A university student evicted from his dormitory and forced to undergo psychological counseling for posting a satirical flier that offended women has been restored after intervention by a national free-speech advocacy group.
Apparently seeking a resolution to clogged dorm elevators, University of New Hampshire sophomore Timothy Garneau posted a hastily made flier joking that women could lose the “Freshman 15” by walking up the stairs instead.
Basing it on an advertisement posted at the school gym, Garneau wrote: “9 out of 10 freshman girls gain 10 – 15 pounds. But there is something you can do about it. If u live below the 6th floor takes the stairs….Not only will u feel better about yourself but you will also be saving us time and wont [sic] be sore on the eyes.”
Turned in by an angry residence hall director, Garneau was charged with offensiveness including “acts of dishonesty,” violation of “affirmative action” policies, “harassment” and “conduct which is disorderly, lewd.”
He was sentenced to expulsion from student housing, given extended disciplinary probation, required to meet with a psychological counselor to discuss his “decisions, actions, and reflections” and made to write a 3000-word reflection paper about the counseling session.
The school rejected any appeal by Garneau, who lived out of his car for three weeks, and he contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE.
After a protest from the North Carolina-based group, the university reduced his sentence from eviction to “relocation” to another dormitory, extended disciplinary probation and a single “ethics” meeting with UNH Judicial Officer Jason Whitney.
“We are relieved that UNH has discovered its obligation to the Bill of Rights and that Tim is back indoors,” said David French, president of FIRE. “But the university should never have put a student on trial and evicted him merely for posting a flier.”
In a letter to UNH President Ann Weaver Hart, FIRE contended “forcing a student out of housing for posting a satirical flier is both outrageous and unlawful,” pointing out even material far more offensive than Garneau’s message is protected by the First Amendment.
FIRE also disputed the “harassment” charges, arguing that hanging a flier was hardly “sufficiently serious — i.e., severe, persistent, or pervasive — as to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program,” as is required by harassment law.
Calling it “harassment”dangerously trivializes real harassment, the group contended.
Garneau acknowledged he initially denied his responsibility for the flier to dorm director Brad Williams but said he confessed a few minutes later.
The student explained he was afraid Williams would punish him severely and unlawfully for his expression.
“After being kicked out of the dorms for three weeks, it is clear that his fears were completely justified,” said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. “Williams had no business ‘investigating’ constitutionally-protected speech in the first place.”