Catawba Valley Community College vs. FIRE, Free Speech and Fairness

Wait a minute...YES! It's FIRE to the rescue!!

Will someone please  tell me what is going on with colleges and universities lately?

Has there been a collective nervous breakdown among administrators? Is the stress getting to be too much? As the walls close in, with institutions realizing that they are charging far too much for diplomas that neither signify knowledge nor enhance employability, are they abusing power in a futile effort to pretend they are in control of a deteriorating situation beyond their control? I don’t know, but thank heaven for the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education, whose mission of protecting students and academics from abusive restrictions on their rights of free though and expression on university campuses is more crucial than ever.

FIRE’s latest rescue mission was on behalf of Marc Bechtol, a student at Catawba Valley Community College in North Carolina. In June, the College announced that all students would receive a CVCC branded Debit Mastercard according to the institution’s partnership with Higher One, a financial services company. The debit card also serves as the official student ID, so there was no way to opt out of the arrangement. In order to activate his card, Bechtol and other students were required to supply their Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and student numbers. Bechtol smelled a rat, and he has a good nose: this arrangement may be legal, but it is unethical. The school is forcing students to do business with a for-profit entity that will have access to sensitive and personal data. Bechtol objected to CVCC and Higher One  marketing its checking accounts through emails to students, making claims that they would get their tuition refunds and Pell Grants faster if they opened Higher One accounts.  One such email had the subject line, “Want your refund? Activate your CVCC Onecard today!”

After Bechtol activated his own debit card, he said he received a marketing phone call from Orchard Bank, trying to get him to apply for a credit card—smoking gun evidence that his proprietary information, forced out of him by his college, was being sold to marketing firms. Annoyed, Bechtol sharply criticized CVCC’s unethical partnership with Higher One on the school’s Facebook page, writing “Did anyone else get a bunch of credit card spam in their CVCC inbox today? So, did CVCC sell our names to banks, or did Higher One? I think we should register CVCC’s address with every porn site known to man. Anyone know any good viruses to send them? …OK, maybe that would be a slight overreaction.”

One week after posting this, Bechtol was taken out of a class by the CVCC Executive Officer of Student Services and told that he would not be permitted to return. Continue reading

The Ethics Of Refusing To Help Wikileaks

Do private corporations have an ethical obligation to allow Wikileaks to use their services? MasterCard, Visa and PayPal stopped processing Wikileaks donations. Amazon kicked the site off its server. Twitter stopped its tweets; Facebook stopped its interfacing.

Columbia University Professor Tim Wu rhetorically asked them:

“Since when are you in the business of deciding who is and who isn’t a good civil disobedience movement?”

Before I address the Professor’s question, let’s make some distinctions. Continue reading