The ACLU of Colorado has filed a lawsuit against Adams State University on behalf of a former professor who started a website critical of hiring practices and was then banned from campus — and subsequently accused of posing a public safety risk by the university's president.
As we first reported last October, Danny Ledonne got an unexpected visit from the chief of ASU campus police shortly after he launched WatchingAdams, a watchdog website that published ASU salary data and raised issues about fair pay for adjunct instructors. Ledonne had taught film courses at ASU for four years before his contract wasn't renewed last summer; he's since emerged as a persistent critic of university hiring and compensation policies. The chief handed him a letter from ASU president Beverlee J. McClure, informing Ledonne that he would be arrested for trespassing if he stepped onto campus property.
The dispute quickly escalated, with Ledonne claiming the ban from a public campus was retaliatory, while campus officials insisted that Ledonne's banishment was a result of "safety concerns." President Beverlee McClure told the Alamosa Valley Courier that Ledonne is "a threat to our staff and students" and accused him of "harassment" and even "terrorism against me and the previous president." Ledonne denied making any threats.
Enter the ACLU. "Not only were Danny Ledonne's First Amendment rights violated when university officials retaliated against him for operating a website criticizing their policies, the ban was issued without notice or an explanation of the evidence being used to support it," says ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein.
In response to the lawsuit, the university issued a statement indicating that officials welcomed the opportunity to clarify the reasons behind their actions: "We look forward to making the case that the University’s actions were based solely on evidence and belief that Mr. Ledonne’s longstanding pattern of inappropriate actions and threatening statements required us to act in an abundance of caution to protect our students, faculty and staff. We will aggressively contest any accusation that our safety-based decisions were in any way related to Constitutionally protected freedom of expression.
"As part of the legal process, we will now be able to share a substantial amount of information behind our decisions that we have legally been unable to share. Mr. Ledonne has declined our request to release this information publicly and we have had to honor that request. This lawsuit will remove that prohibition."
For more on the details of the dispute, read the ACLU complaint below.