Student Conduct Office drops charges after FIRE free-speech investigation

11/28/2017: Just thought I’d repost this classic.

8/26/14: Four word joke nets UO student five unconstitutional bad-conduct charges:

Saul Hubbard has an excellent report on this in the RG. Peter Bonilla of FIRE notes: “Universities have never prevailed in court when defending their [anti-free speech] codes,” he said. “Every single time there’s a court challenge, they lose.” Of course that won’t stop Sharon Rudnick from collecting $300 in UO tuition money for each billable hour trying, just as she did with Gottfredson’s academic freedom restrictions.

If you’re a UO police officer keeping a list of people who should “eat a bowl of dicks” you get a promotion, high paid legal help from Dave Frohnmayer’s law firm, and UO Chief Strategic Communicator Tobin Klinger will write an angry letter to the editor denouncing the reporter for printing the story.

But UO’s rules are a little tougher for students. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has the story:

EUGENE, Oregon, August 26, 2014—The University of Oregon (UO) has filed multiple, blatantly unconstitutional conduct charges against a female student who jokingly yelled “I hit it first” from a dormitory window. The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. FIRE is calling on UO to immediately dismiss all charges against the student and reform its unconstitutional speech policies.

…On June 9, 2014, the female student in question was visiting with friends in UO’s Carson Hall dormitory. The student, looking out of the dormitory window, spotted a male and female student walking together (she did not know either of them) and shouted “I hit it first” at them in jest. The female of the couple responded with two profanities and the couple reported the student’s comment to the Resident Assistant of the dorm. The Resident Assistant located the student and insisted that she apologize to the couple for her remark.

The student readily obliged. That did not end the matter, however. On June 13, the student was shocked to receive a “Notice of Allegation” letter charging her with five separate conduct violations for her four-word joke. In addition to dubious allegations of violating the residence hall’s noise and guest policies, UO charged the student with “[h]arassment,” “disruption,” and “[d]isorderly conduct.” After being presented with these outrageous and unconstitutional charges, the student contacted FIRE. …

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Actually, thanks to Richard Lariviere UO has a very clear and strong free speech policy, but Doug Blandy is in charge of it, and as is often the case at UO implementation leaves something to be desired.And this all raises a very important question: Do these OARs trump official UO policies that have been adopted by the Senate and signed by the President?

8/28/2014 update: UO drops “I hit it first” charges but keeps them on student’s permanent record

From FIRE, and an RG story here:

UO did not respond to FIRE’s August 1 letter or to a previous June 5 letter regarding its problematic speech codes. In an August 27 article on the student’s case in The Register-Guard, a UO spokesperson defended the university’s Student Conduct Code as “appropriate” and claimed that it “doesn’t conflict with speech laws,” despite FIRE’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Later that day, however, UO informed the student via email that it was removing the charges against her. While still claiming that her “behavior may be a violation” of the UO Student Conduct Code, no record of the incident will be noted in her file and no further action will be taken.A first small step towards sanity from the Coltrane administration, or just another reminder that ridicule in the national press is the only way to make Johnson Hall do the right thing?

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7/23/2015: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wins another one:

ATLANTA, July 23, 2015—Today, more than eight years after his unjust expulsion, student Hayden Barnes’ federal civil rights lawsuit against Georgia’s Valdosta State University (VSU) and former VSU president Ronald Zaccari concluded with the announcement of a $900,000 settlement. 

In the spring of 2007, Barnes was expelled from VSU by Zaccari for a satirical environmentalist collage he posted on his personal Facebook page. With the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Barnes fought back by filing a civil rights lawsuit in 2008 against the university, Zaccari, other VSU administrators, and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. 

“After eight years, and one of the worst abuses of student rights FIRE has ever seen, Hayden Barnes has finally received justice,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “Thanks to Hayden’s courageous stand, would-be censors at public universities nationwide have 900,000 new reasons to respect the free speech and due process rights of their students.”

