- Posted September 13, 2013 by
Morganton, North Carolina
Response from WPCC Attorney
ATTORNEYS AT LAW
CHRISTOPHER Z. CAMPBELL
K. DEAN SHATLEY, II
CHAD R. DONNAHOO
BRIAN D. ELSTON
SEPTEMBER 12, 2013
WALTER L. CURRIE, OF COUNSEL
MR. RICHARD GARRISON
105 KIMBERLY DRIVE
MORGANTON, NC 28655
RE: Dr. Aziz's Use of Western Piedmont Community College Property
Dear Mr. Garrison:
Please be advised that I am the attorney for Western Piedmont Community College (hereinafter "WPCC"). Any future correspondondences regarding this topic should be sent to my attention.
I am in receipt of your September 3, 2013 correspondence to Mr. Ronald Martin, WPCC Board Chair. In that correspondence, you alleged that WPCC violated Dr. Aziz Omer's civil rights by denying him the "right to visit WPCC". Moreover, you stated that "Dr. Omer has the right to ask for signatures for a recall petition in the same way anyone has a Constitutional Right to visit the college so long as no laws are broken or no reason exists in which to not permit someone that right." Finally, you state that WPCC has 'opened the door' to allowing political forums and activities partnered with the Burke County Chamber of Commerce and others...."
WPCC is a public institution but is not akin to an open forum like a public street, park or theater. WPCC is an institute of higher learning that is devoted to its mission of providing public education. This mission necessarily focuses on the students and other members of the WPCC community. Traditionally, WPCC has not been open to the public at large but instead has a "special type of enclave" that is devoted to higher education. American Civil Liberties Union v.
Mote, 423 F.3d 438, 444 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing United States v. Grave, 461 U.S. 171, 180
For the most part, WPCC's campus is a non-public forum and restriction on speech is upheld as long as the restriction is viewpoint neutral and reasonable in light of the purpose of the forum and all the surrounding circumstances. Warren v. Fairfax County, 196 F .3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., 473 U.S. 788, 809 (1985)).
As part of official campus activities, WPCC does not allow any outside speakers on its campus unless the speaker is invited by WPCC or an officially recognized student group and the speaker is connected with a WPCC sponsored activity. In your letter, you state that WPCC has "opened the door" to allowing political forums and activities by partnering with the Burke County Chamber of Commerce. Those forums and activities are officially sponsored by WPCC to, in
part, benefit and inform the WPCC community.
Based on your correspondence and my discussion with the WPCC Administration, there is no indication that that Dr. Omer's requests to be on campus were associated with an invitation from the WPCC campus community or was in connection with an official campus activity. Dr. Omer simply does not have the right to come onto WPCC's campus on his own accord and conduct his own affairs - regardless of what those affairs may be.
In certain limited areas, however, WPCC has created a limited public forum. A limited or designated public forum is a forum that is not traditionally public but "the government has purposefully opened to the public, or some segment of the public, for expressive activity."
Warren, 196 F .3d at 193. In viewing what standard applies, an internal standard applies to a speaker "who falls within the class to which a designated limited public forum is made generally available." Id. In this case, an internal standard applies to WPCC faculty, staff and students. For everyone else, an external standard applies. Id. Under the external standard, restriction on speech must be viewpoint neutral and reasonable in light of the objective purposes served by the forum. Id. at 194.
WPCC has created a limited public forum in two ways. First, pursuant to WPCC Board Policy 7.2, non-WPCC groups do have the right to, in certain situations and areas, post messages and announcements. Thus, if Dr. Omer follows the proper procedures, he, like any other member of the public, may post messages and announcements in certain designated areas and
subject to certain viewpoint neutral rules and regulations. Second, pursuant to WPCC Board
Policy 7.4 and certain rules and regulations, WPCC campus facilities are available to non-WPCC
groups when the use of the campus facilities are beneficial to the citizens of Burke County and
such use is not detrimental to the WPCC's regular operations. Copies of both Policy 7.2 and 7.4
are available online.
I appreciate your and Dr. Omer's interest in WPCC and Burke County.
Very truly yours,
Mr. Chad Ray Donnahoo
cc: Dr. Aziz Omer
Dr. Jim Burnett, WPCC President (by electronic mail
Mr. Ronald Martin, Chair, WPCC Board of Trustees
(by electronic mail only)
674 MERRIMON AVENUE, SUITE 210 ASHEVILLE, NC 28804
T: 828.398.2775 - F: 828.398.2795
The above response was sent to me Thursday. This letter responding to my letter fails to explain how a member of the public requests access to the "college property" when the President, Dr. Jim Burnett, says to Dr. Omer, "I know who you are, and I don't want you over here at the college". The next day, Dr. Omer visited to talk with an American Government teacher and was intercepted by Dr. Burnett. Jim, said, "I told you I didn't want you over here at the college, and I don't appreciate you going behind my back and talking with [my] board members". "I told you to leave and now I am telling you again to leave the property at once". If you [Dr. Omer] want to visit the college in the future, you will need permission from me before doing so".
How can a member of the public request access if the President does what he pleases and then informs the Board?
If this letter is true, how can any institution of higher learning set or pass "policy" that conflicts with an individual's civil rights and rights to free speech?
If this is true, it would seem students going to class on campus are in fact TRESPASSING. How can one know the difference?