‘Universities that promise to protect free speech should not hold mandatory meetings for students who engage in it…’
(Lionel Parrott, Liberty Headlines) Concerned about a potential threat to campus safety, officials at Long Island University summoned a student to a mandatory meeting to discuss some problematic photos he posted to Facebook.
According to a press release from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the photos depicted the student, Anand Venigalla, with unloaded firearms at an event hosted by the sporting goods chain Cabela’s.
The administrators got wind of the social media posts after another student informed them that Venigalla, a junior at the university, might have “violent intentions.” In response, LIU’s director of student engagement contacted Venigalla and said it was “imperative” that they meet as soon as possible.
Now, FIRE is calling on the university to acknowledge that mandatory administrative meetings about nonviolent social media posts is an affront to individual rights.
“By calling in a student for a mandatory meeting about photos of his participation in a recreational gun event, Long Island University has sent a message to its entire student body: Watch what you say,” said Sarah McLaughlin, FIRE’s senior program officer. “Universities that promise to protect free speech should not hold mandatory meetings for students who engage in it.”
However, LIU might feel the mandatory meeting was justified. During the meeting, they brought up an essay Venigalla wrote for a class, in which he asserted that political violence against authorities might be justified in certain situations. He cited the Boston Tea Party as an example.
The administrators also interrogated Venigalla for the meaning behind a Facebook comment in which he expressed disappointment for losing an election for a student government position, in which he said that Greek life wields too much power on campus.
After the meeting, LIU declined to pursue the matter further, probably realizing they had no grounds to do so. But FIRE believes that a campus inquiry such as this one chills free speech, and is encouraging people to tell the university what they think about it.
FIRE describes itself as “dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities.” For the full press release, go here.