ASU issue is still festering

The third in a three-part series about a former professor who says he was banned from his old campus for exposing institutional corruption. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.

New voices are being added to the chorus denouncing the decision to prohibit former professor Danny Ledonne from the Adams State University campus, and more may be to come.

Ledonne, who taught a slew of filmmaking classes at Adams State between 2011 and 2015, was issued a persona non grata order on October 14. Ledonne alleges that the order is retaliation for his persistence in contesting the decision not to hire him for a full-time faculty position, a process he asserts was flawed, as well as for a website he operates — WatchingAdams.org, which posts publicly-available salary data and articles critical of university administration.

Ledonne was barred from campus three days after WatchingAdams.org posted its first articles.

University administration has been adamant that the order was not retaliatory but was issued in response to a "two-year pattern of behavior" on Ledonne's part that they say painted a portrait of someone who was a threat to the safety and security of the campus community.

Ledonne said he has been reaching out to various advocacy organizations to put pressure on the university to rescind the order, which he characterizes as an attack on his free speech rights. He said he has been in contact with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that advocates for civil liberties in academia; the Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, a Washington-based group that advocates for academic freedom and shared governance; the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, a New York-based non-profit that advocates for Constitutional rights; and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, a federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.

He also said he has reached out to Andrew Contiguglia, a Denver-based attorney who is a member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, an Illinois-based association of attorneys who defend First Amendment cases.

At least two of those organizations have responded thus far. FIRE posted an article to their blog decrying the university's decision.

"The timing of the trespass notice raised concerns for potential retaliation against Ledonne based on his activism," the article read in part. "Not helping is the fact that ASU's new persona non grata policy was only established on October 13 — one day before it was cited against Ledonne."

In fact, ASU's persona non grata, or PNG, policy has not yet been ratified by the university. ASU President Beverlee McClure, however, said last week that the university was within its legal rights to issue such an order.

The FIRE article continues: "To say that one might be a thorn in the side of a campus administration is vastly different from asserting that such a person is necessarily a threat to the safety of the campus... Suffice it to say, students and faculty at ASU shouldn't be taking the statements on Ledonne's trespassing as guarantees of their safety, but as signals of just how fraught the environment for free speech at ASU can be."

McClure told the Courier last week that the university has compiled a list of behaviors, actions, and statements made by Ledonne over the course of two years that back up their assertion that he is a safety threat. McClure offered to publicly release the list with Ledonne's approval. Ledonne refused.

"That violates my due process," Ledonne said. "I'm not interested in having that allegation made public... These allegations aren't a matter of public record unless I choose to make them public."

McClure said the university has invited Ledonne into an appeals process. Ledonne said the appeals process is inherently flawed, because it requires him to appeal to ASU Vice President of Administration and Finance Kurt Cary, who answers to McClure. The practice of appealing to a vice president appears to be common in cases of persona non grata policies, according to several Colorado colleges reached by the Courier.

A letter to McClure signed by the co-presidents of the Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors challenges the legitimacy of persona non grata policies in general.

"Existing laws are more than sufficient to deal with anybody engaging in disruptive behavior and disorderly conduct," the letter reads in part. "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."

The letter concludes with an offer to work with ASU to "create campus policies that are more respectful" of the principles of academic freedom, adding that if ASU ignores the offer, the organization will "inform possibly concerned Adams State faculty members about your decision and to pass what we have learned about Mr. Ledonne's treatment on to higher ranking officers of the AAUP to see if they think this deserves further investigation."

A draft of an op-ed letter in the works by ASU faculty, students, and citizens, provided to the Courier by ASU Associate Professor of Psychology Jeff Ellison, asserts that campus officials must not believe Ledonne is a legitimate threat, because they did not take what they consider normal actions toward a person considered a threat.

"Why did they not bother with the correct actions of threat assessment, contacting state or federal law enforcement, and due process?" the letter reads in part. "If Administration's actions were about retaliation, then they attempted to manipulate public opinion by using students' safety as a pretense for their actions."

ASU officials have been mum on the affair.

In a statement sent to Denver newspaper Westword, McClure said the swirl of allegations of misconduct on the university's part are misleading.

"It is unfortunate that a disgruntled, unsuccessful job applicant is misconstruing information about Adams State University," the statement read. "Mr. Ledonne's persona non grata status was not issued in response to his website, but for safety reasons. There is an appeal process that can be pursued by Mr. Ledonne. Since this is a personnel issue, the university will not comment further."

A campus-wide email sent out by the ASU Board of Trustees earlier this week backs up McClure.

"We assure you the safety of our campus is of utmost importance," the email reads in part. "President McClure shares that priority, and we fully support measures she recently took to issue persona non grata status to Danny Ledonne. The action was based on safety concerns and disruptive behavior and taken in conjunction with information from the Colorado Attorney General's office. The university's actions throughout this situation have been appropriate and defensible."

An email to the Courier from ASU spokesperson Julie Waechter said, "Adams State University will not comment further, nor respond to questions about the Danny Ledonne issue."

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