By Michael H. O’Donnell
An administrative policy of blocking faculty-wide email from the Idaho State University Provisional Faculty Senate since last November has given birth to a federal complaint alleging violations of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
Camacho Mendoza Coulter Law Group of Eagle filed a complaint Tuesday in Federal District Court on behalf of its client, Idaho State University Faculty Association for the Preservation of the First Amendment (ISUFAPFA). The complaint alleges a denial of rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and names as defendants, Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas, and Interim Provost, Barbara Adamcik.
The complaint asks the federal court to issue a temporary restraining order and/or a preliminary injunction that would end the practice of denying access to faculty-wide email services by members of any faculty group.
When contacted Tuesday, ISU Communications Director Mark Levine said no one at the university has been served notice of legal action.
“The university has not be served with any complaint,” Levine said. “We will respond in due course.”
ISU’s interim provost has admitted emails from members of the PFS to all faculty using the university’s email system have been blocked following a disagreement over whether or not a faculty-wide, up-or-down vote on a draft faculty constitution prepared by the PFS should have been held Nov. 16, 2011. Adamcik was adamant that the vote was premature and the constitution needed fine tuning before going to a faculty vote.
When the PFS moved forward with the vote, their ability to mass email faculty was blocked from Nov. 8 to the current time. That draft constitution was approved 201-98, but has been held by President Vailas. The ISU administration has circulated its own version of a faculty constitution and has forwarded provisions from it to the State Board of Education despite strong faculty objections to those provisions.
“They (ISU administrators) have shown they have no respect for us or this faculty,” provisional faculty senator Chad Gross said during a Monday PFS meeting. All of the provisional senate members attending the meeting expressed frustration over the way ISU’s administration has handled the development of an acceptable faculty constitution.
“The administration doesn’t want a vote on their version,” PFS vice-chairman Dave Delehanty said.
The complaint filed in federal court states the administration also doesn’t want the free exchange of information and opinions via the campus email system.
“By unlawfully censoring and preventing the PFS from effectively communicating with the faculty of ISU, the Defendants were able to prepare an alternative faculty constitution desirable only to the Defendants and effectively stymie the ability of the PFS to communicate
with its constituents,” a press release from the Coulter law firm states.
The release goes on to say: “Thus the State Board of Education will on February 15, 2012, consider Faculty Governance without meaningful input from the elected representatives of the Faculty.”
The SBOE will actually discuss shared governance issues at ISU during the second day of its meetings on Feb. 16.
In the federal complaint itself, ISU’s written policies regarding the use of email on campus is specifically cited.
“According to section 5(b) of the Acceptable Use Policy, ‘It is the intent of ISU to provide access to all authorized users. Given the critical nature of information systems, however, network and Internet use may be revoked as necessary, and in accordance with due process procedures, to protect the access of everyone’,” the federal complaint states.
It alleges no due process procedures were followed with Adamcik decided to suspend the right of PFS members to send emails to their constituents.
“Defendants actions to censor and block the speech of the PFS, and its Chair or designee, since November 8, 2011, constitute an unreasonable time, place, and manner restriction on free speech based on the content of the sender’s message,” the complaint states. “Defendants’ content-specific restriction and outright block of an authorized user of the Facultymemos listserv inhibit Plaintiff’s members’ exercise of their right to free speech as recognized under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.”
During the process of developing a faculty constitution at ISU, Adamcik has used the same email system to send out faculty-wide emails sharing the administration’s view and version of a constitution as well as a call for faculty input.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sanctioned ISU after it suspended its faculty senate last year. It has been monitoring the university’s progress in adopting a new faculty constitution.
“I think it is reprehensible for an administration to prevent elected faculty representatives from communicating with their constituents, if that is indeed what occurred.,” said Director of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance for the AAUP, Greg Scholtz.
“Obviously, no recommendation on removing the sanction from Idaho State can go forward to our annual meeting as long as conditions for academic governance remain deficient, Scholtz added.
Read the full text of the complaint: Docket 1 Complaint