As usual, SPLC is right on the money. Even if the faculty advisor’s removal has nothing to do with the student newspaper and its content—which is far from certain, at this point—a gag order is completely contrary to First Amendment principles, and removing him from the school before doing an investigation also smacks of due process rights violations.
Be sure to check out the rest of SPLC’s coverage of the incident at Pasadena City College.
(Pictured above: Adam Goldstein of SPLC, looking appropriately skeptical.)