Student sues university faculty claiming he was disciplined for questioning racial poem

Campus Reform Reporter
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A student has filed a lawsuit against several faculty at Fresno State after he was placed on probation following an incident in which he videotaped himself questioning them about a racial poem which appeared in a student newspaper.

School administrators determined that the lawsuit’s plaintiff, Neil O’Brien, had violated the university's code of conduct by entering faculty offices, without permission and videotaping.

“The evidence establishes that... [the professors] reasonably found your behavior to be intimidating and harassing,” wrote Vice President for Student Affairs Paul M. Oliaro in a letter laying out the charges to O'Brien.

“Student’s right to free expression….does not excuse or permit actions that materially and substantially disrupt normal operations,” he continued.

Oliaro sentenced O’Brien one semester of disciplinary probation and banned him from going within 100 feet of the Chicano Studies Department building or its staff members.

In the lawsuit, however, O’Brien contends that administrators used the interaction as a means of quelling his opposition to the anti-American poem and violated his First Amendment rights. He also alleges that “radical elements” in the Chicano Studies Department are targeting him.

“It has been a tremendous uphill battle here,” O’Brien told Campus Reform on Wednesday. “I’ve got a target on my back. There isn’t anything I can do without someone watching me.”

The university, however, denied that the disciplinary actions were related to O’Brien’s political views and were instead meted out for misconduct.

“I reiterate that my decision is not based upon your exercise of your constantly protected right to freedom of speech or by an interest of the university to stifle you free expression but rather upon the inappropriate manner in which you sought to express yourself,” wrote Olario in the disciplinary letter.

On November 14, 2012, O’Brien and his attorney, Brian Leighton, filed the civil suit against the professors who they say were involved in filing the charges and overseeing the hearing. 

Leighton told Campus Reform on Wednesday that he believes his client will win the suit.

O’Brien has “every chance in the world,” he said. “No one could say they [Fresno administrators] were correct in doing this.”

Kathleen Schock, a spokeswoman for Fresno State, issued a statement related to the lawsuit.

“We encourage individuals to exercise their freedom of speech, provided they do so in an appropriate manner,” she said.

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