Suit filed against Penn State


of The Mirror staff

BELLEFONTE — A student group, whose charter at Penn State was denied by the administration, filed a suit in equity Friday against Penn State, the board of trustees and five university officials.

According to Leonard I. Sharon, attorney, The Other Vision -- Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS) -- is suing Penn State, et al., because it claims the university’s decision to deny it a charter was “arbitrary and capricious” and because the denial has placed a stigma both on members and non-members who wish to associate with the group.

One of the plaintiffs, Joseph Acanfora, said the purpose of the group is “primarily educational in nature.” HOPS, according to its constitution, is a group of homosexuals and heterosexuals whose objectives are:

-                     “developing and implementing appropriate programs to aid the homosexual in the university community in his or her endeavor to understand and accept his or her sexual orientation;

-                     “providing as many opportunities for meaningful social interaction among homosexuals in the university community as are permissible under existing state laws;

-                     “creating greater harmony and understanding between homosexuals and the community at large;

-                     “encouraging members to engage in political activities for the purpose of reforming statutes concerning homosexual behavior.”

Sharon said Penn State vice president for student affairs Raymond O. Murphy, in denying HOPS a charter, violated the provisions of the 14th Amendment, which assures protection urnder the law.

The HOPS lawyer quoted passages from a letter written by Murphy to the president of HOPS, stating the reasons for denying it a charter. “This decision was arrived at after a careful review of the legalities involved and the conflict such recognition would cause with the educational policies of the university,” Sharon said, quoting the letter.

According to Sharon, Penn State recognizes such groups as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Student Revolutionary Union, “which obviously do not reflect ‘the best interests of the students of the university,’ as Murphy says. But they won’t recognize HOPS -- and that’s arbitrary.”

John Thornton, a non-member who also is one of the plaintiffs, said he is “very concerned because that is just another example of the selective education the university is trying to enforce.”

In the first count of the suit, HOPS is asking the Centre County Court of Common Pleas to grant an injunction prohibiting Penn State from refusing to recognize its charter and from denying it the use of Penn State facilities and to grant three sets of judgments and court costs.

The judgments in the suit ask for $4,000 in payment for student activity subsidy lost because HOPS was not recognized, $20 for HOPS property which it claims was confiscated and destroyed and for an undetermined amount for alleged deprivations of the plaintiffs’ rights.

Count II of the suit asks for the same orders but adds an injunction against “intimidation or retaliation against plaintiffs Joseph Acanfora and Karen Schwartz and other members of HOPS.”

Count III of the suit is a class action, brought about by Barbara Speer through her guardian, Scott Anderson, and Thornton as representatives of all Penn State undergraduates and graduates who are non-members of the group.

This count also asks the court to grant the above orders, but asks that the court grant a permanent injunction against retaliation by Penn State against non-members who associate with HOPS members.

According to attorney Sharon, this suit is not the first lodged by a homophile group against a university. Sharon said such a group “won an exactly parallel suit” in a California court in Sacramento recently and another suit in Lawrence, Kansas is in progress now.

Sharon said the county has 30 days to serve the defendants -- Penn State, university president John W. Oswald, Murphy, dean of student affairs M. Lee Upcraft, manager of Associated Student Activities William Fuller, the board of trustees and board president G. Albert Shoemaker -- and they have 20 days after that to answer the charges.

If Penn State, et. al., choose not to answer the charges the stipulations contained in the complaint are then judged to be true, he said. Penn State could, “through legal maneuvers,” block this case, he said, but such an action would “just stall what’s going to come anyway.”

The persons named in the suit could not be reached for comment Friday.

According to Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president Benson Lichtig, the USG supreme court granted HOPS a charter, a process which that group is empowered to do by the University Faculty Senate.

Lichtig said he could only find one other time where Penn State officials intervened in the granting of charters to student organizations “but I don’t believe that was under the supreme court structure.”

“It really has never been defined what a chartered organization is,” he said, “or what a charter entitles an organization to do.”