The kind of school that stifles students’ free speech?

March 2, 2017 9:36 AM

An article published in the Feb. 2 edition of the Laney Tower titled “The Next President of Laney College?” set a series of events in motion that has caused outrage among some faculty members at Laney College.
The day the article was published, one of the three recent presidential candidates at Laney College, Dr. Anthony S. Tricoli, sent a letter to Peralta College District Chancellor Jowel Laguerre complaining that “this article…is horrible and damaging to my career and my future employment.”
In response to Tricoli’s letter, Chancellor Laguerre contacted Peralta Executive Director of Public Information, Communications, and Media Jeffrey Heyman.
“The chancellor felt that the article should be taken down from the website until [Laney Tower] could check the contents to make sure they were factual,” Heyman said.
Heyman passed the letter to Burt Dragin, Laney’s Journalism Department chair and Tower faculty advisor.

Website

At thelaneytower.com, visitors can read the Feb. 16 Laney Tower article which profiles Dr. Anthony Tricoli, then a candidate for Laney College’s president. The article was temporarily taken down in response to pressure from the district. Laney’s faculty senate characterized this as undue stifling of academic freedom.

“I was emailed Dr. Tricoli’s letter and asked [by Heyman] to take the article down from the Tower website (thelaneytower.com),“ Dragin said.
“I initially complied, but after scrutinizing the article, and Dr. Tricoli’s charges, decided the article was solid, so we posted the article back on the Tower site on Feb. 21.”
While the controversy itself is no small issue, it also brings to light the greater question of whether the Tower’s First Amendment rights were violated when staff were asked to remove the article from the website.
The reaction to Dr. Tricoli’s letter soon caught the attention of Laney’s faculty senate.
“We at the Academic Senate are very, very concerned with [this issue],” Laney Faculty Senate President Donald Moore said.
In response, the senate passed a resolution Feb. 21 stating that “Laney Faculty attended the forums and did prior research about the candidate, Dr. Anthony Tricoli,” and that “all information reported in the article was properly attributed from accurate sources, including statements from Dr. Tricoli himself.”
“Given the national atmosphere around ‘alternative facts,’ around the voracity of media, it’s important that the academic senate do some sort of resolution on academic freedom and freedom of information,” Moore said.
“Everybody has the right to question whether there is accuracy in the report… [and] I have no problem whatsoever with that,” Moore continued.
“But to challenge something as being untrue when it’s not, and to put on that kind of pressure. The Tower should not have to go through that.
“That’s academic freedom.”

CONTESTED CONTENTS

The article in question gives a brief description of the career of Dr. Anthony S. Tricoli, a former candidate for president of Laney College before Tameil Gilkerson was selected for the position.
In the article, Dr. Tricoli is said to have left his position as president of Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) for “debatable” reasons, and that the Boys and Girls Club in Knoxville, Tenn., was being sued for sexual harassment.
Dr. Tricoli was the director of the Club at the time the lawsuit was filed.
Though the Tower article clearly cites the Girls and Boys Club as the defendant in the case, Dr. Tricoli adamantly denied being sued for sexual harassment in his letter and asked Chancellor Laguerre to request the Tower to remove the article from the newspaper’s website.
“I don’t deserve this type of slander, and defamation of my character,” Dr. Tricoli said.
He criticized the Laney Tower article for referring to his “checkered past.”
The 2016 complaint filed against the Girls and Boys Club specifically names Dr. Tricoli as the perpetrator of the harassment mentioned therein.

A RELATED DISPUTE

Chancellor Laguerre is no stranger to legal scuffles over free speech.
According to Solano College newspaper The Tempest, the chancellor—then vice-president of academic affairs at Truckee Meadows Community College—filed a lawsuit against the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) in August 2011.
The lawsuit claimed, among other things, that Laguerre’s freedom of speech had been violated when he was told to keep quiet regarding a severance package offered him by the NSHE.
In the complaint record, plaintiff Laguerre cites the Connick vs. Meyers Supreme Court case, which states “uninhibited debate about public issues is a basic requirement for the continued vitality of any democracy.”
According to the Tempest, the court ruled that Laguerre’s First Amendment Rights were violated and the NSHE paid Laguerre $15,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
The Tower made several attempts to contact Chancellor Laguerre to ask if he presented the contested Tower article to his legal team, but he did not respond to requests for comment.
“I hope the chancellor doesn’t want to suppress anybody, any institution, any instructor, or any reporter,” said Moore.
To see the complaint filed against the Boys and Girls Club, visit http://bit.ly/2lPkxrv.
For the complaint filed by Chancellor Laguerre against the NSHE, visit http://bit.ly/2mEcGfH.

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