Discipline dodged: The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District has dropped planned disciplinary action against a student who distributed fliers advertising a National Day of Prayer event sponsored by a campus Christian club. Officials at the El Cajon, Calif., school told Roberta Steele distributing the fliers in front of the student center violated school policy, even though other students could hand out fliers advertising non-religious events at the same spot. Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund) sent school officials a letter in May demanding they change their policy or face a lawsuit. Although the school agreed to cancel Steele's disciplinary hearing, administrators do not intend to review the policy until the end of the year. The policy does not allow freedom of speech on campus, and students must get permission before speaking publicly, presenting information or distributing written material. Students must also request permission to engage in free speech activities 10 days in advance.
"We commend Grossmont College for dropping the unjustified disciplinary hearing against our client, but as the Constitution requires, the college still needs to take prompt action and change its vague distribution policy to prevent any future discrimination against faith-based groups and activities," said David Hacker, an ADF lawyer. "We'll be monitoring the situation to ensure that the necessary changes are made."
In April, the ADF launched a nationwide campaign to stamp out unconstitutional policies governing speech, protest activities and campus religious organizations at public universities. Lawyers have a list of more than 160 schools with objectionable policies. They launched their campaign by sending letters to 40 schools in 23 states. The University of California at Los Angeles and Virginia Tech are the largest schools to respond to the requests so far.
College settles discrimination claims: A Texas community college has agreed to pay a former professor $160,000 to avoid going to court to defend itself against claims it chose not to renew her contract because she was gay. English teacher Jacqueline Gill filed suit against Tarrant County College, in Fort Worth, after she discovered she was the only teacher hired in 2009 who was not offered a full-time job at the end of the year, according to a report in Inside Higher Ed. The school had a practice of offering teachers permanent positions after a one-year trial period, as long as they didn't have any problems in the classroom.
Based on her student evaluations, Gill expected to be rehired. College officials say they did not offer Gill a job because of performance-related issues. But Gill claimed the English Department chair told her gay teachers did not have good careers at the school. After a federal judge refused to dismiss the case, college officials decided to settle, rather than take the case to court. But they denied any wrongdoing and denied Gill's accusations. Lambda Legal, the gay rights group that represented Gill, hailed the settlement as a victory, especially since Texas does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Status reversal: The ongoing saga of an Israeli college in a West Bank settlement took another turn this week when a special board granted the school full university status. Israeli officials at first postponed Ariel University Center's request for full recognition, but the panel that oversees higher education in the country reversed that decision. The school has become a symbol of the fight between those who want to see settlements expanded and those who want to pull out of Palestinian territories as part of peace negotiations. Settlers said giving Ariel University Center full recognition would give added credibility to both the settlement and the school.
In recent years, Israel has expanded Ariel with new home developments, a sports complex and the university. But a coalition of Israeli university professors opposed the move, saying it would hurt the country's standing in academic circles. Israeli universities already face an international academic boycott because of the country's ongoing fight with the Palestinians over land and sovereignty.