Long Island University Post (LIU Post) has fallen under scrutiny by free speech advocates for a school policy that apparently requires its students to have “respect for authority.” One LIU Post student had found himself under investigation by school officials for alleged possession and distribution of flyers deemed to be disrespectful.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on LIU Post to address its open-ended investigation into a student for allegedly possessing and distributing prohibited flyers, which a university spokesperson referred to as “sexist trash,” according to a report by Campus Reform.
The report added that LIU Post student senator Jake Gutowitz was called into a meeting with Associate Director of LIU Promise Nicole Thomas, who said that the flyers were a violation of the LIU Post Code of Conduct, and that they had lacked “respect for authority.”
The flyers in question had apparently been a part of a series of flyers called “Common Sense,” which were circulated around LIU Post’s campus throughout the school year, and had criticized University President Kimberly Cline.
The flyers were also known to be satirical, as well as having disseminated complaints regarding the school’s “administration, mold in buildings, high administration salaries, poor campus food quality, and restrictions on freedom of speech,” according to Campus Reform.
Ironically, the complaints regarding “restrictions on freedom of speech” appeared to come to fruition as Gutowitz found himself under investigation over the flyers while preparing for his graduation in May.
Last month, LIU Post spokesperson Gordon Tepper went on record to condemn the distributed material, calling the author(s) of the flyers “anonymous, factually incorrect, disrespectful, and sexist trash [that] should be ashamed of themselves,” according to Inside Higher Ed.
“The fact that the author refers to a distinguished university president as ‘Queen’ or ‘Royal Majesty’ on no fewer than 20 occasions in this unsourced rant speaks to a disturbed individual who clearly has issues with women in authority,” added Tepper. “There is no place for this kind of trash.”
Gutowitz — who claims that he was aware of the flyers, but did not create or distribute them — said that Thomas and Assistant Dean of Students Jean Anne Smith told him that an “anonymous student” had reported him, claiming that he was responsible for the flyers.
The administrators then informed him that there would be an investigation into the matter, according to Campus Reform.
The report added that the student went on to graduate without ever hearing from administrators regarding the results of their investigation.
“The allegations against Gutowitz were unfounded and concerned conduct that occurred months before he was accused,” said FIRE in a statement. “LIU Post’s choice to investigate this alleged conduct only months later, and when nearing the eve of his graduation, had a serious chilling effect on his speech.”
“Gutowitz himself was rightly concerned the investigation could affect his ability to graduate,” added the organization.
FIRE went on to say that that the fact Gutowitz had been investigated at all is an issue, as it goes against the free expression rights promised to students by LIU Post.
“Administrators obviously found some of the flyers offensive, but punishing subjectively offensive expression is antithetical to LIU Post’s promises of free expression,” said FIRE. “It’s particularly concerning to imagine a campus where those granted the power to determine whether expression is permissible choose to stifle expression that is critical of themselves.”
“These abuses are becoming a pattern at LIU Post,” added the organization. “This isn’t the first time FIRE has called on LIU Post to cease this kind of chilling investigation into protected student expression. Last year, we wrote to President Cline to express our concern about a similar situation.”
FIRE goes on to explain that last year, a student had been “summoned to an investigatory meeting concerning non-threatening social media posts” involving the student “holding unloaded guns at a Cabela’s event.”
“Although he was not charged with a violation of the Code of Conduct, Venigalla left the meeting unsure about whether similar expression could lead to future discipline,” said FIRE.
“Although Gutowitz has graduated, FIRE remains concerned about the apparent pattern of investigations into protected expression at LIU Post, and administrators’ total lack of answers as to what’s going on,” added the organization. “FIRE hopes that this pattern will not continue, but if it does, we will be watching.”