DURHAM, N.H., October 28, 2004—The University of New Hampshire has evicted a student from housing for posting fliers in his residential hall joking that freshman women could lose the “Freshman 15” by walking up the dormitory stairs. The public university found him guilty of violating policies on affirmative action, harassment, and disorderly conduct, and has sentenced him to mandatory counseling and probation along with his eviction.
In appealing his sentence, student Timothy Garneau explained that the flier was intended to make light of the common frustration with people who delay the elevator by taking it for just one or two floors instead of taking the stairs. UNH rejected his appeal, and Garneau was ordered to move out of his dormitory. Garneau reports that he is currently living out of his car.
“Forcing a student into homelessness for posting a satirical flier is not just unlawful—it’s cruel,” remarked David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has intervened on Garneau’s behalf. “UNH is demonstrating to its community not only that it will ignore their First Amendment freedoms, but also that it doesn’t care about the basic welfare of its students.”
The “offensive” flier included a cartoon picture of a woman in outdated workout gear and the following message: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 copies of the flier in the elevators of his dormitory, Stoke Hall. According to Garneau, a resident assistant had removed all of the fliers within less than two hours. When Garneau was approached by the Stoke Hall Director and accused of hanging the fliers, he initially denied responsibility, fearing that he would be punished harshly and embarrassed in front of his peers. However, Garneau soon admitted to posting the flier and was charged with offenses including: “acts of dishonesty”; violation of “affirmative action” policies; “harassment”; and “conduct which is disorderly, lewd.”
Within a week of the incident, and prior to his hearing, Garneau posted a written public apology for unintentionally offending others in his residential hall and apologized in person to students that he knew had complained.
At an October 8 hearing, the university found Garneau guilty of all charges. Despite Garneau’s offers to voluntarily atone for his actions through community service, social awareness projects, and other activities, the university sentenced him to immediate expulsion from student housing and disciplinary probation extended through May 30, 2006. He was also required to meet with a counselor to discuss his “decisions, actions, and reflections” about the incident, to write a 3000-word reflection paper about the counseling session, and to submit an apology letter to the residents of Stoke Hall to be published in the hall’s newspaper.
Garneau appealed these outrageous sanctions on October 21, and quickly contacted FIRE for assistance. UNH promptly denied Garneau’s appeal, however, and he was ordered to leave his dormitory by October 24.
On October 22, FIRE wrote a letter to UNH, explaining that administrators had unlawfully punished Garneau’s protected expression and misapplied federal law by interpreting the poster as “harassment.” FIRE reminded the university that this action violated its obligations under the First Amendment.
“By severely punishing a student for posting this flier, UNH administrators have revealed themselves as callous bullies with no regard for the law,” remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. “UNH will discover, however, that free speech doesn’t end wherever administrators arbitrarily decide that it should. FIRE will keep fighting until Tim Garneau’s rights are fully restored.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at UNH and on campuses across America can be viewed at www.thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Ann Weaver Hart, President, University of New Hampshire: 603-862-2450; email@example.com
Brad Williams, Stoke Hall Director, Department of Residential Life, University of New Hampshire: 603-862-0062; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Whitney, Judicial Officer, University of New Hampshire: 603-862-3377; email@example.com