University of Georgia punishes student for parking complaint

Think twice before you make a complaint about parking at the University of Georgia. When student Jacob Lovell submitted an email to the UGA Parking Services, he was then threatened with charges of “disorderly conduct” and “disruption” by the associate dean of students, Kimberly Ellis. (Click here for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s press release.)

“Specifically, it is alleged that Mr. Lovell engaged in disorderly conduct and disrupted parking services when he sent an email to them that was threatening.”

The email was sent to “parking@uga.edu,” which solicits comments from patrons “both positive and negative.”

Here’s the email he sent:

Subject: Scooter parking
Message: To:   parking@uga.edu
From: [REDACTED]

Why isn’t there any scooter parking near Aderhold, according to your parking map?  There’s like a billion places to park on north campus and over by the Georgia center, but nothing anywhere close to Aderhold.  What the hell?  Did you guys just throw darts at a map to decide where to put scooter corrals?  Can I expect you guys to get off your asses and put in a corral near there some point before I fucking graduate and/or the sun runs out of hydrogen?

Thanks for nothing, ever,

-J

To which the easily irked Parking@uga.edu replied:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: UGA Parking Services <parking@uga.edu>
Date: Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 3:40 PM
Subject: Re: Your Parking Services Request – Case 000000000016711
To: [REDACTED]

Your e-mail was sent to student judiciary.

To which Lovell awesomely replied:

——— Forwarded message ———-
From: Jacob Lovell [REDACTED]
Date: Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 8:34 PM
Subject: Re: Your Parking Services Request – Case 000000000016711
To: UGA Parking Services <parking@uga.edu>

So that’s a no?

I called Ellis because I was curious as to how she responds to such a case. She should get an award for taking my call, because most college administrators send me to the voicemail of the World’s Most Inept University Spokesmen. Ellis was instead happy to clarify what her letter entailed.

She explained that many of the cases on campuses “proceed with no action.” Ellis gets police reports about everything that happens with UGA students, from speeding to “underage possession of alcohol.” The point is, “if someone feels threatened, if these are real or implied threats, that’s going to push it through.” Ellis sent Lovell a letter saying that if the student didn’t make a “disciplinary appointment,” his record would be “flagged” rendering him unable to add, drop, or register for classes.

The problem, of course, is that feeling threatened is different than being threatened. College campuses all over the country will go after students who behave in a manner that may make others feel threatened — but that could include feeling ideologically threatened. And heck — the person who checks this email is anonymous, so it’s more likely that the email was sent out of offense and/or spite rather than feeling genuinely threatened.

The school’s priorities are out of whack: It was more inclined to punish a paying student for a complaint than to just consider the suggestion of building a scooter corral. (And yes, calling the student in for a disciplinary meeting under threat is itself a punishment.) But even worse, the policy is unconstitutional. Ellis shouldn’t have to deal with the complaints of people who “feel threatened,” but rather focus on real threats. And no, an angry email to a nameless email address wouldn’t qualify as a “real threat.”

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