On November 25, FIRE congratulated Gonzaga University for reversing a decision to punish the College Republicans (CRs) for using the “discriminatory” word “hate” on a flier. Gonzaga administrators had disciplined the group by placing a letter in its file. In response to letters of protest about these illiberal actions, Gonzaga Director of Public Relations Dale Goodwin replied that the students had never been punished. Placing a letter in a student organization’s file listing allegations against it is a standard punishment in higher education. Such letters are routinely used against groups in future disciplinary proceedings to establish a pattern of repeat offenses. The letter placed in the CRs’ file noted that “the club will not have any sanctions brought against them,” but it also said, “the complaint will be included in your file.” Though the College Republicans’ flier had been pre-approved by Gonzaga administrators, the letter warned the group “that in the future you [should] watch what information is printed on your flyers.” This is the very essence of a “chilling effect” on speech.
Goodwin’s reply inaccurately claimed that the CRs were merely given “direction” about how to compose fliers. Director of Student Activities David Lindsay told The Gonzaga Bulletin that he “took one [flier] down because our publicity policy says that we don’t allow hate speech to be posted around campus.” CR President Paul Schafer says that Lindsay told him that the CRs shouldn’t “hate” anyone (an odd admonition considering that the text of the flier was the title of a book criticizing hate). Schafer says that Lindsay then compared the CRs’ posting of the flier to the existence of a white club that hates black people. Further, when Gonzaga informed FIRE that it would remove the disciplinary letter from the file, the vice president of student life conceded that “it is not generally Gonzaga’s practice to place letters in club and organization files for such matters.” It is clear that Gonzaga administrators subjected Schafer and his group to far more than friendly, neutral “direction.” FIRE is pleased that the disciplinary letter has been removed, but it wishes that Gonzaga administrators would simply admit their error.