KABOOM! ARGHHH! How Can This Happen In The United States? How Can Any University Think This Is Legal, Fair, Ethical Or Rational? How Can A UNiversity That Acts This Way Be Trusted To Teach Anyone Anything, Other Than How To Be A Fascist?

Thank-you, University of Tulsa...

Thank-you, University of Tulsa…

I really didn’t need another KABOOM! so soon after the last one.

From The Foundation For Individual Rights in Education, with my brainless reactions in bold and brackets:

TU suspended student George “Trey” Barnett last October for three Facebook posts [ It’s unethical and probably illegal to punish Barnett for his own Facebook posts…] published by his husband that criticized another student and two TU faculty members. […but it is beyond belief for the school to punish him for what someone else, regardless of who, posts to his page.] None of the Facebook posts came from Barnett’s account; the statements were posted by his husband, who either tagged Barnett or posted them directly to Barnett’s Facebook page. Barnett’s husband later submitted a sworn affidavit attesting to his sole authorship of the posts. Nevertheless, shortly after TU professor Susan Barrett filed a complaint against Barnett arguing that Barnett could not “avoid responsibility” because someone else was responsible for the posts. [This is Kafaesque. Do these even people know how Facebook works? ] TU Senior Vice Provost Winona Tanaka imposed eight restrictive interim measures against Barnett. The sanctions included suspending his participation in certain courses and activities and even barring him from speaking about certain individuals. [University administrators can not bar whom a citizen may speak to; only judges can do things like that, and only rarely.]

Without affording him the hearing he was entitled to under TU’s University Student Conduct Policies & Procedures, and despite his husband’s affidavit, Tanaka found Barnett responsible for “harassment.” Tanaka also found Barnett guilty of retaliation and violating confidentiality requirements for speaking about the disciplinary charges with his husband—who was also his exculpatory witness. [ What??? WHAT??? Due Process? Rights of the accused? Procedures? Policies? ]

Less than two months before Barnett was set to graduate, Tanaka not only suspended him until at least 2016 but also permanently banned him from receiving a degree in his major even upon his re-enrollment. Barnett was forced to wait two months for TU to respond to his appeal, which the university summarily denied on January 9 without explanation—leaving Barnett unable to earn his theater degree as planned. [ All of this for what someone else wrote on the student’s Facebook page! My key question in ethics scenarios is “What’s going on here?” What’s going on here? I have no idea. An illicit relationship between the apparently fat faculty member Barrett and Tanaka? Insanity?]

…TU has also threatened … its independent student newspaper, The Collegian, which this week reported on Barnett’s suspension and criticized his treatment. The Collegian reports that after contacting TU administrators for comment, student reporters were told by TU’s director of marketing and communications that if “anything that the university deems to be confidential” is “published or shared, (that) could violate university policies.” The university refused to explain what might constitute “confidential” information and, come press time, the journalists were unsure what action the university might take against them. [ OK, let’s just stipulate that the University of Tulsa doesn’t accept the principles underlying the First Amendment. I will await its next abuse of power being aimed at impending worship requirements and a ban on assembly.]

The FIRE is on the case. The mystery is, why doesn’t the A.C.L.U.—you know, the organization dedicated to protecting the First Amendment?—care about these outrages? [UPDATE: Reader and lawyer Jay Wohlman notes that since the University of Tulsa is a private institution, and not legally required to observe the First Amendment. Like all institutions in this nation, however, it is ethically obligated by the values of the nation and the culture, including respecting personal freedoms. Still, its private status places the University beyond the mission of the ACLU.] Why doesn’t the news media care about colleges acting like Stalinist Russia? I see just four websites other than The FIRE bothering to let the public know that some of our institutions of higher learning don’t seem to value the  Constitution:

The Huffington Post, Inside Higher Ed, The College Fix and Reason. Ethics Alarms salutes them. Where’s everyone else? Is anybody there? Does anybody care?

I guess they could be wary of their readers ending up with empty craniums and ceilings that look like mine.

38 thoughts on “KABOOM! ARGHHH! How Can This Happen In The United States? How Can Any University Think This Is Legal, Fair, Ethical Or Rational? How Can A UNiversity That Acts This Way Be Trusted To Teach Anyone Anything, Other Than How To Be A Fascist?

  1. Does Tulsa receive ANY Federal money? If so, continuing to do so could and should depend on adhering to federal law; i.e., the Constitution of the United States.

    • The Constitution does not forbid the states or Congress from funding persons or organizations that engage in censorship; it only prohibits making such censorship a condition of funding.

  2. Well, Slate has something to say about these kinds of limits on speech…

    “Conservatives and libertarians are up in arms. They see these rules as an assault on free speech and individual liberty. They think universities are treating students like children. And they are right. But they have also not considered that the justification for these policies may lie hidden in plain sight: that students are children. Not in terms of age, but in terms of maturity. Even in college, they must be protected like children while being prepared to be adults.

