‘Thrones’ prof wins free-speech case

An art professor who posted a photo of his daughter in a Game of Thrones T-shirt no longer is under threat of suspension or termination. Francis Schmidt, who teaches animation at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, sent the photo to his Google + contacts, including a dean. Not a fan of the hit TV series, she thought the quote on the shirt — “I will take what is mine with fire & blood” — was a threat. 

Schmidt was placed on leave without pay until a psychiatrist attested to his mental fitness. After he was reinstated, BCC placed an official warning in his file and threatened him with “suspension and/or termination” if he made “disparaging” remarks about the college or acted in any way BCC determined to be “unbecoming.”

The college “may have lacked basis” for its action and “potentially violated” Schmidt’s rights, BCC Director of Human Resources Patti Bonomolo wrote Schmidt in a recent letter rescinding the warning. “Lest there be any doubt, BCC recognizes and respects that you are free to exercise your constitutional rights, including your right to freedom of speech and expression, even to the extent that you may disparage BCC and/or its officials,” wrote Bonomolo.

“Saying that Bergen Community College’s punishment of Francis Schmidt ‘may have lacked basis’ is like saying that King Joffrey may have been a less than ideal ruler,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE helped Schmidt find legal representation.

On Game of Thrones, Daenerys pledges to claim the throne in Westeros “with fire and blood.” And King Joffrey is a “vicious idiot.”

Amid turmoil, classes start at Ferguson college campus

Teargas is deployed after police were fired upon Monday in Ferguson, Mo.
Ferguson, Mo. police responded to gunfire with tear gas Monday night.

Police came under “heavy gunfire” last night in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, which has been rocked by riots since a white police killed a black 18-year-old, Michael Brown. So far, National Guard troops haven’t calmed the situation.

Despite the unrest, St. Louis Community College started its new semester yesterday, including classes at the Florissant Valley campus located in Ferguson.

“The college police departments, and local authorities have worked diligently and effectively to put into place steps, procedures, and actions to ensure safety at STLCC,” Interim Chancellor Dennis Michaelise said in a statement.

The college plans small group discussions on Thursday and a town hall-style meeting next week to discuss the shooting and the aftermath.

Brown was shot and killed days before he was to start classes at Vatterott College, a for-profit career college. He’d hoped to train as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician.

Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who’s coordinating the law enforcement effort, grew up in Ferguson and earned a criminal justice degree at the Florissant Valley campus.

Choking attack treated as harassment

A male student at St. Louis Community College at Meramec hid in a women’s restroom and choked a female student who happened to come in. Her screams alerted an instructor, who called campus police. But Jevon Mallory, 18, was released a few hours later, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The college assigned a sexual harassment counselor to interview Blythe Grupe, 19, and Mallory, who said he didn’t know the victim but was trying to “withdraw her from life.” Still, nothing happened. Finally, Grupe went to the media and Mallory was arrested again and charged with felony assault.

The case was bungled, endangering students, concludes a scathing report on the April 18 attack.

“The mischaracterization and mishandling (of the incident) … was due to a system-wide failure of campus and district law enforcement, administration and communications,” alleges the report, by a law firm hired by the college trustees.

That “resulted in an unnecessary threat to the campus from an individual who should have remained in custody rather than being allowed to roam free after the commission of a major felony,” the report says

The college has announced that Meramec Campus Police Chief Paul Banta, Community College District Chief of Police Robert Stewart and Vice President of Student Affairs Linden Crawford “are no longer in their prior positions.”

Race at Roxbury CC

No white person is qualified to chair the board of Roxbury Community College, claims Sadiki Kambon, a Boston activist. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s appointment of Gerald Chertavian, who founded a job training program called Year Up, “is sending a message that although we are a predominantly black institution, it will take a white person to give you the vision and leadership to take the college to the ‘promised land’ of education,” wrote Kambon, who claims to represent  “Friends of Roxbury Community College,” in a letter to Patrick. “That is the plantation type mentality.”

Forty-eight percent of RCC students identify as black, 16 percent as Latino and 6 percent as white, according to The Boston Herald. (The “decline to state” category must be large.)

The board has named Valerie Roberson, vice president for academic affairs at Joliet Junior College in Illinois, as president of the troubled community college. She is black. Last year, President Terrence Gomes resigned amid charges of mismanagement of funds, violations of federal safety laws and other problems.

Chertavian is a great choice to head the board, writes Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker in Education vs. turf at Roxbury Community College.

After a successful career on Wall Street, he began a highly regarded job training program for young people of color who struggled in traditional educational settings — exactly the constituency RCC serves. He is strategic, thoughtful, and the most unassuming zillionaire I’ve ever met.

The college faced “a host of academic, administrative and legal issues” until it was stabilized by the former board chair, Kathy Taylor, writes Walker. “Throughout the turmoil at RCC, there has been a persistent undercurrent that outside forces are somehow conspiring to deprive Roxbury of control over the college.” But this is about turf, not education.

The RCC administration — most of which remains in place — has failed at virtually every aspect of running a college. But none of that ever outraged Kambon and his followers — not a graduation rate in the low single digits, not the financial aid problems, not the unreported campus crimes, not the attempt to keep quiet a student’s report of sexual assault by a professor. No protests, no letters to the governor, about any of that.

No, the real focus of their outrage is that this white guy might not view the incompetents who turned RCC into an educational and bureaucratic mess as untouchable.

Most Roxbury students want “a quality education and career training delivered by a competent administration in a safe setting,” writes Walker.

Can community colleges control violence?

