MINOT, N.D. — In January, former University of North Dakota police chief Eric Plummer filed a complaint with the university alleging discrimination based on his vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
In July, an administrative law judge ruled that Plummer's complaint had merit, finding that the change in behavior toward him from UND administrators "constitutes discrimination."
The relationship between Plummer and Cara Halgren, vice president of student affairs, is at the crux of this matter. The two had a strong working relationship starting in 2012 that included informal breakfast meetings off campus. At one of these meetings, after the 2016 election, Halgren asked Plummer who he voted for. Plummer, reportedly reluctant to inject politics into the working relationship, said he voted for Trump.
"After thoroughly reviewing the investigation report along with the attached materials, the undersigned concludes, by the greater weight of the evidence, that Halgren discriminated against Plummer due to his political beliefs or assumed political affiliation," the ruling, written by Judge Hope Hogan, concludes.
Halgren has appealed the ruling. I obtained the report through an open records request filed with UND.
Per the report, Halgren claimed she cut off the breakfast meetings in part because she no longer felt comfortable meeting with him, though she told UND President Andrew Armacost, during series of January meetings that were intended to address the fraying working relationship, that she could no longer work with Plummer because of their political differences.
After that meeting, Halgren sent Plummer a text message standing by her comments but offering to meet with him to draw up an agreement for working together in the future.
Plummer didn't respond.
After he filed a discrimination complaint, Halgren, citing "previous trauma" per the report, accused Plummer of being "emotionally abusive." She claimed to be using her political differences with Plummer as a "more gentle" rationale than her true feelings.
"I wanted to protect myself by not hurting his feelings," Halgren states, though it's not clear from the report what true feelings those were if not animus prompted by Plummer's politics.
Halgren also claimed Plummer's threat to resign, made during their meetings with Armacost, was "emotionally abusive."
Per the report, Plummer isn't the only campus law enforcement official Halgren questioned on political matters. Lt. Daniel Weigel, who also serves on the Grand Forks City Council, says he was also asked who he voted for and why, though he states his answer didn't change his working relationship with Halgren.
It's not clear, from the report, who Weigel said he voted for (nor is it anyone's business, really, unless Weigel cares to share that information).
The points of friction between Halgren and Plummer were many once the working relationship began to fall apart.
Halgren complained that the campus police department's social media postings, intended to be comical, were perpetuating stereotypes of women and minorities.
Plummer states that Halgren shared information from the campus Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) about a "student of color" who had attempted suicide with someone outside of the team. Halgren responded to Plummer's complaint by deriding the BIT as a "bunch of white people sitting around a table," a statement she didn't deny making, though she says it was a poorly worded critique of what she perceives as a lack of diversity on the team.
The report found no evidence of other violations of UND policy, namely "harassment" or a "hostile work environment," though the latter finding seems odd given that Plummer took a job in Virginia after a campus vice president said she couldn't work with him anymore.
This is an important matter, not just because this sort of viewpoint discrimination is atrocious on its face, but because it also undermines the foundation of our republic.
Democracy requires more than just a ballot box. It also requires an electorate that feels free to vote its conscience without fear. Not just from the government but society. If we begin to tolerate an environment in which Americans face reprisal for who they choose to vote for, we tolerate the unraveling of our system of government.
On a related note, it's worth noting that as Plummer was leaving UND over political discrimination, the North Dakota University System was lobbying to kill House Bill 1503. That legislation, which passed despite higher education's lobbying campaign, put in place new protections against viewpoint discrimination on campus.
Ironic, isn't it?
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.