“I am pleased to have finally reached a resolution. It has been an epic journey,” said Barnes. “However, it was a worthwhile endeavor because I know as a result of this case other students will have their constitutional rights respected. I sincerely appreciate the work of my counsel and of FIRE, both of whom were instrumental in achieving justice.”Barnes’ years-long ordeal began on May 7, 2007, when Zaccari—angry with Barnes’ peaceful protest against the planned construction of two parking garages on campus—expelled him without a hearing. Absurdly, Zaccari tried to justify Barnes’ expulsion by claiming that a cut-and-paste collage Barnes had posted to Facebook was a “threatening document” and that Barnes presented a “clear and present danger” to VSU. …

Meanwhile UO is still on FIRE’s redlight list for free speech. We’ve got a great policy, but as you can see above some administrators are a little confused about what free speech means:

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39 Responses to Student Conduct Office drops charges after FIRE free-speech investigation

  1. Old Grey Mare says:

    Just another reason for learning Latin. You could yell “Prima ego id ferii” (or “Primus ego id ferii”) all day out the windows of PLC, and no one would complain except those pesky reinforcers of the noise ordinance.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is complete bullshit.

    Oh, dang, four words with profanity, I better turn myself in, just in case someone on campus somewhere might be offended at sometime!

    Wouldn’t want to offend anyone, that might drive students away, and students are here to give us money…I mean get an education. Like, for example, how NOT to deal with situations like four word jokes that might offend someone.

  3. alum says:

    If the student in questions was male I’m sure the Womens Centre would be out in full force.

  4. uomatters says:

    Bad joke, alum. The women of UO have got much more serious problems to deal with on this campus, and believe me, they are dealing with those problems, as are we all.

    • Anonymous says:

      …but the internet tells me that male oppression is a real thing! Surely this must be an example of it!

  5. anon says:

    I’m feeling stupid, but what was the jest exactly? I take “I hit it first” to mean she was pretending to have had sex with one of the couple first, but is this something students would actually say to someone they didn’t know? What kind of response other than profanities was she expecting? Is this an icebreaker now?

    • - says:

      I think that is what was implied by the joke. Stupid thing to yell, but the university’s overreaction is the thing to be really upset about here.

      • anon says:

        Oh, I agree. That it is an overreaction is easy to understand, less so the joke, but I didn’t mean to imply that the stupidity of the joke matters at all in how to view the charges.

  6. Too embarrassed to admit I didn't get the joke says:

    if it was a joke, or the insult, if it was offensive. “I hit it first”? Can someone explain? Or is yelling anything out a window at anyone grounds for bad-conduct charges?

    • - says:

      The girl yelled “I hit it first” out her dorm window at a girl who was walking with a guy who appeared to be her boyfriend. It was a joke implying she had had sex with the girl’s boyfriend first.

    • Cunning linguist says:

      Don’t be embarrassed anon. – I am not a native speaker and a colleague had to explain what ‘I hit it first’ means this afternoon…silly joke really – not surprised by (and not laughing over) the typical overreaction and the double standard.. … Go Dicks!

      • mousey says:

        Yeah, don’t be embarrassed. The rest of us were waiting for you to ask the question so we could pretend a little that we knew what the supposed insult actually could have been.

  7. I can empathize with the plight of this individual. The University’s student conduct administrators are completely out of control.

    If there are any UO students who might be reading this, keep in mind, the UO’s Office of Student Advocacy provides free attorneys that can provide advice and help. Their website was here: , but the site appears down at the moment.

    I should also say, as an activist for students and labor, individuals targeted by UO should also feel free to contact me, personally.

  8. Ben says:

    I guess free speech is only enforced at UO if Kevin Love is the target of the insults.

  9. Old Man says:

    Do OARs trump official UO policies?
    “A “rule” is “any agency directive, standard, regulation or statement of general applicability that implements, interprets or prescribes law or policy, or describes the procedure or practice requirements of any agency – ORS 183.310(9). ”
    At UO, policies of academic relevance are not set by OARs. The UO Constitution governs the prescription of such policies. OARs can be written to implement or interpret them. Any OAR that contradicts a UO policy can, and should, be rewritten to conform to the policy. It is up to the Administration to do that, although it would be OK for the Senate to call on them to do it.

    • Middle-aged Man says:

      I believe the OAR’s will be adopted in whole by the UO as part of the transition to an independent board. They will be reviewed and confirmed by the Senate:

      “In 2014-2015, we will begin a multi-year process, during which as many as 50-70 revised policies (mostly OAR’s, that is, “Oregon Administrative Rules”) will be sent to the Senate for consideration and approval. The policies are currently being reviewed and will be revised, as necessary, to reflect our new system of governance at both the university (UO Board of Trustees) and statewide levels (Chief Education Officer, HECC, OEIB).”

