The rhetoric has been heating up — in fact, it's just about gone nuclear — in the bizarre dispute between Adams State University officials and a former professor who's been prohibited from setting foot on the Alamosa campus, under threat of arrest.
Danny Ledonne claims that his banishment is in response to a website he started that's critical of ASU policies and its shabby treatment of part-time instructors. But ASU president Beverlee McClure insists that Ledonne is "a threat to our staff and students" and has accused him of "harassment" and even "terrorism against me and the previous president," according to a recent interview she gave to the Alamosa Valley Courier.
Ledonne, who denies any wrongdoing, tells Westword that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating the situation, which has "now escalated to the point where I have been banned from campus and accused of engaging in terrorism."
As we first reported last month, McClure had the ASU police chief hand-deliver a letter to Ledonne, a former film instructor, informing him that his presence on the campus "presents a concern to the campus community" and would no longer be tolerated. The letter didn't specify what alleged behavior had prompted the ban, which came as Ledonne was preparing to coordinate the Southern Colorado Film Festival on campus; he was the festival director. He's been on campus a few times since his contract ended last spring, collecting records and attending some meetings. The letter arrived just days after Ledonne launched a watchdog website, Watching Adams, that explores publicly available salary data and compensation issues and accuses the university of violating the Colorado Wage Act by making adjuncts wait until the end of the semester, or longer, to get paid for their work.
The case has since attracted attention from several academic websites and blogs, which tend to view Ledonne's situation as an example of how perilous it can be for adjunct faculty to speak out against low pay and administrative abuses. But McClure has denied that the action was retaliatory; an e-mailed statement to Westword from her office described Ledonne as "a disgruntled, unsuccessful job applicant" who was banned from campus "for safety reasons."
And what were those reasons? Two weeks ago, ASU police chief Paul Grohowski took the unusual step of sending a campus-wide e-mail alleging that Ledonne "has made numerous members of faculty and staff uncomfortable by his actions, words and behaviors." While conceding that Ledonne's behavior (whatever it was — the letter, like McClure's original order of banishment, is lacking in specifics) hadn't broken any laws, Grohowski also pointed out that the professor had, more than a decade ago, "created a post-Columbine video game that recreates the horror of the Columbine HS shooting massacre.
"In this post-Columbine, hypersensitive world of mass shootings and violence on college campus' [sic] nationwide, it is my duty to balance the free speech and individual rights against the public safety of the many," Grohowski explained.
In a lengthy response to Grohowski's letter posted on his website, Ledonne claims that the chief "has almost everything either factually incorrect or simply backwards." He defended the game he designed, Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, as an effort to provoke public discussion over video games, media culture and violence; he eventually made a documentary about the controversies the game generated. The only person he could recall making "uncomfortable" was someone he exchanged messages with on Facebook who, he later learned, was a member of a former ASU president's family. He defied university officials to produce any proof that he'd ever made threats or acted in a violent or irrational manner.
Then came President McClure's broadsides in the local newspaper. She described Ledonne's blog postings as "harassment" and claimed that he was "trying to put out a lot of personal information against me and the former president" and "trying to harm the university and their mission." Then she dropped the T-word — terrorism — while insisting that she was under a "veil of silence" because of legal concerns and really couldn't elaborate.
All of which has left Ledonne denying that he's gotten personal. Or violent. Or engaged in some kind of "pattern of behavior and threats" that would justify the president's avowed security concerns.
The dispute seems far from over. So are the questions about who's more irresponsible on the free-speech front in Alamosa these days. On Monday, the ASU board of trustees issued a letter in support of McClure's action; it basically urged faculty and students to move on, stating that the issue "has become a distraction from the work of the university."
At the same time, the state conference of the American Association of University Professors has released a letter to McClure expressing concerns over the way the president is using the university's "hastily adopted 'persona non grata' policy."
"Why would any faculty member feel safe in engaging in any form of protected speech when they know that they could be immediately barred from campus (in essence, forced to abandon their professional duties) without a hearing or even forewarning?" the AAUP asks. "In fact, we believe the very existence of a persona non grata policy is antithetical to the core principles of academic freedom and shared governance that sustain American public colleges and universities...we think it's fundamentally un-American."