Fordham student says school wrongfully penalized him for social media posts

A Fordham University student says his school is wrongfully penalizing him over two political social media posts he made last month, one of which pictured him holding a legally owned rifle, new court papers allege.

Austin Tong made a June 3 Instagram post with a photo of slain retired St. Louis Police Captain David Dorn with the caption “Y’all a bunch of hypocrites,” to make a statement about society’s lack of outrage over the killing, he explains in a new Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit against the university.

Then on June 4, the 21-year-old Chinese-American student posted a photo of himself holding a rifle that he had a license for captioned “Don’t tread on me. #198964” to honor the 31st anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre, the lawsuit from Thursday says.

But, the two posts sparked a hearing and inquiry by Assistant Vice Principle and Dean of Students Keith Eldredge less than a week later because Eldredge claimed “members of the Fordham community felt threatened by the social media posts,” the court papers claim.

Tong said he wasn’t threatening anybody but rather making political stances, the court papers say.

Eldredge ultimately issued sanctions against Tong and threatened expulsion, the suit alleges, which Tong is now asking a judge to annul claiming his posts are free speech protected under school policy and the constitution.

Tong said during the June 10 hearing that he’s “sympathetic to the movement for racial equality,” and his post about Dorn was “to speak out against tyranny and oppression, while noting that the phrase has been used by various branches of the United States military,” the court papers say.

Tong also explained during the hearing that he supported the Second Amendment right to bear arms and his post holding the firearm was “to show that had students in China been afforded this right, there would have been fewer casualties at the hands of the Chinese State,” the court documents say.

On July 14, Eldredge sent a letter to Tong with findings that Tong allegedly made a “Violation of University Regulations relating to Bias and/or Hate Crimes,” and “Threats/Intimidation,” the court filing claim.

Further, the letter said Tong was on disciplinary probation banning him from extracurriculars, student office, student groups and sports in the upcoming school year. And if Tong violates the probation he could be expelled or suspended, the court papers say.

Tong also has to complete the school year online and can only come on campus with permission. He also has to take bias training and has to write an apology letter by Thursday, the court documents explain.

Tong says the “draconian” punishments have marginalized him at school where he is now “treated liked a criminal,” the court filing alleges.

Tong says he won’t go to the bias training or write the apology letter since “he plainly did not violate any Fordham policies … and should not have to submit to punishment for exercising his constitutional rights,” the court papers say.

“Fordham’s disgraceful, Orwellian actions against our client are exactly why President Trump signed an Executive Order in 2019 specifying that schools can lose their federal taxpayer funding for violating their own free speech policies,” Tong’s lawyer Brett Joshpe told The Post. “Intellectual tyranny within the ranks of higher education–all for a mere $50,000 in annual tuition–must end right now.”

Frodham did not immediately return a request for comment.

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