  10. Old Man says:

    Assuming that our Constitution is honored, I should think that Policies already in the Policy Library can be retained, and OARs can be revised as necessary to conform with those policies. Am I dreaming?

    • Middle-aged Man says:

      I don’t think you are dreaming – if policies in the policy library were developed properly they would have already taken into account the OAR’s. In addition, for the OAR’s to be accepted and/or revised and incorporated into UO policy, the Constitution should be followed. That is why the Senate is reviewing these.

      The Senate does need to keep a watchful eye though because this is an opportunity for the Board or interim admin to slip something in or take something out.

  11. Old Man says:


  12. gary crum says:

    Can you be “smart” and stupid at the same time? The U of O bureaucrats repeatedly answer this question with a resounding “YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN, IT’S IN OUR JOB DESCRIPTION.” First, you screw-up and launch a Student Conduct Code violation process over a really, really petty comment. Then, when the heat is on, and your bosses (and, likely, the University’s legal counsel) say “dump this loser”, you do so, but not with an apology, but with a hard-nose threat to save face….”OK, we’re not going to punish you THIS TIME, but be a good little girl or we’re really going to hammer you in the future.” When I hear the words “U of O Conduct Code system”, the only phrase I can imagine which does it justice is “FUBAR.”……

  13. It's the UO way says:

    When wrong, double down. Even if you back down, talk down. The last person in JH to admit to having made a mistake and then reverse it without pretending it wasn’t a mistake, was Linda Brady.

    This, BTW, was the stupidest student conduct citation ever. In fact the overreaction borders on the obscene in light of underreactions of last spring. Yell an incomprehensible (and non-discriminatory) taunt out the window: warning letter, no investigation. Pressure or force a reluctant and intoxicated student into repeated sexual contact with three guys… You get the idea.

  14. Andy Stahl says:

    “Please know that I expect you to represent the University well . . .” writes Sandy Weintraub as he backs down under FIRE’s barrage.

    Since when does enrolling in school require the student “to represent” the institution? Has the duty of “representing” the school been added to every student’s enrollment contract?

    Mr. Weintraub’s wording suggests this student is no ordinary coed, but an ATHLETE; aka, a UO employee working in the University’s public entertainment division.

    • Pollyanna says:

      Nice catch, Andy Stahl. I wondered about that phrase but didn’t put 2 + 2 together. Only if the student has some ritualized role of representing the university does the phrase make any kind of sense (without it, was bombastic beyond belief).

  15. Funny Business says:

    Has Andy Stahl caught Sandy Weintraub applying the Student Conduct Code in a manner that favors a particular group of students? If so, an investigation of the Office of Student Conduct is called for.

  16. anonymous2 says:

    Anonymous: The FIRE article clearly states that the miscreant female student was “visiting” Carson Hall. She doesn’t stay there. So she could well be an athlete who “represents” the University.
    But there is nothing in the student conduct code about a duty of athletes (or any other student) to “represent” the University.
    So what the hell does “I expect you to represent the University” mean, as applied to students (athletes or non-athletess)?
    Is this a new requirement for UO students, at the penalty of a violation? Can the student conduct coordinator invent new requirements for students — that is, the student conduct code applies to student dorm window shouting because every student “represents” the University? Or only if it becomes public beyond the shouter and the target person? Does this “represent the University” duty apply to off-campus parties too? Or only dorm windows?

    • Anas Clypeata says:

      Suggesting that a student should “represent” the university in day-to-day life is absurd. Sometimes we forget that the students are the paying customers here, not employees or some other type of beholden creature. I do not have an obligation to “represent” Starbucks, or Amazon, or the United States Postal Service, just because I give them money in exchange for a product or a service.

      That said, each of us has an obligation to be respectful of our fellow ducks and the neighboring denizens of this mudhole, but not because we are students or hold any other role. Basic civilized society requires at least a modicum of good behavior when your actions may affect others; that’s just basic etiquette.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Freedom of speech protects your right to say a lot of stupid, offensive stuff. Putting “University of Oregon / I hit it first” on a t-shirt falls under that category. If somebody actually bought one of those shirts and wore it around campus, no one would understand the free-speech context, but I could sure imagine some meathead bros thinking it’s hilarious for all the wrong reasons.

