Joshpe Mooney Paltzik LLP filed an Article 78 Petition on behalf of Austin Tong today seeking a temporary restraining order against Fordham University, its President, Father Joseph McShane, and Dean of Students, Keith Eldredge. Tong, an American citizen who was born in China and emigrated to the United States when he was six years old, is a rising senior at Fordham. In early June, Tong made a series of social media posts, one that acknowledged the life of slain St. Louis police officer, David Dorn, and a second that included a picture of him holding a lawfully owned rifle with a caption that acknowledged pro-freedom protestors in China. In response to criticisms to his post, Fordham sent Public Safety Officers to Tong’s private residence in the middle of the night to interrogate him in Orwellian fashion. Dean Eldredge then notified Tong that he was required to participate in a disciplinary hearing after which Eldredge announced that Tong was being disciplined for violating Fordham’s Bias-Related Incidents and/or Hate Crimes policy. Despite making clear in his posts that they were in no way meant as threats, Fordham banned Tong from appearing physically on campus, required him to undergo implicit bias training, and required him to apologize in writing before a deadline.
While private schools like Fordham do not have the same First Amendment obligations as state actors, private schools are required by federal law to adhere to their published policies on free speech and could lose billions of dollars of federal funding if they violate these expressed policies. Indeed, President Trump signed an Executive Order on March 21, 2019 explicitly requiring private schools to uphold their free speech policies or potentially lose federal funding. Like other accredited private schools, Fordham enthusiastically embraces free expression principles in its published policies. However, this is not the first time that Fordham has been subject to legal action for acting arbitrarily in violation of those policies, and the organization FIRE, which seeks to defend individual rights on college campuses, has called Fordham “one of America’s 10 worst colleges for free speech.”
Joshpe Mooney Paltzik said, “Fordham and its administration have acted disgracefully, like intellectual tyrants and bullies. Rather than practice the principles of free expression set forth in our Constitution and prepare young adults with the skills to face the world, Fordham shovels propaganda, practices a blatant double-standard, and destroys the reputations and lives of its own community members like Austin Tong—all for the mere cost of $50,000 a year in tuition. Fordham should lose its accreditation status and every cent of federal funding, and we will spare no effort in making sure incidents like these receive the attention they deserve.”