University attacks student for reading this book
Rights organization challenges officials to prove claim or shut up
Posted: July 09, 2008
A student at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis who first faced discipline when officials caught him reading a history book that was available in the school library during a break at work was cleared of those charges, but now officials say he is guilty of something but they won’t say what.
If that sounds complicated, you’re in company with Keith John Sampson, who first was convicted of racial harassment for reading a history book about the defeat of the Ku Klux Klan in a 1924 street brawl. And you’d be in company with officials with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who are arguing on behalf of Sampson.
And also with Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, who wrote of her conversation with school officials about the issue:
"No reading of any book had anything to do with the charges against Mr. Sampson. This means, I asked [a school spokesman], that Mr. Sampson could have been reading about the adventures of Jack and Jill and he still would have been charged? Yes. What, then, was the offense? ‘Harassing behavior.’ While reading the book? The question led to careful explanations hopeless in tone – for good reason – and well removed from all semblance of reason. What the behavior was, one learned, could never be revealed."
The case began in November last year, when Sampson was told by Lillian Charleston of the school’s affirmative action office that two co-workers filed a racial harassment complaint against him.
By reading the book, "Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan," in a university work break room, he was told, he was guilty of racial harassment.
The fact that the book documented how Notre Dame students fought in the streets with – and defeated – members of the KKK was ignored. The school told him his racial harassment involved "openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject."
Then this year, "in the face of withering public criticism," the school "revoked its original finding," according to documentation from FIRE, which said it got a letter from Chancellor Charles R. Bantz, "stating that IUPUI ‘regret[s] this situation took place.’ The letter also confirmed that no documents regarding the incident are in Sampson’s file."
However, in their talks with Rabinowitz about the case, school officials apparently have changed the field of play again, explaining that the book was not an issue at all, but something else was.
"If IUPUI really thought that Sampson had engaged in some ‘racially harassing’ behavior rather than reading a book, there is no reason why they would not have brought it up at the time – and no reason why they couldn’t [say] what it is now," said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. "This apparent whispering campaign against Sampson is truly appalling."
In a statement to WND, FIRE officials said the school either should reveal and prove the new allegation "or stop publicly smearing its own student."
"This looks like a classic example of a college making things worse in an unprincipled attempt to save face," Shibley said. "IUPUI’s own letters to Sampson made clear that his reading a book about the Ku Klux Klan was the problem, and the university claims to have completely exonerated him of all charges. If so, why are its spokespeople now telling The Wall Street Journal that the problem was really some other mysterious conduct that the university will not reveal to anyone, including Sampson himself?"
The Rabinowitz commentary called the case "a pungent reminder of all that’s possible now in the rarefied ideological atmosphere on our college campuses – and in this presidential election year, not perhaps only on our campuses."
She wrote that not only had Sampson contacted a legal team about his situation, but "the case got some sharp local press coverage that threatened to get wider."
"There was undeniably something special – something pure, and glorious – in the clarity of this picture. A university had brought a case against a student on grounds of a book he had been reading," she wrote.
Then suddenly the new university letter "clarified" the university’s position.
This document revealed it was "permissible for him to read scholarly books or other materials on break time." It said the problem was "conduct" that caused concern among his co-workers.
That "conduct," however, was not defined or explained.
"This, indeed, was now the official story – as any journalist asking about the case would learn instantly from the university’s media relations representatives," Rabinowitz wrote.
"Like those prosecutors who invent new charges when the first ones fail in court, the administrators threw in the mysterious harassment count. Such were the operations of the university’s guardians of equity and justice," she wrote. "This case and all its kind are worth bearing in mind for anyone pondering the hypersensitivity surrounding the issue of race today. The mindset that produces those harassment courts, those super-heated capacities for perceiving insult, is not limited to college campuses. Its presence is evident in this election campaign, which has seen more than a touch of readiness to impute some form of racism to all tough criticisms of Barack Obama."
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