Private letter goes viral; student suspended, reinstated
In February 2017, University of Central Florida (UCF) junior Nick Lutz found a four-page, handwritten letter tucked under the windshield wiper of his truck. The letter, signed “Love, Elizabeth,” was from his ex-girlfriend who claimed it was the only way to reach him. Lutz had blocked her on social media. Upon reading the letter, Lutz decided to edit it, marking it up with a red pen and giving it a final grade of 61/100, or D-. He took a picture of his work and tweeted it before mailing the letter back to Elizabeth. The tweet went viral. The following summer, as a result of the viral tweet, UCF decided to suspend Nick Lutz and give him additional sanctions, all of which he appealed.
Nick Lutz was a rising senior studying sports management at the University of Central Florida when he received notice that he would be suspended for the summer and fall 2017 semesters, placed on probation until he graduated, and assigned a mentor. UCF imposed these sanctions in response to his viral tweet from February.
Elizabeth is Lutz’s ex-girlfriend who wrote the graded letter. Her last name, social media accounts and contact information were never revealed. She was not a student at UCF.
Jacob Stuart is a close friend of the Lutz family and served as Nick’s attorney in his appeal against the school’s decision, calling it an unconstitutional violation of free speech and expression.
Nick Lutz’s tweet received approximately 121,000 retweets, or shares, and it was liked over 338,000 times. Around five months after the tweet went viral, UCF decided to take action against the student. After Elizabeth, who was reportedly still in high school at the time, complained to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office before reaching out to UCF with her concern that she was being cyber-bullied, Lutz was called in for a meeting with the directors of student conduct and Title IX to discuss the repercussions of his tweet.
Lutz left the meeting with a feeling that something would be done to punish him for his actions, reports The Washington Post. Days later, he was informed of his suspension and additional sanctions. He was put on academic probation for the remainder of his time at UCF, and he had to give a presentation and write a five-page paper about the impact of his actions on others. He was also assigned an academic mentor. CNN reports that Lutz said, “I was told before that probation was the most likely outcome. To hear suspension attached to my name made me outraged.” Although he expressed initial guilt about the tweet, Lutz ultimately stood by his actions, claiming that his “intent from the beginning was never to expose her.”
His attorney, Jacob Stuart, argued that dishing out sanctions such as those given to Lutz set a dangerous precedent for the university’s monitoring of student social media. He claimed in his formal appeal, which was posted in full on Lutz’s social media accounts, that the punishment was a clear violation of Lutz’s first amendment right to free expression, because while he was clearly making fun of his ex, he said nothing demeaning, derogatory, or threatening about her.
The university did not comment on the situation. UCF spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin claimed Nick and the Lutz family would have to waive his FERPA rights in order for administrators to discuss the student’s affairs publicly.
Charges Against Lutz Dropped by University
Just days after his suspension, UCF granted Lutz’s request for an appeal. Soon after, the university dismissed the charges against him, revoking the sanctions and reversing his suspension, saying, “Though your reported behavior is concerning, it does not appear to be an expressed violation of a Rule of Conduct.”
Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18
December 1, 2017