WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni today declared that the comments of a student punished by the St. Cloud State University (MN) president were “utterly innocent” and called on the president to rescind the punishment and apologize to the student for violating his First Amendment rights.
The student, undergraduate Chris Monson, was charged with making “racial insults” when he argued in the campus newspaper that precluding credit card companies from soliciting on campus would be as illegal as “not allowing blacks on campus.”
In e-mail broadcasts to the entire university, president Suzanne R. Williams condemned Monson for “racial insults” and announced that he would be required to undergo “sensitivity training.”
“The president needs sensitivity training on First Amendment rights,” said Anne D. Neal, vice president and general counsel of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.
“The essence of a university experience should be the free exchange of ideas,” wrote Neal. “As president, your first responsibility is to protect the ability of individuals to exercise their right to free speech. Instead, you have wrongly arrogated to yourself the right to censure and disapprove of comments—even the most innocent—and thus to deny students their right to proffer various points of view.” Copies of ACTA’s letter were also mailed to every member of the University board of trustees.
“We emphatically call on you to meet your obligation to protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and to apologize publicly to the student and to the campus for your violation of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment at all public institutions of higher education,” the letter said.
“The student’s comments were utterly innocent and most certainly within the confines of permissible speech,” Neal said. “The fact is, Mr. Monson is on ‘politically incorrect’ turf when he makes references to black access. President Williams’ outright intimidation and censorship is tantamount to a declaration that the First Amendment requires freedom from speech and potential offense. This is dead wrong.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a national educational nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability. Its members include alumni and trustees from more than 200 colleges and universities across the country.