Ashley Jacobs, a former doctoral student in nutrition sciences at Purdue, was in her apartment in downtown Lafayette on a chilly February evening in 2018 when she received a phone call from a Purdue University Police Department detective.
The detective said he was notified that Jacobs had been behaving strangely, and that someone, a professor, said they didn’t want Jacobs to contact them anymore.
Jacobs was issued two Persona Non Grata orders in two subsequent days, the first of which banned her from a building on campus and the second from all of campus. These orders, processed and carried out by PUPD, allow the University to ban individuals from all or certain areas of campus.
“Both were disguised as wellness checks,” Jacobs said. On consecutive days, officers told her they had been alerted to check in on her, but issued her PNGs during the check-ins.
Jacobs said she didn’t take heed of the first PNG. But during her second encounter with officers, she questioned why she was receiving a campus-wide ban.
“I asked him,” she said, “‘Wait a second, so who calls you?’”
Jacobs said one officer told her that wasn’t important, which she contested.
“‘So are you telling me just anybody can call you, and make a claim about something and it not necessarily be true, and you can just serve them with these forms?’” she recounted asking the officer. “And he really didn’t know what to say at this point.”
Cynthia Baker, a law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said universities' boards of trustees have the power in Indiana to create university policies.
“Our General Assembly legislature grants the board of trustees ... (the authority) to regulate,” she said. “And then it becomes effective as a matter of law, through the delegated authority from the General Assembly to the board of trustees.”
Purdue’s police department was granted the authority to issue the orders banning individuals from parts or all of campus in 2004. As a land-grant university, the West Lafayette campus is public.
Baker equated the University’s power to grant PNGs to orders issued in scenarios where a victim of domestic violence needs protection.
Once these are issued, she said, recipients can be arrested for simply returning to the area from which they were barred, irrespective of whether they repeated the action for which they were issued the PNG. The same is true with restraining orders, Baker said.
The University lists five instances in which PNGs can be issued on the University Policy Office website. These reasons include:
- Use of University Facilities in a manner inconsistent with the facilities’ purpose.
- Disruption of University programs, services or activities.
- Interference with the educational mission of the University.
- Threats or other behaviors that pose a risk to the safety and security of the University community.
- Violation of a specific facility policy.
Police Chief John Cox outlined the judgment PUPD uses when issuing PNGs.
“We issue the PNG based upon what is criminal activity or could be a threat to the campus community,” he said.
Although both PUPD and University officials have the power to request PNGs, he said the orders are not issued unless police find the individual in question to have violated campus policy.
Since June, at least 20 PNGs have been issued, according to previous Exponent reporting.
“The University agent or complainant can make the complaint, and then we will follow the policy, and if they fall within the violation language of the policy then we can either warn or issue somebody for trespass,” Cox said. “Just because the University thinks somebody needs to be PNGed does not necessarily mean they’re going to be PNGed. It has to fall within the policy.”
The PNG policy leaves much room for interpretation because it lacks specific examples of instances in which PNGs can be issued.
“It’s pretty broad, right?” said Baker, the law professor.
She started with the first criterion for a PNG: “In a manner inconsistent with the facility’s purpose.” It could mean a multitude of things, she said, not all of which are necessarily criminal.
“Even going onto the football field, uninvited and, I don’t know, mowing the football field lawn,” she said. “You know, you’re not supposed to be doing that, it’s just inconsistent … something like that, which isn’t necessarily harmful.”
While the reasons the University’s website lists for issuing PNGs aren’t very specific, Cox spoke to common instances in which PUPD issues PNGs.
He said usually when PUPD initiates PNGs, it is in situations where individuals who aren’t affiliated with the University commit crimes such as burglaries or create public disturbances in campus buildings.
The reason could be “pending criminal investigation, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a criminal matter,” Cox said. “We’re just creating a buffer between the party and the University.”
Cox said that although both the University and PUPD have the power to initiate PNGs, PUPD usually chooses to issue them in instances where non-Purdue-affiliated individuals commit crimes or are in violation of University policy.
“We don’t just wander around looking for people to PNG,” he said. “There has to be either a criminal predicate or a disruption to the business of the University, as witnessed by someone that is over that particular area or an administrator or somebody in the University.”
One instance of this took place in August, when a Union Club Hotel employee was issued a PNG after she allegedly stole from the hotel.
Kang said the PNG was in conjunction with a personnel decision within the hotel, with the order added to “place distance” between the employee and the business until the decision was finalized.
In June, a former elevator mechanic was issued a PNG. When asked why the order was issued, PUPD Capt. Song Kang attributed it to a request by Purdue’s human resources department.
When The Exponent requested information about the PNG from the University, Purdue legal services coordinator Kaity Heide said the man was separated from his job in May, and declined to say the nature of his departure from the position.
“(The man) was never the subject of disciplinary process while employed at the University” she said in an email.
Some recent investigations into PNGs have yielded explanations that seem to fall short of the criminal or disruptive threshold Cox described.
In July, a 34-year-old man was issued a PNG for wandering around Purdue Village. The individual was reported to PUPD for stealing bike parts in the area, but upon police intervention he was found not to have bike parts on his person or in his vehicle.
Officers searched the man’s car and found tools, according to Kang, which the captain said could indicate the man was looking to steal bike parts or “do bad things in line with what the call (to PUPD) had implied.”
Although when PUPD apprehended the man, he was found not to have broken any laws, he had “no reason to be there, no Purdue affiliation,” according to Kang.
He was issued a five-year PNG order accordingly.
PNG orders are typically issued for only one year, but Kang said in an August interview that they can be extended if recipients pose a continual threat to the campus community. University policy simply states that orders will “be in effect for a period of one year.”
In August, two individuals — a man and a woman — were issued PNGs for suspected connection with a slew of Purdue Village burglaries that took place in July and August.
The pair were “stopped because they were loading and unloading random items from Purdue Village,” Kang said. “They explained that they were collecting ‘scrap metal.’”
Their car was full of items whose origin couldn’t be identified, Kang said, yet they were still issued campus-wide PNGs for a year.
The order would likely not be altered “unless they have a legitimate reason to come back,” Kang said. “If they enroll as students, sure, we’ll modify that.”
When officers came to Jacobs’ apartment to issue the bans, she said she had been experiencing issues completing her doctoral degree. Her academic account had been placed on hold. She was in the process of appealing certain grades while she lived in her apartment in Lafayette.
When she received her second PNG, barring her from the entirety of campus, she said she tried to appeal it so she could remain in Greater Lafayette. She never received a response from PUPD, she said.
“Based on documented complaints of unauthorized or unlawful activity, your presence in or about, (the) entire West Lafayette campus of Purdue University, is no longer acceptable,” the order she received Feb. 23, 2018, stated.
Unable to deal with the stress of her experiences, Jacobs said she was forced to break her lease and move back to her home in Georgia.
She was never able to complete her doctoral degree.
“It was a nightmare,” she said. “I was just really frustrated with the whole process … To this day I’ve never received anything about it.”