  18. wishatam says:

    why would you memorialize a comment that has its origin in the very rape culture that this blog and many of the posters on it have said to be concerned about? The ignorance of the sexually harassing underpinnings of the comment is simply appalling…context matters – for First Amendment purposes as well as for Title IX purposes…..

    • uomatters says:

      The fight against rape culture can and must be won without weakening the First Amendment.

      • wishatam says:

        yes — and that is why context matters. nothing in the FIRE or other media stories tell whether this was the first or tenth time she made a comment like that. The line between sexual harassment and ‘free speech’ is one that is best determined after investigation into the context. Hence, perhaps, a conduct case that is later dismissed.

      • nom says:

        This is very true. However, if we all can eventually be pigeon-holed into some protected group then the First Amendment becomes relatively impotent and completely politicized except when said protected groups want to defame each other. Seems like “rape culture” is becoming another such group.

        • uomatters says:

          I don’t see any evidence that the people who believe rape culture is a problem at UO are trying to stifle free speech. (And I count myself as one of those people).

          This student conduct violation came from Robin Holmes’s Office of Student Life.

          • nom says:

            Wait … didn’t wishatam just call you out for memorializing a comment that he/she claims has it’s origin in rape culture? And then you responded that rape culture can and needs to be fought without weakening the !st AMD? And I agreed. So don’t you think the comment about your new slogan qualifies as a bit of stifling?

            What exactly is “rape culture”? Not sure everyone has even close to the same definition.

          • wishatam says:

            A conduct violation only happens if somebody complains about somebody’s behavior — if (as it appears happened here) a student made a comment that another student found to be harassing, he or she would report it – as it appears they did here. It is then the obligation of the conduct office to follow up. The way the Student Code of Conduct was drafted by the faculty Senate, the only way to follow up on a complaint of harassment by a student is to issue a conduct inquiry. While lots of speech is protected by the 1st amendment, that doesn’t mean it is appropriate or should be tolerated on campus — if, for example the comment used the N word after what was said, that too might be protected speech, but might not meet our community standards and therefore might be grounds for sanctions. That’s the point of having a conduct code and a conduct office investigation — to separate behavior that should be sanctioned from that which, while offensive, is protected from sanction.

  19. First Amendment says:

    Dear Wishatam,

    What you might wish and what is in the US Constitution are two different things. You wrote:

    “While lots of speech is protected by the 1st amendment, that doesn’t mean it is appropriate or should be tolerated on campus — if, for example the comment used the N word after what was said, that too might be protected speech, but might not meet our community standards and therefore might be grounds for sanctions.”

    What bodies do you think the 1st amendment applies to — if not actions by a body of the Government of Oregon, which the University of Oregon is? UO is not exempt from the 1st amendment just because someone wrote something in a student conduct code. “Protected speech” is also protected from UO’s student conduct code.

    UO’s “community standards,” which you refer to, cannot be used to suppress speech — and not only because of the 1st amendment but because of this:

    Freedom of Inquiry and Free Speech

    UO POLICY NUMBER: 01.00.16

    The University of Oregon values and supports free and open inquiry. The commitment to free speech and freedom of inquiry described in this policy extends to all members of the UO community: Faculty, staff, and students. It also extends to all others who visit or participate in activities held on the UO campus.

    Free speech is central to the academic mission and is the central tenet of a free and democratic society. The University encourages and supports open, vigorous, and challenging debate across the full spectrum of human issues as they present themselves to this community. Further, as a public institution, the University will sustain a higher and more open standard for freedom of inquiry and free speech than may be expected or preferred in private settings.

    Free inquiry and free speech are the cornerstones of an academic institution committed to the creation and transfer of knowledge. Expression of diverse points of view is of the highest importance, not solely for those who present and defend some view but for those who would hear, disagree, and pass judgment on those views. The belief that an opinion is pernicious, false, and in any other way despicable, detestable, offensive or “just plain wrong” cannot be grounds for its suppression.

    The University supports free speech with vigor, including the right of presenters to offer opinion, the right of the audience to hear what is presented, and the right of protesters to engage with speakers in order to challenge ideas, so long as the protest does not disrupt or stifle the free exchange of ideas. It is the responsibility of speakers, listeners and all members of our community to respect others and to promote a culture of mutual inquiry throughout the University community.
    (end of quote)