A student at Texas Christian University has been banned from living on campus or participating in any extracurricular activities due to posts he made on Facebook and Twitter that aroused the wrath of an Internet activist.
Under the terms of his punishment, Harry Vincent may attend his classes on campus but do essentially nothing else until he graduates from the school. He is also expected to perform 60 hours of community service and must take a course titled “Issues in Diversity” taught by the school’s social work department.
What precisely is Vincent’s offense? Hurting the feelings of others on Twitter and Facebook.
More specifically, he called the people of Baltimore “hoodrats” during last April’s riots there, mocked the notion of Islam being a “religion of peace,” and at one point quipped that “When I said you would be reincarnated as a beaner I was being generous.”
A Tumblr user named Kelsey, who apparently lives in Maryland and doesn’t attend TCU (her exact identity is unknown, though), compiled Vincent’s remarks in to a post on her Tumblr blog, which included a Twitter exchange where Vincent told her to “chill the fuck out you Islamic shit head.” Kelsey then urged other users to complain to TCU about his conduct.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the reaction from TCU to Kelsey’s criticism was quick. On April 29 (just one day after Kelsey’s initial post), TCU sent Vincent a letter accusing him of violating student code provisions against “disorderly conduct” and the “infliction of bodily or emotional harm.” After a meeting with an administrator two days later, Vincent was ordered by Associate Dean Glory Robinson to write out an apology for his actions that included a proposed punishment.
Only after Vincent produced his apology did TCU, on May 8, announce that it had found Vincent guilty and was punishing him with “suspension in abeyance,” which restricts him to attending classes with a full suspension or expulsion to follow if he has any additional student conduct violations. Vincent appealed and last week had his punishment upheld.
FIRE has been quick to take up Vincent’s cause, accusing TCU of bungling the issue from beginning to end. Since TCU is a private school, Vincent’s comments aren’t protected by the First Amendment, but FIRE notes that the school’s student handbook explicitly says “TCU firmly supports the rights of all members of the University community to express their views.”
“If the TCU administration is willing to punish its students every time they offend someone on the Internet, TCU students should be very afraid,” FIRE attorney Ariel Cohn said in the grou’s statement. “That TCU would sacrifice its students’ free speech and due process rights to appease a social media mob betrays where its priorities lie—with its public relations department, not its students’ fundamental rights.”
FIRE also faulted TCU for ordering Vincent to produce an apology before it even found him guilty. Such an approach, they say, effectively entrapped him and also totally contradicted the school’s policies. The school’s student handbook explicitly guarantees an accused student “the right to remain silent about any incident in which he is a suspect. No form of harassment shall be used by an institutional representative to coerce admissions of guilt.”
FIRE has written a letter to TCU calling on the school to vacate its ruling against Vincent, and pledging to use all the resources it has to advance his cause until the school does so. Thus far, TCU hasn’t responded specifically to FIRE’s allegations, though the school did send a general statement when The Daily Caller News Foundation inquired about the matter.