EXCLUSIVE: Feds investigate Fordham for punishing student who posed with gun
The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Fordham University after it disciplined a student over an Instagram post.
The post showed the student holding a firearm pointed the ground with the caption "don't tread on me."
The student, a Chinese immigrant, posted the photo on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into Fordham University, about two months after student Austin Tong received notification from the New York City private college that his social media posts violated university policy and that he had been placed on probation.
As Campus Reform previously reported, Tong, a Chinese-American student, posted on Instagram in early June a photo of retired St. Louis police officer David Dorn, who was killed while defending a friend's store from looters amid nationwide, violent demonstrations. The post contained an image of Dorn, who was Black, along with the caption, "Y'all a bunch of hypocrites." Another post showed Tong holding a firearm pointed toward the ground with the caption "Don't tread on me #198964" and emojis of the American flag as well as the Chinese flag.
The "198964" hashtag referred to the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which occurred in China on June 4, 1989.
"Of course, this raises questions about the influence of the Chinese government on American colleges and universities," a Department of Education official told Campus Reform. The Department of Education recently launched a separate investigation into Fordham to determine whether the university failed to disclose foreign funding sources, including gifts from China.
Tong received notice from the school that the posts violated its policy and that as a result he would be barred from campus unless obtaining permission from the dean of students. He is required to complete the rest of his courses online. The university said the sanctions are "non-appealable and final."
In response, Tong sued Fordham, alleging the college violated his First Amendment right.
Tong spoke with Campus Reform in July about his experience.
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Now, the Department of Education has opened an investigation into the university misrepresented itself to students and parents by claiming to promote free expression and free speech.
"In its Demonstration Policy, Fordham promises prospective students, their parents, and other potential consumers in the market for education certificates '[e]ach member of the University has a right to freely express their positions and to work for their acceptance whether they assent to or dissent from existing situations in the University or society.' Fordham further promises not to infringe on students’ right 'to express [their] positions' and engage in 'other legitimate activities,'" the Department of Education stated in its notice to Fordham.
"However, Fordham fails to warn prospective students, their parents, and other potential consumers in the market for education certificates of their liability to potential discipline for the lawful off-campus expression of thoughts and constitutionally protected conduct that happens to be disfavored by Fordham’s education bureaucrats," the department added.
Further, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is defending Tong, announced Thursday that Fordham responded to the lawsuit this week, in which it stated that Tong "deliberately ignores Fordham’s prerogative to limit a student’s free expression rights which is outlined in the University Code of Conduct...Specifically, the University Code of Conduct prohibits students from engaging in '[p]physical abuse, sexual abuse, threats, intimidation, coercion, and/or other conduct which threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person."
"Fordham University finally admitted a truth that FIRE and Fordham students have known for a while: Fordham just doesn’t care about student speech rights," FIRE said in a statement. "Sure, Fordham makes big promises about freedom of expression. The university 'guarantees the freedom of inquiry' to students, and claims they have 'a right to freely express their positions and to work for their acceptance whether they assent to or dissent from existing situations in the University or society."
However, FIRE added, "When it comes to actually honoring those promises, Fordham’s recent track record is ugly."
"Because Fordham isn’t pretending that it cares about free speech anymore, it should update its mission statement and policies. It should also alert its accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which requires that an accredited university 'possess and demonstrate . . . a commitment to academic freedom, intellectual freedom, [and] freedom of expression,'" FIRE stated.