Ethics Hero: F.I.R.E…Again.

FIREOnce again, the indispensable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education stopped a private university from crushing a student for the imaginary offense of expressing opinions on-line that others find offensive.

Texas Christian University disciplined Harry Vincent, a 19-year-old sophomore, after he posted harsh comments on Twitter about ISIS, illegal immigrants and the Freddie Gray rioting in Baltimore. After a complaint from a Maryland Twitter user named Kelsey, who, having failed to win her online argument with Vincent decided to get him kicked out of school for daring to disagree with her, TCU declared that Vincent had violated the Student Code of Conduct prohibiting the ‘infliction of bodily or emotional harm’ and ‘disorderly conduct,’ neither of which fairly described  his intemperate but entirely personal social media declarations.

The student was suspended from all extracurricular activities for one year, and could no longer live on campus or use non-academic facilities, such as the cafeteria and recreational center.  First, however, the school compelled him to apologize for daring to cast aspersions on terrorists, rioters and illegal immigrants. He was also told to see a psychiatrist, because if you are politically incorrect in 21st Century America, you must be mad.

Private institutions, especially religious ones like TCU, are not bound by the First Amendment, but they are bound by the assurances of tolerance and due process that they make in promotional materials and student guides.  They are also supposed to be ethical. As Ari Cohn, an attorney and Senior Program Officer for Legal and Public Advocacy at FIRE told the media,“If TCU no longer believes student rights are important, it should just come out and say so. Tricking students into attending TCU by making glowing promises of free speech and due process rights—only to go back on those promises following unreasonable demands from someone who doesn’t even attend the school—is shocking and itself offensive to the most basic sense of fairness. TCU should reverse its action against Harry Vincent immediately.”

F.I.R.E.’s letter to the university and its press release prompted substantial criticism of TCU, by Ken White at Popehat among others. Vincent recently confirmed that he has been reinstated, and his suspension lifted. He is still on disciplinary probation, which is wrong, but this is still a victory for F.I.R.E. and vindication for Harry Vincent. He says he hasn’t decided whether to stay at TCU; I sure wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want a degree from such a censorious den of hypocrites; I wouldn’t want to stay at a place that took a vindictive complaint from someone unaffiliated with the school and used it to embarrass and oppress a student for being politically correct online.

There is another issue involving this episode.

At the risk of being told to “snort Ken’s Taint,” the Popehat guru’s famous rebuke for those he disdains, the blogging attorney’s post deriding TCU was unfair and unethical regarding Vincent. Over half of the post was spent mocking Vincent and his tweets, calling him names, and generally letting Ken’s liberal biases and gift for invective run wild. Apparently the only difference between how Kelsey feels about Harry and how Ken feels is that Ken wouldn’t try to get Harry kicked out of school.

The post was the epitome of punching down. The only reason we know about Vincent’s commentary at all is because TCU decided to make an example of the student to chill the expression of any other TCU kids tempted to be unkind to the Baltimore rioters and illegal Mexican immigrants on social media. How nice of Ken to help the school out in that design, ensuring that the student’s cyber-footprint of a youthful lack of judgment will haunt him for the rest of his life! It didn’t matter what Vincent wrote on Twitter, or that Ken didn’t care for it. Sure, the student is accountable for what he tweets, but accountability only includes derision from a lionized and well-read blogger because Ken White chose to make it so.

Nothing like coming to the rescue of a victim of institutional power abuse and intentionally kicking the victim in the face in the process.

Have I ever done this to a kid on Ethics alarms? I bet I have. I will be more careful in the future, because it’s wrong.


Facts: Daily Mail, Dallas News

8 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: F.I.R.E…Again.

  1. I just do not understand why people flip their wig about “uncivil language” or whatever on the internet. I will never, never, understand it. Especially considering how many teenagers and young adults are all over the internet. Have these web-crusaders forgotten what it’s like to have an argument about politics or religion in a high school or college, or for that matter in most real-life places? They’re Michael-Bay sized explosions of badly formed opinions, or good opinions presented badly.

    It’s like everyone grew up and forgot how dumb they were when they were younger.

  2. “Apparently the only difference between how Kelsey feels about Harry and how Ken feels is that Ken wouldn’t try to get Harry kicked out of school.”

    That is the key difference and it is pretty big.

    TCU needs to be roasted and it is good that you and Ken soclearly agree. Harry entered adult conversation and needs to understand the rules. If you dish it out, you might well get it back.

    Yes you frequently ‘kick down’ and display your biases, and maybe you have roasted a ‘kid’ on Ethics Alarm. Whether they deserve it ir not doesn’t matter. Please don’t change.

  3. I’m not entirely sure what the motivation of the college was for suspending him, but since it touts itself as an institution of education, it is obligated to be aware that if you want to help a person learn to express their opinions in a more respectful and approachable way, shunning them is not the way to do it, at least until you’re sure they know how to be respectful and are simply choosing not to change. Of course, most institutions of education only know how to provide a few specialized types of knowledge and expect students to figure the important skills out on their own.

  4. Texas CHRISTIAN University? And yet, they tried to suspend and personally discredit a student who advocated for Christian values online, preferring instead to uphold the unholy doctrine of political correctness. It’s well known that a lot of modern colleges and preparatories that portray themselves as Christian… aren’t. It’s bad enough when the sponsoring denominations don’t take them to task for forsaking the basis of their existence. When they do so in Texas, however, it becomes personal!

  5. At the risk of being told to “snort Ken’s Taint,” the Popehat guru’s famous rebuke for those he disdains, the blogging attorney’s post deriding TCU was unfair and unethical regarding Vincent.

    When I read Ken’s post, I was of two minds. There is little doubt that he is right, on the one hand — Harry did act like a dick on the Internet, and no mistake. Pointing that out was not wrong or unethical.

    However, Ken’s invective became less defensible as the post went on. Instead of merely pointing out Harry’s dickishness to lie athwart the vastly more impressive and disturbing diskishness of TCU, Ken went on disparaging Harry to the point of effectively providing a rationale for people to find moral equivalence between the two, and there simply is none. He unnecessarily watered down his own message and gave people an attractive rationalization to find TCU and Harry deserve each other. Consider this from the comment section:

    Dickish little trolls act like dickish little trolls in order to get attention. As it happens, this dickish little troll succeeded, although it turns out he doesn’t like his success. Why should that trouble us?

    The wages of excess hyperbole and, as you have it, “punching down,” is exactly this sort of thinking — completely off the reservation of free speech and on to behavior equivalence. Why? Because Ken couldn’t restrain his “gift for invective.”

    In my view, the moral of this story is that when we are trying to draw a contrast, don’t damage our own point by trying to make it too memorable, as Ken did here. As for me, I have learned that it’s easy to overuse “dick” and its derivatives.

  6. ” Harry did act like a dick on the Internet, and no mistake.”

    Is anyone involved with this familiar with the internet? I don’t think any of them would have survived the internet circa 1994. Comments like that were commonly made just so you could cook your dinner over your computer monitor.

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