A Christian church-affiliated university in St. Paul, Minn., has suspended a student after he raised questions about the campus ban on concealed weapons, and is ordering him to have a mental health evaluation before he can resume his education.
The Hamline University case involves student Troy Scheffler, who, after the Virginia Tech massacre where a student shot and killed nearly three dozen others, suggested the killing spree might have been stopped if students had been allowed to carry concealed weapons.
“Questioning administrators on controversial topics isn’t going to be a threat even if the conversation involves guns,” Robert Shibley, vice president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education told WND.
Scheffler turned to FIRE for help after his brief exchange of e-mails was followed by an invitation from the university to meet to discuss his concerns, and then a letter notifying him of his suspension before he could even respond to the request for a meeting.
The e-mails, according to the university were “deemed to be threatening and thus an alleged violation of the Hamline University Judicial Code,” although Shipley said it was hard to see where school managers perceived a threat.
“That simply isn’t manifested in the e-mails,” Shibley told WND.
He said Scheffler remains on suspension under orders to undergo a “Mental Health Evaluation,” conducted by someone approved by the school. “The University reserves the right to stipulate a specialization or certification,” the school letter to Scheffler said. “Based on the evaluation, the University may require you to commit to a treatment plan as a condition for continued enrollment. You will be responsible for any cost incurred by the evaluation and/or treatment.”
“He’s refusing (to have the evaluation),” Shibley said of Scheffler. “They haven’t justified to him, or to us, the need for a psychological evaluation. It’s a very intrusive way to regulate someone’s behavior or beliefs.”
The university declined to discuss the situation with WND, but spokeswoman JacQueline Getty said FIRE “has inaccurately portrayed Hamline’s interaction with one of its students.
“Fire has inflamed the details of this student’s grievance with university policy, enacted to ensure the safety of our community. As we have already informed FIRE more than once, federal privacy laws that protect the rights of that student actually prevent the university of correcting each piece of FIRE’s press release and articulating in detail what may have transpired with this student.”
FIRE, however, noted it had a signed release from the student allowing the university to discuss the situation with FIRE.
The school did reveal to FIRE that “various members” of the Hamline community who had interaction with Scheffler also contributed to the decision, but it declined to provide any accusations, allegations, or complaints.
A subsequent letter from FIRE was met with a response from the university’s lawyer, Rebecca J. Bernhard.
“Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP represents Hamline University. Hamline University has referred your correspondent to me. Please be advised that Hamline University received your September 17, 2007 letter clarifying FIRE’s opinion on the matter of Mr. Scheffler’s interim suspension. The University disagrees with your assessment of the situation, and stands by its decision…” she wrote.
Shibley suggested perhaps advocating for the ability to carry concealed weapons on campus “isn’t a sign of bad mental health.”
The e-mail exchange between Sheffler and the school started after the Virginia Tech attack. Scheffler wrote to David Stern, the school’s vice president of student affairs, raising the issue of the allowing students to protect themselves, after Stern e-mailed the community offering “counseling” following the shootings.
“Considering this university also pushes ‘diversity’ initiatives like VA Tech, maybe its ‘leadership’ will reconsider its ban on conceal carry law abiding gun owners … Ironically, according to a few VA Tech forums, there are plenty of students complaining that this wouldnt (sic) have happened if the school wouldnt (sic) have banned their permits a few months ago…,” Sheffler wrote.
“I just dont (sic) understand why leftists dont (sic) understand that criminals dont (sic) care about laws; that is [why] they’re criminals…,” he said.
“Considering that accoriding (sic) to the university president that there were recently serious ‘hate crimes’ that were committed in the womens bathrooms; there may be people on the edge ready to snap. I cant (sic) say I blame them, I myself am tired of having to pay my own extremely overpriced tuition to make up for minorities not paying theirs,” he said.
“Hamline’s punishment of Troy Scheffler is severe, unfair, and apparently unwarranted,” said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE president. “Peacefully advocate for students’ ability to carry a concealed weapon as a response to the Virginia Tech shootings may be controversial, but it simply does not justify ordering a mandatory psychological evaluation.”
