FIRE: Stand up for free speech

At Citrus College in southern California, students can’t express their political beliefs outside a small “free speech” area, complains the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE is urging Citrus students to Stand Up for Speech as part of a national campaign to eliminate unconstitutional speech codes on college campuses.

On September 17, 2013—Constitution Day— student Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle was threatened with removal from campus by an administrator for asking a fellow student to sign a petition protesting NSA surveillance of American citizens. His crime?  Sinapi-Riddle was petitioning outside of the college’s tiny “free speech area.”

. . . Amazingly, this is the second time FIRE has coordinated a lawsuit against Citrus College’s “free speech area.” In 2003, the college agreed to abandon its free speech zone as part of a court-approved settlement following a First Amendment lawsuit filed by a student.

Sinapi-Riddle also is challenging the college’s “verbal harassment policy,” which prohibits “inappropriate or offensive remarks,” and the college’s elaborate permitting requirements for student groups. Before holding a campus event, groups must wait two weeks and get the permission of four separate college entities.

FIRE promises to sue colleges that limit students’ First Amendment rights.

Student suspended for questioning governor

After Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy spoke at Asnuntuck Community College (ACC) on Oct. 23, 2013, student Nicholas Saucier questioned him about gun-control legislation, as shown on video. Saucier was led off campus by ACC President James Lombella and a security guard, then suspended and found guilty of harassment and threats.

At a Nov. 18 hearing, ACC refused to review the videos. Saucier was placed on probation and threatened with suspension or expulsion for “any future conduct violations.”

The college denied Saucier’s free speech and due-process rights, charges the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Are kangaroo courts the norm at Asuntuck? asks Peter Bonilla.

A machine-technology student and a veteran, Saucier used his savings to start an ammunition business that’s gone “belly up” because of the law, he told the governor.

Suspended student claims anti-English bias

A Pima Community College nursing student claims the Tucson college suspended her for complaining that classmates spoke Spanish in class creating a disruptive and “hostile” learning environment. Terri Bennett, 50, charges the nursing program director called her a “bigot and a bitch.”

Bennett sued the college in Pima County Superior Court, alleging harassment, privacy violations, breach of contract, violations of the Arizona Constitution, retaliation, defamation, discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Pima instructors teach in English, but students translate the lessons into Spanish for non-English speakers, charges Bennett, who does not speak or understand Spanish. Her classmates spoke primarily in Spanish during labs, clinicals and other activities, her filing said.

“During (Introduction to Nursing), the talking, interruptions and distractions, all in Spanish, from her peers increased dramatically, to the point that it impede Ms. Bennett’s ability to concentrate, focus, listen to the lecture, and participate in group studies, clinicals, and other learning activities.

“On or about April 3, 2013, Ms. Bennett participated in an interaction between Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers in her class, in which the Spanish speakers were asked not to speak in Spanish in front of non-Spanish speakers. The Spanish-speaking group of students laughed and mocked Ms. Bennett and the other non-Spanish speakers.

Bennett complained to David Kutzler, director of the nursing program. She charges he accused her of “discriminating against Mexican-Americans” and threatened to “write [her] up for a violation of the code of conduct based on discrimination and harassment,” her complaint charges. “He accused Ms. Bennett of being a ‘bigot and a bitch,’ and warned her ‘[y]ou do not want to go down that road.'”

Several weeks later, Bennett was suspended on charges of discrimination and harassment and disrupting class by arguing with an instructor about a test answer.

Bennett claims her suspension violated the Arizona constitution, which establishes English as the state’s official language, and violates her free speech rights. “PCC took extreme disciplinary measures against Ms. Bennett because she expressed her opinion about English being spoken in PCC classrooms,” the complaint states.

Students complained that Bennett was harassing and intimidating them for having private conversations in Spanish, Kutzler told the Daily Caller.  He denies calling Bennett a “bigot and a bitch.”

Professor may lose job for Obama vote pledge

A math professor who told students to sign pledges to vote for President Obama’s re-election should be fired, President James Richey advised the Brevard Community College Board of Trustees.

Sharon Sweet, an associate professor of mathematics with tenure at the Florida college, is “guilty of electioneering, harassment, and incompetence,” concluded a report based on a three-month investigation.

“Professor Sweet strongly encouraged or mandated that students from several classes sign a pledge card that stated, ‘I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket.’ She also misrepresented her intentions to multiple students, indicating at various times that she was conducting voter registration for the college, that the pledge cards were non-partisan voter registration forms, and that the pledge was a ‘statistical analysis.’”

Sweet created a hostile environment for students, who told investigators they feared she’d lower their grades if they refused to sign the pledge.

Seattle CC tires of ‘Occupy’ campers

“Occupy” protesters may be evicted from the Seattle Central Community College campus due to crowding, poor sanitation, drug use and complaints of sexual harassment, reports the Seattle Times. The college also faces added security and cleaning costs.

A draft of an emergency rule prepared for the state says the college needs to take action because of unsafe conditions at the encampment, including syringes and needles on the ground, drug and alcohol use, lack of hygiene facilities and other risk factors near the college child-care center.

An Occupy Seattle spokesman said the college’s Capitol Hill neighborhood was  known for drug use and transients before the activists set up their tents.

An estimated 120 people have camped in about 60 tents and other temporary structures on the college’s south lawn for more than three weeks.

Occupy Seattle declared its solidarity with community college students and staff and its desire to be a “good neighbor,” but tensions are growing, notes Inside Higher Ed.

The encampment borders the child care center’s outdoor facility, said Judy Kitzman, a college spokeswoman.

. . . workers at the child care center have spotted protesters using drugs. The college put tarps over a fence between the facility and the camping area, but Kitzman said protesters tore some of the tarps down to use in their makeshift shelters. Now she said children are restricted to staying inside during their recess periods.

Female students have complained of sexual harassment by protesters, Kitzman added.