    There is a popular, romantic notion that students receive their university education through free and open debate about the issues of the day. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Students who enter college know hardly anything at all—that’s why they need an education. Classroom teachers know students won’t learn anything if they blab on about their opinions.”

  3. I remember reading intelligence reports during the Cold War about universities behind the Iron Curtain doing this to their students. When the left has complete control, this is what happens to people who do not follow their rules, whether they are legal, published or unpublished!

    • It’s a Christian University. The unperson is Gay.

      While I think it’s premature to start making accusations that it’s what happens to Gays at Christian colleges, since we lack evidence there, I think it’s really a stretch to blame the Left at this point.

      • From digging a little deeper, the “unperson” seems to have been intentionally using his partner to attack other students and faculty through all sorts of reputation-destroying lies and insults. This seems to have resulted in a standoff of sorts- teachers were afraid to give him bad grades because it was implied that Chris would ruin them, Crystal Cox-style. He had been warned multiple times about this and continued using this tactic. He appears to have a track record of this kind of sociopathic behavior.

        This explains the “harassment” accusation…as he seems to have been antagonizing people at the school whom he did not like with a particularly unactionable kind of internet harm…

        None of which makes the school’s actions smart or ethical (though they may be well within their rights, depending on whether or not they can prove collision between the couple. How can you prove such a thing? They’re kinda screwed .)

        The Left generally is behind limits to free speech on campus (see Slate quote above) but this seems more of a case of an out-of-touch conservative institution culture-clashing with a sociopathic student.

        • I read the posts. They are opinions at worst, and they in no way destroy anyone’s reputation, any more than the blogs that have written terrible things about me—and there are a number of them– destroy my reputation. That’s cyberspace. If the partner signed an affidavit saying that he takes full responsibility for the posts, how exactly does the school say it can “prove” that his student partner was the instigator, and again, so what?

          • Actually the comments were about turning the professors in for wrong doing and trying to get them fired. Which Chris and George did. If you speak with students there, the professors in question were investigated, their integrity questioned, their jobs threatened and finally they were exonerated from wrong doing. All the while Chris and George were still spouting lies. So this is more than a play ground dispute.

        • I made the posts on facebook. Trey did not. Susan Barrett knew that I made the posts. When I critiqued Susan Barrett for always being late and told her she needed to teach her students time management it was only then that she decided to act as she claims. Susan would show up sometimes up to 5 hours late. It sets a bad example for students. Susan is a control freak and will do anything to try to be right. I also said that I felt another teacher was unqualified. I also pointed out that another teacher was having an affair. Finally I told a student the truth…she is morbidly obese
          ..its not okay and is a health issue. It was my opinion and I’m entitled to it. Tu also forgets that they could have done the obvious and hit the block button.

          • Why would you continue to post when you knew that your fiance had been reprimanded for your actions? You are entitled to your opinion but why continue to cause your fiance this kind of trouble? I’m honestly asking. And why use junior high tactics to do it like name calling? What did you hope to accomplish by calling a student fat?

            • I can’t presume to answer for Chris specifically, but in general, it can happen because you are now also venting at someone for punishing someone else for your actions (which probably shouldn’t have been punishable to begin with). And that’s not mentioning the obvious; if you believe your complaints were right to begin with, you’ll likely just take such a response as a sign that, if anything, the target is even more deserving of criticism. It’s not dissimilar to why “Draw Muhammad Day” really only became a thing after stuff like the Danish cartoons and South Park riots.

            • Kay…do you attend TU? TU has told George or “Trey” that he is not permitted to discuss this topic with Chris. If you attend TU then I think it would be safe to say that you shouldn’t try to engage Chris on the topic either or you might find yourself expelled also.

            • Wow I just saw this and its a much belated reply. I’m entitled to my opinion. The University of Tulsa has no right to tell me what I can and cannot say. The University claims these people were harassed. I never once contacted any of them. They made the choice to read what I wrote on facebook. They could have just blocked it or not read it. Let me sum it up even better… They were hens in a hen house worried about what someone else was saying. They claim they risked their reputation being harmed. I assure you, these actions they took have caused more harm to their reputation than anything else. I simply wrote my opinion about them on facebook. None of the teachers were exonerated as you claim. In fact, as Trey’s lawsuit is still pending, discovery has provided where The University of Tulsa via Susan Barrett and Winona Tanaka actually spoke of a plan to harm Trey to silence Chris. I don’t believe I ever called the student “fat”. I used the proper clinical term, Morbidly Obese also hence at the time I was morbidly obese. This was a student who continued to bully my husband, and even assaulted him. Despite his continued complaints to the University about this student, in many times were responded to him by Susan Barrett stating… Is it Tara again? They knew about it and did nothing. This student chose to be this way. This student had to bully and pick on everyone else in an effort to make themselves feel better. I offer no apologies. I had every right to be pissed off at how my husband was being treated and the University turned a blind eye to him being bullied Also, in the Discovery, they admit over and over that I am the writer of the posts, not Trey. One e-mail to Susan from University of Tulsa Vice Provost Winona Tanaka tells Susan Barrett that she can’t do anything about this, then tells her exactly how to write her compliant. The University of Tulsa is corrupt. End of story.

