Police are asking: Who secretly recorded a faculty meeting at UNH Law School?

A small group of faculty and administrators met last November inside a classroom at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law to discuss policies surrounding student groups on campus.

They knew the issue had grown contentious on campus. But they didn’t know that they were being recorded, until a Fox News editor allegedly contacted them.

Now, the University of New Hampshire Police Department is asking for the public’s help in determining who may have illegally recorded the meeting, a potential felony crime under the state’s wiretapping law.

“As a law school whose mission is to educate members of the legal profession, this alleged crime and breach of norms are particularly troubling,” UNH Law School Dean Megan Carpenter wrote to students and faculty in an email Feb. 3, which was obtained by NHPR. “To say that we all feel the impact and a sense of lost trust is an understatement.”

Carpenter noted that the police asked the school not to publicize the investigation until now. UNH Police also issued a statement last week asking for the public’s help in identifying the source of the leaked meeting and set up a tip line.

The meeting’s topic — essentially, membership policies for student groups — had become a flashpoint as two student groups with professed Christian-aligned values sought official recognition as clubs, including one group that requires its board members to adhere to anti-LGBTQ+ positions.

But as three faculty members, a university lawyer and the chief diversity officer for the university gathered for their discussion on Nov. 15, someone allegedly recorded the meeting — without the attendees’ knowledge. That footage then, according to a faculty member, ended up in the hands of Fox News.

The November meeting, held in a room on the school’s Concord campus, came in advance of an application for formal recognition from the Free Exercise Coalition, which sought to express “Judeo-Christian” values on campus. According to the group’s application and website, it sought to be an “open member coalition,” though board members are required to attest to opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and to reject what it calls “transgender ideology.”

The law school currently hosts more than two dozen student groups, from clubs aimed at Black or Asian law students, to a photography club. Recognized groups receive stipends of $200 per semester from the public university. The Free Exercise Coalition’s application, formally submitted to the Student Bar Association at its Nov. 29 meeting, followed the approval earlier in the year of a local chapter of the Christian Legal Society.

According to an email Professor John Orcutt sent to faculty members last week, which was shared with NHPR, the group met on Nov. 15 to discuss whether UNH should adopt what’s known as an “all-comers” policy, which would mandate that clubs allow anyone to join, regardless of background or beliefs.

The existence of an “all-comers” policy was a central factor in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that sided with a California law school that sought to prohibit recognition of the Christian Legal Society on its campus.

Approximately one month after the Nov. 15 meeting, all five employees of the law school who attended were contacted by an editor at Fox News, according to Orcutt.

“Each of our emails stated that the Fox News editor had seen ‘footage’ of the meeting and included quoted language attributed to the attendee,” Orcutt told colleagues. He wrote that Fox News said it intended to run a story. To date, no article citing the recorded meeting has been published.

In late December, Fox News, as well as other outlets including NHPR, published articles detailing a letter sent to UNH on behalf of the Free Exercise Coalition that threatened litigation if the school refused to approve the group’s application. That legal threat, from the First Liberty Institute, alleged that the university was potentially violating the constitutional rights of the students.

“Rarely, if ever, has a student organization been more aptly named or, as the actions of your students and faculty make clear, needed at UNH Law,” Jeremy Dys, an attorney for First Liberty, wrote to the school.

The university denied it was treating the group any differently than other proposed clubs and said that its application would be voted on when students returned from winter break.

In late January, the Student Bar Association deferred the decision over whether to formally recognize the coalition to university leadership, which then approved the group’s request, despite objections from some students who allege the coalition holds bigoted positions that are in opposition to the school’s stated values on inclusion.

The alleged recording of the November meeting prompted Orcutt to advise his co-workers last week that “any student groups who are concerned about privacy or safety [should] consider holding their meetings off campus.” Orcutt didn’t respond to a request for additional comment.

UNH Police Chief Paul Dean told NHPR the investigation remains ongoing, and he is unable to share additional details. It isn’t known if the alleged recording included audio or video of the meeting, and if it captures the entire duration or only portions.

“Though I am deeply disappointed and saddened to share this news, I am equally confident that our community will emerge stronger,” Dean Carpenter told the law school community. “We encourage you to step forward if you have any relevant information to share that may be helpful to our law enforcement officials or administration.”

For some students on campus, the school’s disclosure of the investigation is being applauded.

“It is important in these situations to be transparent, so that students — and faculty and staff, for that matter —have an understanding of where and when they may or may not be able to feel safe to speak freely on this campus,” Phebe Miner, a second year law student and president of the If/When/How-Lawyering for Reproductive Justice club on campus, told NHPR.

Other students, though, are expressing continued concern about the threat of surveillance on campus, and wariness about the extent of the investigation.

Ronelle Tshiela, who is on the board of the law school’s Diversity Coalition, said the group is likely to move its meetings off campus “considering this significant privacy concern and how our presence at the law school has been received lately.”