The spirit of Soviet psychiatry, which treated dissent as a sign of mental illness, seems to be alive and well at Hamline University, a private school in St. Paul, Minnesota, that is officially devoted to “freedom of expression and inquiry.” Last spring the university responded to email messages in which a graduate student questioned Hamline’s gun ban by suspending him and requiring him to undergo a “mental health evaluation.”
The student, Troy Scheffler, was replying to mass emails about the Virginia Tech massacre from Linda Hanson, Hamline’s president, and David Stern, the school’s vice president of student affairs. Scheffler strongly criticized Hamline’s diversity policies and its academic standards as well as its refusal to let people with concealed carry permits bring their guns onto campus. He expressed dismay at “leftists” who “don’t understand that criminals don’t care about laws,” resentment of minorities who are “held to a different standard than the white students,” and irritation at the presence of “atheist professors, Jewish, and other non-Christian staff” at a Methodist-affiliated university.
There was plenty in Scheffler’s messages to offend the average university administrator but nothing that could reasonably be considered a threat. Yet Dean of Students Alan Sickbert informed Scheffler that because “the content of these emails is deemed to be threatening,” he would be suspended and required to undergo a psychological evaluation, after which he might have to “commit to a treatment plan as a condition for continued enrollment.”
In May the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) complained to President Hanson on Scheffler’s behalf, arguing that the university’s treatment of him violated its commitment to freedom of expression and its promise of due process. “Because Scheffler has shown no proclivity toward violence and has made no threatening comments,” FIRE said, the psychological evaluation demanded by Hamline “seeks to assess his political opinions, implying that an outspoken advocate for Second Amendment rights or a critic of ‘white privilege’ doctrine is somehow mentally unstable.”
Hanson responded by claiming the administration had received independent complaints about Scheffler. The university has declined to identify the complainants or otherwise elaborate.