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Marquette Suspends Dental Student for Things He Wrote on His Blog,

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:

A dental student at Marquette University has been suspended for the rest of the academic year and ordered to repeat a semester after a committee of professors, administrators and students determined that he violated professional conduct codes when he posted negative comments about unnamed students and professors on a blog. . . .

The focus of the hearing, [the student's lawyer] said, were half a dozen postings including one describing a professor as "a (expletive) of a teacher" and another that described 20 classmates as having the "intellectual/maturity of a 3-year-old." [EV Note: According to this account by Marquette professor John McAdams, the professor and the classmates weren't named in the blog, though the professor's identity might be inferrable by those in the know.] . . .

In a letter to the student dated Dec. 2, Denis Lynch, the dental school's associate dean for academic affairs, said the committee had found the student "guilty of professional misconduct in violation of the dental school's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct."

The student also violated a universitywide code that subjects students to disciplinary action if they participate in stalking, hazing or harassments, the letter states.

In addition to informing the student of his suspension and his need to repeat his fall semester, which costs $14,000 in tuition, Lynch threatened the student with expulsion if he continued to post material on "any blog sites that contain crude, demeaning and unprofessional remarks." . . .

Prof. McAdams of the Marquette Political Science Department has much more on this, and harshly criticizes Marquette; Inside Higher Ed has more, too.

Marquette is a private university, and is thus not bound by the First Amendment. Moreover, this case doesn't seem to involve punishment of students for their ideological viewpoints, and thus doesn't pose the most serious academic freedom problems. Nonetheless, it seems to me that Marquette should be condemned for this: Students, it seems to me, must be entitled to criticize the quality of their professors and the student body, even when they do it in childish terms; moreover, restricting speech under standards as vague as "unprofessional" risks deterring a good deal of speech, including more serious criticisms.

Thanks to Sean Hackbarth (The American Mind) and David Carlson for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Marquette's Punishment of Dental Student for Things He Wrote on His Blog:
  2. Marquette Suspends Dental Student for Things He Wrote on His Blog,
The Original TS (mail):
Students, it seems to me, must be entitled to criticize the quality of their professors and the student body, even when they do it in childish terms; moreover, restricting speech under standards as vague as "unprofessional" risks deterring a good deal of speech, including more serious criticisms.

"Must be entitled?" If there are no First Amendment issues, I can't imagine why. In fact, the University might well have a free association claim should the government attempt to interfere.

I'd agree with you that allowing criticism is good policy and I question whether blogging about unnamed people is either unethical or unproffessional. But as to whether private universities ought to legally be able to restrict most speech, they clearly can. If their restrictions are stupid and result in an unhappy student body and lower-quality teaching, they'll suffer in the market place, and that's as it should be.
12.7.2005 12:38pm
Cornellian (mail):
I read that as saying students "must" be able to criticize their profs in the sense that it was the morally correct position, or the best one from a policy point of view. I didn't read that as saying there was or had to be a legal obligation imposed on a private university to allow such criticism.

Personally, I'd like to see them say up front "and you're not allowed to criticize our professors", then find out how many people continue to apply to be students there. Students are the customers of a private university, and professors (or more precisely their teaching services) are the product. Any business that requires you not to criticize their product as a condition of purchasing it isn't going to inspire much confidence in the marketplace that it really has a product worth buying.
12.7.2005 12:50pm
Visitor Again:
Sheesh, I would have thought educational institutions had more important things to do than engage in this kind of ridiculous censorship. If the first amendment is not available due to lack of state action, I'd sue for breach of contract, arguing that the shcool cannot take a student's money, call the student's criticism of the abialities of professors and fellow students unprofessional conduct and then force the student to take a semester over again. Many states also have a state law doctrine of organizational due process under which private organizations are bound by principles of fairness, and I'd look into that, too.
12.7.2005 1:07pm
murky (mail) (www):
He's not just a student, he's an apprentice to a conservative guild--dentists. The professional school is sort of an arm of the guild. I wonder if the statutes that make physicians and like professions self-governing prohibit professional leaders from issuing gag orders.
12.7.2005 1:53pm
AppSocRes (mail):
I couldn't have said it better, Visitor Again.
12.7.2005 2:06pm
Half Sigma (mail) (www):
Maybe there's no First Amendment right, but the student has a contractual right to his education because he paid $14,000 tuition for it.
12.7.2005 2:45pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Silliness. I like the contract theory---could the student have reasonably expected that his blogging would violate the rules of the school?

Let's hope that the dean displays better sense.
12.7.2005 3:57pm
Steve Plunk (mail):
I thought the halls of academia were a place of tolerance. I thought freedom of speech was something cherished by administrators and professors. I thought universities cared about their students.

Obviously I am wrong and they are just lying to us all to get that tuition cash rolling in.
12.7.2005 4:46pm
Steve P. (mail):
He may have paid for his tuition, but the contract will likely be considered void and broken on his behalf for violations of the code of conduct. After all, it's pretty easy to do now.

Cornellian's point is well-made, but when addressing the free market, we need to think about the failures as well. Universities can get away with this to a limited extent because of imperfect information -- I'm sure that most potential students have never heard of this case, or will have forgotten about it by the time they apply. Also, your priorities as a college applicant are different than they are as an actual college student. Other things (like being able to blog freely) suddenly become more important, once you're in.
12.7.2005 4:48pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Marquette is a private university, and is thus not bound by the First Amendment.

You've written this, or its equivalent, several times here. I'm sure you're right; however, Stanford's "hate speech" policy, if memory serves, was held invalid, and I think that it had something to do with the fact that Stanford accepts federal funds (for any number of things: student loans, operation of its linear accelerator center, etc.)

Can you clarify the law in this area?
12.7.2005 5:53pm
Tom J (mail):
Steve Plunk wrote:

I thought the halls of academia were a place of tolerance. I thought freedom of speech was something cherished by administrators and professors. I thought universities cared about their students.


I assume that you are being sarcastic. If you take a glance at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education website, you will quickly learn that the first instinct of administrators at academic institutions is to punish speech they don't like, and to punish more harshly when challenged.

It is unfortunate, but my supposition is that many fascists among us get into academia because there is such an opportunity to have and use power.

Clearly, the actions of the relevant Marquette administrators are unethical, spiteful and just plain stupid. Whether they are illegal or otherwise subject to legal reversal is another issue, which frankly I don't have the knowledge to comment on.
12.9.2005 12:39pm