Laura Loomer, a student at Barry University, was suspended on Monday. Her crime? Embarrassing the university, by recording an undercover video for James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas in which she duped employees into expressing support for her forming a pro-ISIS student group.
What Loomer did was sleazy and dishonest. She took advantage of the fact that most people don’t recognize the ISIS name when it’s spelled out (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), tossed around the desire to offer “humanitarian” help, and then dishonestly publicized the secret recording of an informal conversation as evidence of university support for a terrorist group. She deserves condemnation for her actions.
But it was not a violation of Barry University’s code of conduct, and it should be protected free speech. Whistleblowers need to be protected from retaliation even when their accusations are garbage.
On Monday, Barry University sent a letter to Loomer declaring, “your alleged actions were the cause root of disruption of the University community and the creation of a hostile environment for members of the University staff. Because these alleged actions violate Barry University’s Code of Conduct, effective immediately you are placed on Interim Suspension from Barry University.”
There are two major problems with this: Barry University’s Code of Conduct does not allow interim suspensions for these reasons, and Loomer’s conduct does not meet the standards of disruption or a hostile environment.
First, the Code of Conduct declares: “The University reserves the right to exercise its authority of interim suspension upon notification that a student is facing criminal investigation and/or complaint (additional grounds for interim suspension are outline further in this section).” However, the Code offers no additional grounds for interim suspension other than “if a danger to the community is posed.” Loomer faces no criminal investigation (and even if she were, she poses no danger to anyone that would justify a suspension without due process.
Second, the Code says about “Disruptive Behavior”: “Substantial disruption of University operations including obstruction of teaching, research, administration, other University activities, and/or other authorized non-University activities which occur on campus.” Nothing Loomer did obstructed any University activities. Bad publicity is not disruptive behavior.
Third, the Code says that a hostile environment is a type of harassment, which must be “based on actual or perceived status including: sex, gender, race, color, age, creed, national or ethnic origin, physical or mental disability, veteran status, pregnancy status, religion, sexual orientation or other protected status.” There is no such as thing a ban on “hostile environments” in general, and no one has alleged Loomer’s video was based on any of these categories. Even if Loomer had been motivated by a hateful attack on someone’s protected status, it is difficult to see how a student would have the power to create a discriminatory working environment for employees when she has no authority over anyone.
Barry University does have a horribly written speech code designed to give them the authority to expel any student they want to for expressing ideas the administration dislikes. The harassment regulation is part of a broader catchall “social justice” regulation that allows the administration to expel students for not “respecting the dignity” of anyone else. But this rule, in addition to being impossibly vague, was not invoked by Barry University as the reason to punish Loomer.
Barry University is free to condemn Loomer for her deceptive video, and they have done that. But Loomer must be free to criticize her university, even if she is wrong, without being punished.
John K. Wilson edits the Academe Blog for the American Association of University Professors and the original article appeared on Academe Blog.
Editor’s note: We had not included that Mr. Wilson edits the Academe Blog and we obtained permission to run this article on our website.