New River Community College, which is located near Virginia Tech, the site of mass killing in 2007, remains closed today after a shooting Friday that wounded two women at a branch campus in a shopping mall. Neil Allen MacInnis, an 18-year-old student at the college,  has been charged with wounding Taylor Sharpe, a part-time college employee, and Kristina Bousserghine, a first-year student. Both victims are in stable condition.

Neil MacInnis

Students say the gunmen tried to lure them out of hiding by pretending to be the police, reports the Roanoke Times.

Clara Keller of Blacksburg was working in a computer lab when she heard a gunshot, a woman screaming and then more gunshots. She hid beneath a desk with four classmates.

“I heard him go into a classroom, and then four more shots,” she said.

Then, another scream.

“He came into our room,” Keller said. “He said, ‘I can hear you. I know you’re in here. Come out.’ I was thinking, ‘He’s going to come looking for us.’ ”

. . . The shooter called out “Help, help!” as he walked, Keller said, as if to lure people out of hiding. At another point, he yelled, “It’s the police!”

“The guy’s a terrible actor,” Keller said. “I knew it was just a matter of holding still as long as possible until the real police got there.”

About five minutes after the shooting started, MacInnis surrendered to an off-duty security guard and two police officers.

A poster who called himself Neil MacInnis wrote  about using a shotgun minutes before the shooting, writing “Anyways this is not a highscores game but actually a lesson (that’s why I’m at school).” He also linked to his e-portfolio, which says he’s a computer graphics and web design major who works part-time at Old Navy and has a brown tabby cat named  Mowww.

Community colleges “may face particular challenges in preventing” tragedies, writes Scott Jaschik on Inside Higher Ed.

Many colleges have opened branch campuses that rely on the facility’s security force rather than campus police.

Community college counselors have large caseloads and many responsibilities. Seven in 10 community colleges now have threat assessment teams, according to a survey by the American College Counseling Association’s Community College Task Force.

College assesses mental health threats

At Brookhaven College near Dallas, a team of volunteers tries to assess potential threats, before it’s too late, reports Community College Times.

The college realized the need in October 2010, when Dallas police received a report that a student, possibly carrying a gun, had threatened suicide on campus. The student was found alive and at home and was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. But it turned out the student had told an adjunct instructor he was feeling suicidal and the instructor hadn’t reported it.

“We felt like we needed to have some sort of system in place to address when students are dealing with mental health issues, as well as other issues that could hinder the safety of students,” said Oscar Lopez, vice president of student services.

The CARE Assessment Team, which includes Lopez,  counselors, health professionals, college police, faculty and the human resources director, was formed to provide a “caring, confidential program of identification, intervention and response.”

Referrals can come from anyone —a professor disturbed by a student’s writings, or a student worried about something posted on a friend’s Facebook page.

Brookhaven also recently purchased Kognito at Risk software, which helps train employees to identify and refer students in mental distress. And soon, the college will launch an online referral form, allowing people to make confidential referrals more easily.

Each referral triggers an assessment of the student’s mental health and the potential risk to others. In most cases, the student is referred to the counseling center or disability services.  “If it’s determined that the student is a potential threat, the student will be directed to have a psychological evaluation with a mental health professional and possibly asked to withdraw from the college until he or she has gotten the needed help,” reports Community College Times.

Student cleared in Lone Star College shooting

Charges have been dropped against Carlton Berry, 22, who was accused of shooting two people at Lone Star College in Houston. Another student, Trey Foster, has been charged with the shooting.

Berry wants an apology from Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

“All I know is, I’m a good person. I don’t run in gangs, I’m not a gang member,” Berry said Tuesday at a news conference in front of the New Black Panthers headquarters. “I go to school to better my future, and that’s what I intend to do from now on.

Berry said he was walking with Foster, a friend since high school, when he began arguing with Jody Neal, 25, who’s in a GED program on campus. Foster allegedly fired 10 shots, wounding Neal, Berry and a maintenance man who was passing by. Law enforcement officials originally thought Berry had shot himself accidentally.

CC expels Trayvon Martin shooter

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch member who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has been expelled from Seminole State College, where he was working on an associate degree in general studies.

“Due to the highly charged and high-profile controversy involving this student, Seminole State has taken the unusual but necessary step this week to withdraw Mr. Zimmerman from enrollment,” according to a statement from the college. “This decision is based solely on our responsibility to provide for the safety of our students on campus as well as for Mr. Zimmerman.”

Zimmerman, 28, claimed he shot in self-defense after following the teenager, who was walking to a family friend’s house in a gated community. In response to death threats, Zimmerman has gone into hiding.

CCs worry about guns on campus

Guns on campus worry college officials, reports Community College Times. More states are letting students apply for permits to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Colleges are adopting different policies said Ada Meloy, attorney for the American Council on Education, and J.P. Sherry, general counsel for the Los Rios Community College District in California,  at the Community College Conference on Legal Issues at Valencia College (Florida).

Utah and Mississippi allow concealed weapons on college campuses, as long as the carrier has a permit. Conversely, 20 states, including Florida, currently prohibit guns on public college campuses, even for people with concealed weapons permits.

In “empty holster protests” in several states, students have demanded the right to carry guns for self-defense. “This problem is not going to go away,” Meloy said. “It’s only going to get bigger.”

Arizona is debating a bill that would let adults with permits carry guns on state university and community college campuses.

Smart phone, stupid choices

“Gunna be at West Hall,” a Lanier Technical College texted, trying to tell a friend he was going to West Hall High School in Hall County, Georgia. But the smart phone’s auto-correct feature changed the message to “Gunman to be at West Hall.”

Then the student misdialed, sending the message to a stranger. That person called 911. The college and the high school were locked down for two hours till police determined the texter was armed only with his phone.