How a Leftist Professor Violated My Rights · 05 January 2004

By George Gordon Culpepper, 01/06/04

I am a student earning a degree at a public institution of higher education in the state of Colorado. I transferred to Colorado after two years of education at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, six years in the United States Marine Corps and a year of lobbying in Washington, D.C. It is my goal to earn a double degree in Political Science and History from the Metropolitan State College of Denver and I plan to do so this December. But I was not prepared for what I endured this past semester.

Since I was already familiar with the leftist bent of university faculties, I looked for a congenial political organization on my arrival at Metro State. After a search, I realized no such organization existed, so I created it, capitalizing on an event, which I knew would draw in conservative students. On September 30, 2003, David Horowitz came to the college to discuss his Academic Bill of Rights. As a result of his speech I was able to register nearly 20 students for the newly formed Auraria College Republicans (ACR).

The Auraria Campus is unique as it is the only campus in the country that serves three institutions: University of Colorado at Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver and the Community College of Denver. The ACRs have members from all three colleges and is the most active student organization on our campus. Since September 30th, the ACRs have grown to about 60 members and new students join every month.

I had joined the Political Science Association (PSA) at the school. In November, as the new Chairman of the ACRs, I attended PSA's weekly meeting. At this meeting, its faculty advisor, Dr. Oneida Meranto, accused College Republicans of working with the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank in Golden, Colorado, to try to get her and other liberal professors fired. This was a completely false accusation. The ACRs had no ties to the Independence Institute and had never targeted liberal professors -- or anyone else -- for firing because of their political views. This was not something we would do in any case, but the fact was we had only been active for a month and had precious few items on our agenda. At the same, the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network, a leftist think tank that had been targeting Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights, was a member of the PSA's group e-mail list and had been so since September. The Network, along with the leader of the Metro State faculty senate, has accused sponsors of the Academic Bill of Rights (including the Independence Institute) of trying to get liberal professors fired - something the Academic Bill of Rights actually prohibits.

Meranto suggested that the "Republicans need to withdraw from the Political Science Association" because of our "involvement" with the Independence Institute. I was outraged because Dr. Meranto told me several days earlier in an e-mail that I was unethical and unfair based on an article she read in the school's newspaper. She accused the ACRs of taking credit for a petition drive to save Metro State's athletics and stated no other student club was mentioned. This was false. ACR was mentioned along with another club; Professor Meranto was outraged because her club was not mentioned. This type of behavior was unprofessional and bordered on threatening, because not only was she the advisor to the PSA, but she was also my professor for Latin America Politics.

I had two fronts I felt I had to protect: the ACR and my own. I decided to send the e-mail from Dr. Meranto along with the transcripts of the PSA meeting held in November to the leaders of the Colorado Republican Party, including Governor Bill Owens and State Senate President John Andrews. I felt they should know what was going on in their own backyard.

In December, I was approached by Senator Andrews' staff to testify before a hearing concerning the Academic Bill of Rights. I agreed to testify because I believe that professors are hired to teach the subjects about which they are knowledgeable, not to lecture students about their personal views on today's political issues (nor to even mention such issues, unless those issues are the subject matter of the class). Nor should academic organizations like the Political Science Association be weeding out Republican students. I testified that Metro State faculty (and Meranto in particular) had violated both of these norms.

After the hearing, I carried on as usual and the next day I woke up to see myself on the front page of the Metro section of the Denver Post. The article quoted Dr. Meranto explaining away my testimony as the gripes of a disgruntled student, saying, "He hadn't done enough of the work and knew he couldn't pass." Not only was this statement false, but it violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), which forbids teachers from discussing their students' grades and educational progress publicly.

Under FERPA, schools must have written permission from a student in order to release any information from his or her educational record and ensure that the consent is signed and dated and states the purpose of the disclosure. FERPA defines "schools" as administrators, faculty and any individual employed by the school. Yet, Dr. Meranto, as a professor, violated this federal act by publicly disclosing information (however false) regarding my academic performance, ability to do the work and my grades. This prompted me to write a letter to the President of the College requesting an investigation into this matter.

In my letter to the President, I informed him that I had dropped her class because she called me unfair and unethical and hence, I knew I would not be graded fairly. During the semester, I had maintained a "B" average in her class, up until the point I dropped, and received a 3.4 overall GPA for the entire semester for full time credit hours. The school told me through a December 24th article in the Post that they were taking this issue seriously. They said they would investigate the matter and I will wait for their response. Under FERPA, no student can sue against a violation of student privacy they can only issue a formal complaint. Therefore, I will pursue the issue and file within the 180-day time frame the U.S. Department of Education requires, if I am not satisfied with the College's response. If the Department of Education finds the College guilty of violating FERPA, it could lose federal funding if enough complaints are filed.

After the paper reported my letter to the President, the newly formed Metro State Faculty Federation, an affiliate of the Colorado Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, joined the fray by giving their support to Professor Meranto. In a letter to the President of the college, they accused me of "being ignorant of academic procedures and of FERPA." They also accused me of "disrupting and destroying the institutions of higher learning." In this letter they also maligned David Horowitz and Senate President John Andrews as a "threat to academic freedom and the due process which protects freedoms at Metro State." All of this is inaccurate and absurd, since - as already mentioned - the Academic Bill of Rights defends the principles of academic freedom. Before filing, I sought legal advice from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and they told me based on the evidence submitted, Dr. Meranto did indeed violate FERPA. So much for my "ignorance."

It is a sad day for higher education when a politically motivated professor can bully students, seek to ban Republicans from a professional academic association, break the law and be supported by a faculty union. Now is the time for an Academic Bill of Rights.