      • I have had dealings with the University of Tulsa for many years and I was never aware that it was a Christian University. I get the impression they are a Christian University the same way Georgetown and Notre Dame are.

  4. The school is secular even though affiliated with the Presbyterian church. This has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. Speaking of ethics, did anyone on this site bother to research past what has been written by others? Anyone bother to read the actual case or look into what was actually said in the meeting? How about George actually harassed four women? The newspaper was never threatened. Because the proceedings involved victims of harassment, the documents were considered confidential. The content of the posts were also considered libel. The newspaper and its editors were advised to check with a lawyer before publishing so that the lawyer could instruct them on what might be libelous to print. They were never threatened.

    If you wish to preach ethics, get your facts straight. There is more to this case than what is being printed. But what’s in print makes a very sensational story. Albeit, not the whole story.

    • I’m a lawyer. You cannot charge A for libel based on what B says. I read the posts: not libel. Even the worst statement from a libel standpoint, about giving alcohol to minors, is too vague to be libelous. Is she fat? Truth is a complete defense. A school is ethically obligated to follow its own policies. Facebook is personal communication; it’s unethical for a school to monitor it, much less punish students for it. The quoted threat to the school paper was intimidation. And so forth.

      This has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. It has nothing to do with Napoleon either: who said it did? Not me. Nor do I care what else George may have done: the ethics breach is punishing him for what his partner wrote.

      I don’t “preach” ethics, and if you think that’s an appropriate verb, it tells me much. I have found F.I.R.E. to be a very careful, reliable, fair source. Who the hell are you?

    • Also, while the University claims that they were confidential, discovery in has already shown that even the University of Tulsa did not uphold any confidentiality on their part. The University of Tulsa is trying to try Trey’s lawsuit in secrecy to keep their bad deeds hidden. The only victim in this case is Trey. The four women were not victims. They were the perpetrators. This never even reached the level of harassment. They did not like what I wrote about them. Even Susan Barrett continuously tried to get me to contact her and I refused because I knew she was desperately trying to do anything to set me up so to speak. I cannot deny or confirm that we have or have not testified before a Grand Jury, but I will say it is very, very likely criminal charges are coming soon.

  5. This is hard to untangle: if I can draw an analogy to youtube, a lot of their content violates copyright law, but youtube can’t avoid responsibility by saying someone else posted it. On the other hand, they’re not strictly liable – they avoid liability by having a reasonable process in place to remove material when removal is requested. Facebook accounts would seem to be in a similar posture: the person who has the account can delete posts or, if necessary, “unfriend” people who are posting defamatory material. If you accept that universities have an interest in what their people say about each other, it doesn’t seem like “I didn’t post it” should be a complete defense.

    • I think it should. By law, blogs cannot be held liable for comments on that blog: How is this different? And again, the point is that this is none of the college’s business, just like it isn’t a high school’s business that a student writes “I think Mrs. Grinch is fat and ugly” from the sanctity of his bedroom. This is speech control, pure and simple, and cyberspace is not the campus.

      • By law, blogs cannot be held liable for comments on that blog:

        YMMV depending on jurisdiction.
        In NSW they certainly can. The defence of “Innocent publication” only applies when the proprietor has no means of detecting that the post was made.

        Yes, the law is very imperfect.

  6. Whenever news like this hits, I sometimes wonder, “My parents left martial-law era Taiwan for this?” Then again, at least the US doesn’t have to worry about Chinese missiles pointing at its soil.

    • Uh…actually, we do. Keep in mind Alaska is a state, now, and even intermediate range ballistic missiles can go that far. However, your point is well taken. Even a private, Presbyterian school should know better than this.

  7. “If you continue to fail to respect the requirement of confidentiality and
    continue to share information with Mr. Mangum—knowing what the
    consequences will be—you will be held responsible for your actions and
    consequences.”

    And how is the University enforcing this? Does the student have to wear some sort of recording device at all times or has the University set up video and recording devices in his home? I bet this has really hampered the dinner discussions in that home.

      • The discovery tells a different story. It shows how TU was so desperate. These four women were so worried about anything I said. If it was untrue they would have sued me, but truth is the strongest defense. They had no defense. Notice in Trey’s lawsuit, The University of Tulsa hasn’t even filed a motion to dismiss. They know they are screwed. They keep delaying and stalling.

  8. This is appalling, but not actually very surprising.

    Sad to say, but there is a hard core of authoritarians on every campus I’ve been on (and I attended five in my checkered college career) that would do exactly this — or far worse — if they thought they could get away with it. Just consider how many campuses have Orwellian “free speech zones” marked out, and it tells you where their hearts and minds really are.

    I don’t know if there ever was a time when higher education lived up to its own ideals on the free exchange of ideas and information, but it sure doesn’t now.

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