Schools may eliminate freedom of speech

Your Facebook posts could jeopardize your education

A couple weeks ago, a federal appeals court ruled 2-1 that public college officials in Minnesota did not violate a student’s First Amendment right to free speech by expelling a student from the college because of what he said in a series of Facebook posts.

In late October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit supported Central Lakes College’s decision to remove Craig Keefe out of his nursing program because of things he said on Facebook.

The questionable post stated he would inflict a hemopneumothorax, a lung picture, on someone in his class.

In this case, it is worth considering the student’s intent. Were there any signs that led the schools to think that these individuals would truly jeopardize their future by stabbing a classmate?

Whether or not Keefe’s comments were public should be irrelevant. His comments were not reflective of the college at all.

Keefe apologized for what he wrote and said the post was a result of working full-time to support his wife and four children, as well as investing approximately an additional 50 hours per week to studying for his nursing degree. It’s sad to think that Keefe was a semester away from finishing his studies to become a registered nurse.

Keefe’s attorney, Jordan Kushner, mentioned that administrators never told Keefe what they wanted to talk to him about in specific.

“It’s a public institution,” Kushner said. “You’re entitled to due process before any type of significant action is taken against you. You deserve to know what the charges are and the change to be heard.”

In Judge Jane Kelly’s dissenting opinion, she states that “Keefe’s speech was off-campus, was not school sponsored, and cannot be reasonably attributed to the school.”

The icing on the cake for this situation is the fact that school’s nursing program isn’t accredited, meaning that Keefe is unable to transfer his credits to another school where he could finish his education to become a registered nurse.

It’s troubling to think that we live in a world where we have to worry about filtering ourselves on social media. Sure, there are people who abuse their right to free speech by spewing out hate and truly disgusting comments on the Internet regularly, but one bad day shouldn’t ruin years of decent living.

Nick Utterback, a Mathematics major at Skyline College said, “I don’t think a school has any business on what their students say online. Education and your personal life online should be separate.”

I definitely agree, but to say that a school shouldn’t have any business on what their students say online is naïve. Yes, feel free to speak your mind but not at the expense of offending others or threatening the safety your fellow classmates.

This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time we hear about chilling cases seeking to limit the scope of a student’s inherent First Amendment right. For example, Yuri Wright, a High School athlete in New Jersey is suffering the consequences of his behavior on Twitter. He was expelled for graphic sexual tweets that were posted over the span of several months.

“He was expelled from the school for the things he had written on Twitter,” Don Bosco Prep coach Greg Toal said. “This is a Catholic school, things like that cannot happen. It was totally inappropriate.”

It’s important to note the difference between these two cases: the student was asked numerous times to stop tweeting but wouldn’t oblige. In this instance, expulsion is completely acceptable: he knew better and was given many chances to stop sending offensive tweets into the universe. Keefe wasn’t given the same respect, which makes his case a little tricky.

It is truly disturbing to think that an academic institution can be on the lookout for comments made by students that could potentially be deemed as unprofessional, and therefore result in a student being kicked out of that school. However, I think a majority of people use social media as a platform to let out their frustrations because they don’t have any other way to do so.

We live in a digital world where we can get on Twitter and say whatever we want in 140 characters or less. But just because we can doesn’t mean that we should.