A short time after Stern’s e-mail Linda Hanson, Hamline’s president, sent another e-mail out, and again Scheffler responded:
“I was wondering why a swastika painted by some frustrated ladies in their bathroom turned somehow into red flags of a hate crime but you dont (sic) consider an asian (sic) guy admittedly killing people because he hated them not hate motivated… Anyhow, in response to your most recent email concerning a vigil for people most likely nobody in the school knows; I would like to comment on your claims of upped ‘security’. I attend a MPLS cohort so I dont (sic) see any security in the area ever. Infact (sic) it seems the dirty bums on the street are the only ones patrolling anything. I would suggest if you are truly concerned about student security, you lift a ridiculous conceal carry campus ban and let the students worry about their own ‘security’,” he wrote.
“VA Tech just recently passed their conceal carry permit ban; we can all see how well that worked for criminal minds…,” he said.
He went on to suggest that the attacker probably wouldn’t even have attempted the atrocity “if we didnt (sic) pay for everybody and their mother to come here for free to soak u tuition funds but also that by knowing law abiding citizens carried weapons to defend themselves that criminals wouldnt (sic) be so bold to commit crimes against them…”
He also criticized the “wanton misrepresentation” of the United Methodist Church-affiliated school because of its “atheist professors” and charges that its diversity policies are anti-”white folks.”
Hanson responded to Scheffler about his “concerns” about “concealed weapons, diversity and financial issues.”
“We are always interested in the concerns of students and suggest that you meet with some of our university personnel to discuss your views,” she wrote. “If you will provide us with 2-3 times on Monday or Tuesday of next week when you are available to meet, we will arrange an opportunity.”
That was on a Friday, FIRE said. On the following Monday, a courier delivered a letter to Scheffler at his home ordering him to remain away from the campus because of his “interim suspension.”
The letter, from Alan Sickbert, dean of students, said he was accused of violating the campus ban on “physical abuse, verbal or written threat, intimidation, harassment, coercion, sexual violence, and any conduct, which threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person.”
Sickbert said in the letter Scheffler would have to have arrange for, pay for and have the mental health evaluation as well as release the results to the “dean of students (or designee),” have an interview to review the results and then be subject to a decision by Sickbert on his future at the university.
“Approval to return may include specific conditions and/or requirements for continued enrollment,” the letter said. Even if the suspension would be lifted, “we will determine if further judicial action is required.”
FIRE’s letter to the school expressed its grave concern “about the danger to freedom of speech and due process” in the case.
“Because Scheffler’s e-mails sent on April 17 and April 19 do not meet the legal standard of a ‘threat,’ FIRE asks that you lift the ‘interim suspension’ against Scheffler and forego the mandatory mental evaluation…”
“While Hamline’s overreaction to Scheffler’s e-mails was doubtless prompted by a reaction to the Virginia Tech shootings, it is important that administrators not let an understandable amount of apprehension lead to an abridgement of liberty for peaceful, law-abiding students.”
“The First Amendment permits the prohibition only of ‘true threats,’ which the United States Supreme Court has held are ‘those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence…’” FIRE told the school.
“While Hamline, as a private university, is not directly bound by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, like most universities advancing a liberal education, Hamline is ostensibly committed to free expression,” the letter continued, citing the schools’ policy of freedom of expression.
That states, “Hamline students and student organizations are free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately.”
The order for the evaluation, FIRE said, “seeks to assess his political opinions, implying that an outspoken advocate for Second Amendment rights or a critique of ‘white privilege’ doctrine is somehow mentally unstable.
“Does Hamline really wish to operate a system of campus discipline in which conclusions are made prior to evaluation of the facts or where evaluations of the facts requires that students subject themselves to intrusive psychological evaluations to be judged by campus administrators?” FIRE asked.
If you wish to order by phone, call our toll-free order line at 1-800-4WND-COM (1-800-496-3266).