ST. LOUIS, January 29, 2008―Under pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri (ACLU-EM), St. Louis Community College at Meramec (STLCC) has fully exonerated student Jun Xiao of hazing and disorderly conduct charges stemming from e-mails he sent inviting his classmates to join him in taking a class at a different college.
“STLCC has finally corrected the worst of its violations of Jun Xiao’s rights, but only after FIRE and the ACLU-EM took the case public,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “We hope that in the future, STLCC will respect free speech and fair procedure from the beginning.”
Xiao, who holds a Ph.D. from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has postdoctoral training from MIT and Columbia, signed up for classes at STLCC to fulfill medical school entrance requirements. He e-mailed his Organic Chemistry I classmates in October 2007, informing them that he was withdrawing from the class and asking if anyone would like to retake it with him. In a second e-mail, he informed his classmates of his intention to take Organic Chemistry II at another community college and asked if anyone might like to take it there with him.
On October 24, Xiao received a letter from Acting Vice President of Student Affairs Daniel R. Herbst, who informed him that he had been placed on “Disciplinary Probation” for the 2007-2008 academic year and that he was prohibited from contacting other STLCC students by e-mail. The letter also stated that Herbst―without a hearing―had already found Xiao guilty of hazing, obstruction or disruption of teaching, disorderly conduct, and failure to comply with directions of a college official. Herbst refused to provide any written clarification of the complaints and charges against Xiao.
Xiao contacted FIRE, which wrote to STLCC President Paul Pai on December 4, reminding him of the college’s obligations as a public institution to uphold students’ rights to free speech and basic due process. FIRE took Xiao’s case public on December 17, and the ACLU-EM joined FIRE’s demands on December 19.
In the face of public criticism, STLCC informed Xiao on January 2 that Herbst was “dismissing all allegations relating to your inappropriate use of [e-mail]” because “you may have a constitutional right to send e-mails to other students.” Nevertheless, Xiao was told that his disciplinary probation would remain because of “remaining allegations of misconduct” of which he had been unaware.
With the assistance of the ACLU-EM, Xiao and STLCC signed a settlement agreement on January 25, under which STLCC agreed to “immediately dismiss all disciplinary charges against Jun Xiao,” to remove all related records from his permanent file, and to restore his e-mail access on STLCC’s Blackboard class e-mail system.
“FIRE is pleased that Jun Xiao has been fully exonerated,” Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said. “STLCC President Pai ought to reassure his campus that such shameful violations of student freedoms will never happen again.”
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 on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Pai, President, St. Louis Community College at Meramec: 314-984-7763; email@example.com
Daniel Herbst, Acting Vice President of Student Affairs, St. Louis Community College at Meramec: 314-984-7607; firstname.lastname@example.org