In June, a Chinese-American student at Fordham University, Austin Tong, posted a photo of retired St. Louis police officer David Dorn, who was killed after defending a friend’s store from looters. The photo was accompanied by a note citing the “nonchalant social reaction” to Dorn’s murder. In addition, Tong posted another photo of himself holding a Smith & Wesson rifle pointed toward the ground with the photo captioned “Don’t tread on me #198964,” in reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. That photo included emojis of the American and Chinese flags.
Tong had also posted statements including, “freedom comes from a strong and armed populace” and “Violence against any citizen should not be tolerated, and The Second Amendment protects us from that.”
The photos triggered the university to put Tong on probation.
Now the Trump administration’s Department of Education has launched an investigation into Fordham University. One department official told Campus Reform, “Of course, this raises questions about the influence of the Chinese government on American colleges and universities.”
The Department of Education sent a letter to Fordham University, which stated in part:
On the night of June 4, 2020, allegedly due to “multiple student complaints related to [Mr. Tong’s] social media posts,” including the claim that his posts were “grotesque” and “racist,” Fordham dispatched two uniformed public safety officers to visit Mr. Tong at his parent’s home in Long Island, New York. … Mr. Tong allegedly told the officers he purchased the rifle so his family would have protection from the threat posed by ongoing riots and social disorder in New York City …
Fordham deemed Mr. Tong’s constitutionally protected speech “a security threat” (emphasis added). Fordham apparently was concerned because “in referring to Black Lives Matter protests, [Mr. Tong] stated that he was ‘aware of the chaotic situation that needs me to keep (sic) family safe.’”
On July 24, the Dean of Students informed Tong that he was on probation because his social media posts violated university policy. He would need permission from the Dean of Students to enter the campus; he would need to undergo “bias training,” and he would need to compose an apology.
The university informed Tong he would have to complete his courses online. The university added that the sanctions were non-appealable.
Those actions prompted Tong to sue the school, claiming his First Amendment rights had been violated.
In its letter, the Department of Education noted:
In its Demonstration Policy, Fordham promises prospective students, their parents, and other potential consumers in the market for education certificates ‘[e]ach member of the University has a right to freely express their positions and to work for their acceptance whether they assent to or dissent from existing situations in the University or society. Fordham further promises not to infringe on students’ right “to express [their] positions” and engage in “other legitimate activities.”
However, Fordham fails to warn prospective students, their parents, and other potential consumers in the market for education certificates of their liability to potential discipline for the lawful off-campus expression of thoughts and constitutionally protected conduct that happens to be disfavored by Fordham’s education bureaucrats.
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