In our nearly ten-year history, October has seen an exceptional number of cases. Perhaps it is because students are settled in after two months on campus, or maybe it’s Halloween, but some of our most important cases are celebrating their anniversaries this month. For example, among our infamous October cases were at Valdosta State University, where a student was punished for a collage protesting the building of 30-million-dollar parking garages, and University of Delaware, which required students to go through an appalling ideological reeducation program.
But one October case that takes the cake is that of University of New Hampshire student Tim Garneau. In what has become one of FIRE’s truly legendary cases, Tim was punished four years ago for posting satirical flyers in his residence hall. The "offensive" flyer included a cartoon picture of a woman in outdated workout gear and the following message:
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]
Garneau posted the flyers out of frustration that students were riding the dorm elevator up and down a few floors, rather than simply taking the stairs. The note was taken down within two hours of its posting, and Garneau willingly apologized both publicly and individually to the students who had complained.
Despite his extensive efforts to remedy the situation, the hall director brought Tim up on an astounding number of charges, including violating the university’s affirmative action policy, discriminatory harassment, disorderly conduct, and dishonesty. Amazingly, UNH found Garneau guilty of all charges. As a result, he was kicked out of the dorms, placed on probation for two years, required to issue another apology, and forced to attend mandatory counseling.
With no place else to go, Tim had no choice but to live out of his car. Shortly thereafter, he got in touch with FIRE. We contacted UNH on October 22, 2004, explaining both that "forcing a student out of housing for posting a satirical flier is outrageous and unlawful" and that UNH had misapplied federal law in interpreting the flyer as "harassment."
After spending three weeks living out of his 1994 Ford Contour, Tim was allowed to return to his dorm in early November —after FIRE brought the case to the attention of the mainstream media. Specifically, a call from The Daily Show showed UNH exactly how much negative attention it was likely to get for its unjust treatment of Garneau.
Tim went on to become a FIRE intern in 2006 and graduated from UNH in 2007. Four years later, we’re happy Tim’s story has a happy ending. Nevertheless, UNH’s shameful reaction to Tim’s "harassing" flyer still serves as a warning about the incredible lengths universities go to in efforts to prevent students from being "offended." For more on this case, check out the latest Voices of Vision documentary about FIRE, now available on our multimedia page.