The University of New Hampshire taught Timothy Garneau a lesson on the perils of political correctness last November. After Garneau wrote and distributed a flier joking that freshman women could lose 10 to 15 pounds by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, he was ordered out of his dorm, and was forced to live in his car for three weeks. After the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education intervened, Garneau was reinstated.
Garneau’s case is an outrage indicative of a worrisome trend, which I explored in my Daily Journal column “No Jokes, Please: Demonize First, Ask Questions Later”:
Too often on the modern campus, if you offend someone, no matter what your intentions were or what kind of person you may be, you are immediately demonized.
Despite writing apologies, offering to educate students about harassment, offering to do public service and trying to "atone" for his horrible sin in a variety of ways, Tim Garneau was considered beyond redemption. He was found guilty by the campus judiciary of violating propriety, and therefore, his rights, the hardships he would face, his future academic career, and, indeed, his humanity were all discounted.
The University of New Hampshire clearly is trying to make an example of Garneau. But what he is an example of is probably different from what the university had intended.
Garneau is an example of what bullies can do when they are given too much power. He is an example of a special kind of madness that grips our universities where students can have their academic careers and college experience ruined for a single moment of misconstrued rudeness. He is an example of how our increasingly polarized society too often sees the people it disagrees with as not fully human but rather caricatures of societal evil.
Kudos to the Boston Phoenix for bringing attention to this important case. UNH is very lucky Tim did not immediately sue for the obvious and blatant violation of his First Amendment rights. In fact, I don’t think UNH ever even apologized to Tim. We are proud that after pressure from FIRE and the media they let Tim back into the dorms, but sometimes I still wonder if they actually learned their lesson or if it is just a mater of time before they do this sort of thing again.