- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

A student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo is accusing his university of violating his freedom of speech by charging and finding him guilty of “disruption” for attempting to post a flier on a public bulletin board.

Hostile students claimed the fliers, promoting a speech by a black conservative author, were “racist” and “not approved.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has taken up the cause of student Steve Hinkle, who entered the university’s Multicultural Center on Nov. 12 to post a flier on a public bulletin board promoting Mason Weaver’s campus speech about his book.

Mr. Weaver’s book, “It’s OK to Leave the Plantation,” argues that dependence on government programs is harmful to the black community and puts it in circumstances similar to slavery.

Several students approached Mr. Hinkle, a member of the Cal Poly College Republicans, claiming they were “offended” by the flier and said it violated the center’s posting policy, said Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy at FIRE.

“The students demanded he not put up the flier, saying it was disrespectful and they would contact the police if he put it up,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “They succeeded in that he didn’t post it, but the censors called police anyway, saying a suspicious white male was distributing racial material.”

FIRE has sent a letter to University President Warren Baker saying that Mr. Hinkle wants the disruption charge overturned and wiped from his permanent record, and also seeks an apology from the university with a guarantee that nothing like this will happen again.

Unofficial investigative reports from Cal Poly University Police to the school’s judicial authorities stated that the flier was approved.

Cal Poly’s legal officials refused to discuss the situation, saying the details are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Mr. Hinkle’s flier contains a picture of the author, the title of the book and information about when and where Mr. Weaver would be speaking.

The other students “have a right to disagree with the poster, but not in stopping the posting,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “There was a complete misunderstanding on what the flier meant; that aspect is ridiculous.”

On Jan. 29, Cal Poly charged Mr. Hinkle with disruption of a campus event.

According to Cal Poly University Police reports, the students claimed they were holding a Bible study dinner and meeting at the time of the incident.

“You have no right to go after speech that offends you,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “It is ironic because they were offended by their own misunderstanding of the flier.”

Notes of Mr. Hinkle’s official hearing before the school’s Office of Judicial Affairs, obtained by The Washington Times, showed that the room containing the public bulletin board had no indication on it that a meeting was taking place when Mr. Hinkle entered.

The students in the Bible group had not yet begun their study but were sitting around, eating pizza and discussing the coming week when he came into the room, the hearing notes state.

At the hearing, a member of the Bible club testified that he told Mr. Hinkle about the flier, “Take it out or I’ll call the police.” The same student also said Mr. Hinkle was in the room for “five minutes at most.”

“It’s absurd to say a student entering a student lounge was disruptive,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “The students who say they were disrupted are responsible for their own disruption.”

After a March 12 hearing, Vice Provost W. David Conn found Mr. Hinkle guilty of disruption and ordered him to submit a letter of apology to the offended students to the university’s Office of Judicial Affairs for approval.

“They made him aware they may publish his apology,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “They put him through a trial and demanded an apology and put a mark on his record for trying to post a flier. The facts to this case are just utterly outrageous.”

“The censors have already won, even if they fix this,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “They have successfully told the student population they can be censors of another student.”

While no legal action has been taken, it is a possibility, he said.

“We always try to give universities a chance to right a wrong,” Mr. Lukianoff said. “Cal Poly is just denying and won’t explain anything.”

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