Once 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.