ST. PAUL, Minn., October 10, 2007—Hamline University has suspended a student after he sent an e-mail suggesting that the Virginia Tech massacre might have been stopped if students had been allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus. Student Troy Scheffler is now required to undergo a mandatory “mental health evaluation” before being allowed to return to school. Scheffler, who was suspended without due process just two days after sending the e-mail, has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
“Hamline’s punishment of Troy Scheffler is severe, unfair, and apparently unwarranted,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Peacefully advocating for students’ ability to carry a concealed weapon as a response to the Virginia Tech shootings may be controversial, but it simply does not justify ordering a mandatory psychological evaluation.”
On April 17, 2007, Hamline’s Vice President of Student Affairs, David Stern, sent an e-mail to the campus community offering extra counseling for Hamline students in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. Later that day, Scheffler responded directly to Stern, arguing that Virginia Tech’s ban on concealed weapons was part of the problem and advocating that Hamline eliminate its similar policies. Scheffler also wrote that the university’s diversity programs may have angered some in the student body, himself included.
On April 19, 2007, Hamline University President Linda Hanson e-mailed the campus community again to address the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Scheffler responded directly to Hanson and again criticized the university’s concealed weapons ban, academic standards, financial policies, and the university’s efforts to promote diversity.
Hanson replied to Scheffler on Friday, April 20, offering him a chance to meet with university personnel to discuss his views the following week. Yet on Monday, April 23, before Scheffler was even able to respond to Hanson’s invitation, he received a hand-delivered letter from Dean of Students Alan Sickbert notifying him that his e-mails to Stern and Hanson were “deemed to be threatening and thus an alleged violation of the Hamline University Judicial Code.”
Sickbert’s letter also informed Scheffler that he was being placed on immediate “interim suspension” that could not be lifted unless he agreed to a “mental health evaluation” by a licensed mental health professional.
FIRE wrote to President Hanson on May 29, 2007, vehemently opposing the sanctions against Scheffler, since neither of Scheffler’s e-mails even came close to meeting the legal definition of a “threat.” FIRE also pointed out that Hamline maintains a “Freedom of Expression and Inquiry” policy that encourages the public expression of opinions and the freedom to examine and discuss all questions of interest. FIRE wrote that “it is difficult to reconcile these admirable commitments to freedom of expression with Hamline’s hasty actions against Scheffler.”
FIRE also informed Hamline administrators that subjecting Scheffler to a mandatory psychological evaluation poses a grave threat to liberty at Hamline. FIRE wrote, “A psychological evaluation, to be overseen by a Hamline administrator, is one of the most invasive and disturbing intrusions upon Scheffler’s individual right to private conscience imaginable. Because Scheffler has shown no proclivity toward violence and has made no threatening comments, this psychological evaluation seeks to assess his political opinions….”
Hanson responded to FIRE on June 11, 2007, claiming that there were several reasons for Scheffler’s suspension, including the e-mails, his failure to meet with administrators when invited, and “critical input from various members of the Hamline community.” FIRE addressed each of those claims in another letter to Hanson on September 17, 2007. Not only did FIRE reiterate that Scheffler’s e-mails were not threats, but it also pointed out that Scheffler was given less than one full business day before his suspension to respond to the invitation from school officials to discuss his views. FIRE also noted that the alleged information from “various members of the Hamline community,” which supposedly played a role in determining Scheffler’s sanctions, had not even been revealed to Scheffler himself, denying him the right to defend himself or present his side of the story. In a September 28, 2007, response, Hamline’s attorneys refused to address FIRE’s concerns that Scheffler has been denied his due process rights.
“How can Scheffler hope to defend himself when Hamline refuses even to tell him what he is accused of doing?” FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley asked. “Hamline’s policies promise freedom of expression and basic due process to its students, but this case brings the sincerity of those promises into serious question. FIRE calls on President Hanson to either admit that the suspension and order for a ‘mental health evaluation’ had no justifiable basis or give Scheffler all the information he needs to respond to the charges against him.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty across America can be viewed at www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws.
Robert Shibley, Vice President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda Hanson, President, Hamline University: 651-523-2202; email@example.com
David Stern, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, Hamline University: 651‑523-2088; firstname.lastname@example.org