Student sues Fresno State faculty

A current Fresno State student government senator filed a civil lawsuit against seven campus officials and professors last month after he alleged his civil rights were violated following an incident in May of 2011.

Neil O’Brien, Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) senator of parking and safety on campus, filed an official civil complaint against, among others, Fresno State President John Welty and Paul Oliaro, vice president for student affairs on Nov. 14.

The complaint alleges a pattern of “conspiracy to violate [O’Brien’s] civil rights” by “left-leaning” campus officials stemming from an incident that took place on May 11, 2011.

On that day, O’Brien approached professors Victor Torres and Maria Lopes of the Chicano and Latin studies department after being incensed by a poem in La Voz, one of four ethnic supplements to The Collegian.

In that publication, a poem published by Chicano studies student Luis Sanchez, titled “America,” contained many controversial lines such as “America the land robbed by the white savage” and “the land of the biggest genocide.”

O’Brien approached Torres, the faculty adviser for La Voz, to question him about the nature of the poem.

“I didn’t really know what the purpose of that poem was,” O’Brien said. “I wanted to find out what they were doing with it and why, specifically if they were spending student money.”

O’Brien filmed the meeting between himself and Torres inside Torres’ office. The video can be found on O’Brien’s Youtube account, “ntrd,” titled, “May 11th video.”

In the video, Torres denies to answer O’Brien’s questions on the grounds he is with another student, telling O’Brien to make an appointment. O’Brien continually questions Torres, leading Torres to call campus police.

O’Brien then heads back to the desk of Lopes – who is accused in the lawsuit of telling Torres that O’Brien was “stalking” the hallway – to question her. Lopes closes the door on him.

After that day, O’Brien was determined to be in violation of the student code of conduct following a series of judiciary hearings and meetings with officials in a process the complaint alleges is “draconian.” As a result, he was subjected to two semesters of disciplinary probation.

Brian Leighton, O’Brien’s attorney, said that the video, which was not admitted as evidence in O’Brien’s hearings, demonstrated the university’s tendency to target O’Brien.

“He’s a libertarian constitutional conservative,” Leighton said. “And they don’t like that.”

During his probation, O’Brien was barred from being within 100 feet of the Chicano and Latin American Studies department or its faculty anywhere on campus, and could not participate in clubs or activities including ASI and the Fresno chapter of Young Americans for Liberty which he helped found.

Leighton said that O’Brien wasn’t the campus’ only target.

“Nobody gets punished except those that espouse a contrary view,” Leighton said. “That’s what this campus does.”

Besides Welty, Oliaro, Torres, and Lopes, three others are named as defendants in the suit.

They are: Luz Gonzalez, dean of social sciences which includes Chicano and Latin studies;  Carolyn Coon, dean of student affairs; and Matthew Jendian, sociology department chairman.

The officials and professors named as defendants could not comment on an open lawsuit, but in a statement, Fresno State said it would stand by its faculty.

“Fresno State strongly values and supports the First Amendment rights of all students, faculty, staff and administrators,” the statement said. “We encourage individuals to exercise their freedom of speech, provided they do so in an appropriate manner.

While the university cannot discuss the details of any disciplinary action taken against Mr. O’Brien, Fresno State has an established student discipline process that ensures fairness to all parties involved. We believe strongly that the individuals named as defendants in the lawsuit did not violate Mr. O’Brien’s rights and we support them in their defense against Mr. O’Brien’s allegations.”

  • Dan

    I have a question for the Collegian editors: when Mr. O’Brien wrote his recent opinion piece where he bitterly criticized Drs. Welty and Oliaro, did he disclose to the paper that he was in active litigation against them?

  • Maria

    Modern-day American Liberals are the biggest fascists I know. They generally have no accountability. Hat’s off to this brave student!

    • james

      Maria and K.R.: definitely! We’re in full support of Neil!

  • Don

    what an angry savage.

  • Mark Smith

    Dan, as the person who wrote this article I don’t believe the editors were aware he was in this lawsuit. In fact, I only learned about it when I was in the ASI office for an unrelated matter, the day I wrote this. So it seems unlikely.

    Hope that answers your question!

  • K.R.

    Our universities have long been regarded as havens of free speech, freedom of expression, and political idealism; prized rights bestowed upon every American citizen.

    Yet, disease has fallen upon our California State University at Fresno—a contagion has taken root in the highest offices of the institution, possessing the Caudillos who have taken power there, spreading their illness and promoting their own wealth and interests through political patronage.

    These tyrants, unchecked by law, right, or Constitution have infected Fresno State’s academia, administration and governance, perverting diversity, squelching expression, and practicing intolerance.

    Of course, I could only be referring to the persecution of Fresno State student Neil O’Brien, who has been administratively lynched simply for speaking his mind. An administrative kangaroo court held by Fresno’s apparatchiks “convicted” O’Brien without admitting his evidence or attorney.

    The uninfected must take heed. Inoculate yourselves from this plague by studying the Constitution and its values closely. Even if you disagree with Mr. O’Brien you will be protecting yourself from future calamity and sepsis.

    At the very least, be alarmed that Fresno State’s educational dollars are now being drained in court to defend a pestilent and immature administration against the good of the Constitution.

    • John

      I don’t particularly agree with the sentiment that free speech is being squelched — indeed, we have that pastor guy out there screaming at everyone they’re going to hell and a multitude of clubs devoted to every political ideology imaginable, including conservatively-minded ones.

      The problem stems from O’Brien’s methods. In the video, he is asked to leave and refuses. That can fall under the university’s student policy of harassing a teacher, and thus the punishment.

      Look, nobody’s saying O’Brien isn’t entitled to his beliefs, the problem is that he gets in everyone’s face with a video camera (which, by the way, is illegal without consent) and harasses them to piss them off. That isn’t exchanging ideas, that’s being a loudmouthed bully.

      And it doesn’t matter what political ideology you have, when you interrupt a professor meeting with a student and refuse to leave his office, even taunting him before you leave with “I bet you feel like a big man”, you deserve the punishment you get.

      That is harassing a professor and O’Brien can whine all he wants, but he won’t win this lawsuit. The video actually hurts his case.

  • Grace

    Neil O Brien, Go to Cal State Bakersfield and click on a club called CAMP. Our goverment, Bureau of Land Management in Bakersfield is only hiring students from this club. One of the criteria is you must have a parent that works in the fields. I kid you not. Two of these students got in an acident in a goverment car and BLM lied and said they were inspectors. One student graduated and in order to keep her as a student they are paying for her to get a masters. As bad as Fesno is Bakersfield is the worst unless you aur Hispanic. e mail me after you check our the camp program.

  • Eric

    The Armstrong and Getty radio show interviewed Mr. O’Brian this morning. I heard the quote from the school paper was “Americans are white savages” and the police where called as if Mr. O’Brian violated some law. He say he was just asking questions, but he failed to mention that he was interrupting another student conference. I think more of the details will need to be reviewed.

  • Eric

    I apologize for misspelling Mr. O’brien name.

  • Mike

    This school is full of racist like O’Brien. Trying to use reverse racism to meet an underlying agenda.

  • Michael

    This may be an old comment.. I think it is time for O’Brien to hit the road and graduate already. I thought they had rules about super senior status. Contribute to society and pay taxes instead of wasting tax payer money.