A graduate student at New Jersey’s Montclair State University is facing a semester-long suspension and a permanent note on his transcript based on some Facebook comments not unlike what almost everyone has said at some point in his or her life.
The story began a few months before the suspension, when Joseph Aziz commented on the weight of a heckler at a Young Americans for Liberty event.
He has since apologized for the comments, explaining they were made out of frustration “with what I perceived as an attack on the speaker whose appearance my group sponsored.”
After the comments, which were posted on YouTube and included the allegation the heckler’s legs looked like a “pair of bleached hams” became public, school administrators disciplined Aziz and prohibited him from making any other social media comments about the heckler.
Recently, Aziz made a seemingly innocuous comment about the same individual on the page of a private Facebook group. When a group member sent the comment to the university, officials jumped at the chance to suspend him and forever sully his college transcript.
“Are you so focused on non-productive activities such as Facebook and ‘trolling’ that you have misplaced your priorities?” asks a college administrator in a letter to the student.
The college is relying on New Jersey’s rather strict anti-bullying “bill of rights,” though equating any impolite comment with bullying in need of punishment is completely outrageous.
At its worst, this appears to be nothing more than an inconsiderate act by a young man.
Unfortunately, his school wants to make sure a relatively minor lapse in judgment follows him for the rest of his life.
A molecular biology student, Aziz said “the ability to advance in my career is severely hindered without a graduate degree,” adding that a transfer to another school “is also difficult since a disciplinary suspension is noted on my transcript.”
We now live in a brave new world of constant government intrusion as individuals face punishment for private speech that should unquestionably be protected by the First Amendment.
Though I often criticize groups like the ACLU for actually arguing for limitations on our freedom, one civil liberties group has rightly come to the student’s defense.
“As an agency of the government, Montclair State has no power to order students not to discuss any topic or person on independent social media sites like Facebook,” argues an official with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
So far, the school has shown no signs of reversing this foolish decision and likely won’t – at least without constant pressure from freedom-loving patriots fed up with this vast overreach of power.
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