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The State

Freedom of Expression Is Tested in 2 Cases at 'the Un-Berkeley'

September 28, 2003|Sally Ann Connell | Special to The Times

In the second case last week, Cal Poly was sued over the 1st Amendment rights of Steven Hinkle, president of the Cal Poly College Republicans and a senior industrial technology major.

Campus officials disciplined Hinkle for posting a flier at a black student Bible meeting in November 2002. The flier promoted the speaking appearance of the black conservative author Mason Weaver who wrote "It's OK to Leave the Plantation," a book linking government programs used by blacks to slavery.

The black students were eating pizza at the campus' multicultural center, and they asked Hinkle not to put up the flier and to leave the meeting.

They called university police after he reportedly tried to explain the flier. He was not arrested, but the university investigated, and a subsequent hearing found Hinkle guilty of "disruption of a campus event."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday September 29, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 3 inches; 127 words Type of Material: Correction
Pornography charges -- An article in Sunday's California section wrongly identified Safwat Moustafa as having pleaded no contest in 2002 to charges of downloading adult pornography on a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo computer. Moustafa is the former chairman of the mechanical engineering department at the university; he was arrested last week on federal charges of possessing child pornography on his Cal Poly computer before leaving the campus in 2001. He has been released on bond and will appear at an arraignment in federal court in Los Angeles on Oct. 13. Robert Heidersbach, former chairman of the separate materials engineering department at Cal Poly, is the person who pleaded no contest to state misdemeanor charges of downloading 13,000 images of adult pornography on his computer in 2002.

Hinkle has stressed in official transcripts that he just noticed people eating pizza. Others testified that they did not feel threatened by Hinkle, just annoyed.

The Center for Individual Rights filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday asking that Hinkle's school record be cleared. It also asks the court to rule that Cal Poly's punishment for Hinkle's "disruption" was unconstitutional, seeking punitive and other damages.

Cal Poly officials released a statement Friday stressing that although they understand there has been a dispute about the Hinkle incident, they believe "free speech is alive and well at Cal Poly."

"At the same time as the university protects free speech, it protects the right of its students to meet in campus settings without disruptions," the statement said.

Saying he couldn't talk about the specifics of his lawsuit, Hinkle said he thinks there are administrators and professors at Cal Poly who don't believe in full academic freedom.

"Any time you have government officials determining the content of any material -- determining whether they think it's sexually or ethnically degrading -- I think you have a very dangerous situation," Hinkle said. "It's all about the bigger issue: free speech."

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