A non-profit foundation that advocates for civil liberties on college campuses is urging Texas Christian University to reverse penalties and sanctions applied to a student after objections were made to content he had posted on Twitter and Facebook.
Harry Vincent was penalized for posts he made related to the recent protests in Baltimore, the Islamic State, and the threat of terrorism, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. His suspension came after a Tumblr user created a post containing screenshots of some of Vincent’s posts. The user labeled Vincent’s commentary "racist" and "disgusting" and asked readers to contact TCU to report his speech.
The Tumblr user, who resides in Maryland, is not a TCU student.
In a letter to TCU, the foundation urged the university to reverse the sanctions applied to Vincent for his protected extracurricular expression.
"If the TCU administration is willing to punish its students every time they offend someone on the Internet, TCU students should be very afraid," said Ari Cohn, an attorney and senior program office for Legal and Public Advocacy at the foundation, in a prepared 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."
Under the terms of his suspension, Vincent may only attend his classes and may not reside on campus. He may not participate in any co-curricular activities or make use of any non-academic facilities on campus. He is also required to complete a course on "Issues in Diversity," to complete 60 hours of community service, and to meet with Glory Robinson, the dean of campus life, on a regular basis.
The foundation also expressed dismay with what it called the lack of due process at work in the university’s handling of the case, suggesting that it coerced an apology from Vincent.
"These disciplinary actions directly contradict TCU’s promises of free expression and unacceptably chill speech in the TCU community, ultimately damaging the free flow of information and the robust, open debate that TCU claims to value," the foundation wrote to Victor Boschini, TCU’s chancellor.
Although TCU is a private university and thus not legally bound by the First Amendment, the foundation argues that it is both morally and contractually bound to honor the repeated promises of freedom of expression that it makes to its students. That includes the university’s demonstration guidelines, which state that "TCU firmly supports the rights of all members of the University community to express their views."
"If TCU no longer believes student rights are important, it should just come out and say so," said Cohn. "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," said Cohn.