Appeals court finds for former chancellor

Kamariea Forcier

Two professors from Duluth, who claimed the University violated their free-speech rights, lost their four-year battle Wednesday in a federal court case against the campus’ former chancellor Lawrence Ianni.
The case stems from a 1992 incident at the Duluth campus in which two then-history professors objected when Ianni removed two photos from a display case because of concerns that they promoted violence.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided 2-1 in favor of Ianni and the University after nearly 10 months of deliberations.
“We’re very pleased with the court of appeals’ decision that no-one’s free-speech rights were violated,” said Mark Rotenberg, head attorney for the Office of the University’s General Counsel.
Former professor Albert Burnham and professor Ronald Marchese, the plaintiffs in the case, could not be reached for comment.
An English professor and former chancellor, Ianni echoed Rotenberg’s words. “I’m greatly relieved,” he said. “I’m also grateful to the (Board of Regents) and President Hasselmo for backing me over events that happened so long ago.”
In 1992, two members of the history club proposed a display-case exhibit that would convey the specializations of Duluth’s history professors. Michael and Louise Kohn approached several professors in the department and asked them to pose with a historical prop that related to their area of specialization.
Burnham decided to pose with a .45 caliber pistol and a coonskin cap because of his interest in American military history.
Marchese was photographed wearing a laurel wreath and holding a Roman shortsword. Marchese specializes in ancient Greece and Rome, and said he brought the sword to lectures as a tangible object from history. Marchese also chose the sword for his prop because it reflected Rome’s military culture, which allowed the country to gain and hold ascendancy over the Mediterranean world.
But Ianni removed the photos, claiming that they were disruptive to the campus because of threats of violence toward two female professors that had been made in the previous months.
Between June of 1991 and March of 1992, both Sandra Featherman and Judith Trolander received threatening letters from an anonymous person signed as “The Deer Hunters” or “Prince of Death.”
Both women were involved in diversity/equality programs on campus.
In early March of 1992, posters circulated the campus that called for the death of Trolander.
The posters, signed by “The Imperial Council of Deer Hunters,” told people where to find Trolander’s picture and where she lived.
The posters stated, “Get cracking you kill crazy buckaroos. Its OK to kill her, the Imperial Counsel rules UMD, the commission on women is dissolved.”
Ianni distributed a flyer in March of 1992 that assured the people on campus that the matter was being investigated by authorities.
Less than a month later, the history department’s photos appeared and caused some administrators concern that the photos promoted violence.
After the history department refused to take down the photos of their own accord, Ianni gave instructions to an officer with the UMD police to remove the photos. Shortly afterward, Burnham and Marchese filed suit, along with the Kohn brothers.
A federal court judge originally found in favor of the professors. However, the University appealed that decision to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-member panel found in favor of Ianni.
The decision handed down by the courts reads, “Neither plaintiffs nor their pictures had anything whatsoever to do with the threats against Featherman and Trolander.” However, the court determined that “The law does not require Ianni to prove such a correlation.”
The court found that Ianni acted within his rights as chancellor to make a decision to remove the photographs.
When asked if the end of the case took a weight off his chest, Ianni said yes. “The case has never been done. Now it is.”