Free Speech on Campus graphic

Instructor faces backlash after berating student, revealing private information on public forum – June 2018

San Diego, CA

After a lecturer at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) revealed personal academic information about a student in a public online forum, students accused her of violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The university launched an investigation into the incident in June 2018, which is still ongoing.

Key Players

Rundong Zhong is a fourth-year student of mathematics and computer science at UCSD. He transferred there from Irvine Valley College, a small community college about 70 miles north.

Susan Marx holds the rank of “continuing lecturer” at UCSD, where she teaches computer science classes, including Introduction to Programming and Fluency/Information Technology, the course in which Zhong was enrolled.

Further Details

In June 2018, in Marx’s class, Zhong asked via Piazza, a online forum instructors often use to answer students’ questions publicly, whether he could post “funny stuff” (i.e. a photo of a cat) as part of a class website project. In the assignment’s instructions, students were to choose a “picture that represents your planned UCSD academics.”

Marx rejected Zhong’s request and, in the same public comment, revealed some of Zhong’s sensitive personal academic information before ridiculing the community college he had previously attended as being inferior to UCSD. She also told Zhong he would receive no credit for the assignment unless he changed the photo in question, which he did, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Zhong consented to changing the picture, but was dismayed by Marx’s comments, which read as follows:

“Your homepage image of a cat does NOT relate to your UCSD academic career as required in Lab#1. I will reprimand the tutor who approved of it,” Marx wrote, according to a screenshot of the post circulated online. “Since you are on academic PROBATION as a Math/CS major, and failed CSE major course, please *THINK* of your actions, BEFORE you escalate your penalty to major consequences. UCSD is of the highest in international academic standings and NOT the same as your Irvine Valley College. Humor can be offensive to some and to others amusing depending on culture, politics, and ethics.”

Zhong wrote to The Chronicle that the comment made him feel that Marx did not think he was “as good as other students.” But many other UCSD students were similarly alarmed, because they saw the post as a violation of FERPA, which mandates that schools have an eligible student’s written permission to release information from his or her education record. (An eligible student means one who has reached 18 years of age and attends a postsecondary institution.) According to The Triton, UCSD’s independent, student-run newspaper, students rallied their peers to report Marx to the Office for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment or to the UCSD FERPA compliance officer. They also protested Marx’s action by creating a website that combines a summary of the incident with the original picture Zhong had posted.

Zhong saw the incident as emblematic of greater privacy concerns, and he expressed hope that his story inspires any other students who were shamed by Marx to speak up, according to The Triton.

“Every professor has the power to look through [a] student’s private information…every student in UCSD [could potentially] get private information leaked,” Zhong said to The Triton. “What we should really do is figure out who gave professors the power to look through student academic information and why.”


University investigates the incident

On June 12, Dean M. Tullsen, chair of the CSE department, said the university was investigating the incident, according to The Chronicle. As of August 14, 2018, the investigation into the incident was still ongoing, Tullsen wrote in an email to the Free Speech Project.

“UCSD CSE department believes very strongly in treating all students with respect, and greatly values the privacy of each student,” Tullsen told The Chronicle. “Any actions that violate those principles will be taken very seriously.”

Given the case’s unresolved status, Marx did not teach her scheduled summer session courses, and was instead assigned other duties in the department. Although she apologized for her actions in statements to both publications, the open investigation precluded her from offering further comment.

“The public posting of this information was inadvertent and I am deeply sorry,” she wrote to The Triton.

External References

Instructor Faces Backlash After She Belittles Student on Class Forum, The Chronicle of Higher Education

CSE Professor Publicly Humiliates Student on Class Forum, The Triton


Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded August 21, 2018


Free Speech on Campus graphic

Student demonstration at career fair prompts university investigation – April 19, 2018

San Luis Obispo, CA

During a career fair at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo (SLO) on April 19, 2018, seven students from the SLO Peace Coalition protested for 18 minutes in front of a table for the defense contractor Raytheon. Two weeks later, several of the students who participated in the demonstration received emails from Cal Poly’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, informing them they were under investigation by the university to determine whether they had disrupted the career fair. The case was dismissed two months later.

Key Players

SLO Peace Coalition (SLOPC) is a student organization at Cal Poly that urges university administration to divest from the “war economy,” which would include cutting ties with fossil fuel companies and weapons manufacturers. Its first meeting as a club was on November 10, 2017. According to its Facebook page, the SLOPC demands five actions from the university: stop making new investments in weapon producers and fossil fuel companies; divest sponsored lab spaces tied to them within two years; invest in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and other “clean” solutions; support students interested in careers outside the defense sector; and implement a “Socially Responsible Investment policy.”

Cal Poly’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (OSSR) enforces the university’s student conduct code. OSSR seeks to address behavioral problems in a “developmental and educational manner with the goal of fostering the ethical development and personal integrity of students,” according to its mission statement.

Raytheon is a US aerospace and defense contractor that earned $25 billion in 2017 and employed 64,000 workers around the world, according to the company’s website. Raytheon has close ties to Cal Poly. Ed Ware, a senior manager at the company, sits on the board of the university’s Career Services Advisory Council, and the former chairman and CEO of Raytheon, William Swanson, is on the board of the Cal Poly Foundation.

Mick Bruckner, who graduated from Cal Poly in June 2018, participated in some 25 campus protests during his four years at the university, according to an interview he gave to KCBX, the public radio station in San Luis Obispo. In addition to his involvement with the SLOPC, Bruckner has participated in protests with the Cal Poly Students for Quality Education, the Cal Poly Queer Student Association, and Time’s Up Cal Poly. He helped to organize the April 19 protest at the career fair, and was the first to receive a notice from OSSR that he was under investigation.

Further Details

Six students from the SLOPC sat on the ground directly in front of one of Raytheon’s three tables at the annual Cal Poly spring career fair on April 19, 2018, while a seventh handed out fliers, filmed parts of the demonstration, and interacted with university representatives. A video posted on the SLOPC’s Facebook page showed the students holding a banner that read, “Divest From War/Stop The War Machine/SLO Peace Coalition,” while singing a protest song based on “God Bless America” that included lyrics accusing Raytheon of “killing across the world for that war money” and calling on the company to “lay your weapons down.”

Thirteen days later, Mick Bruckner, who had helped to organize the protest, received an email from OSSR informing him he was being investigated for “violating multiple codes of conduct” when he “disrupted” the career fair, Bruckner told KCBX. He said the letter also accused him of having an “unpermitted sign.” Other student demonstrators soon received similar emails from the OSSR.

In an email to KCBX, Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote that the demonstration was susceptible to investigation due to “Campus Administrative Policy 140,” or the university’s time, place, and manner guidelines. “To ensure that the exercise of the right of free expression does not interfere with university functions…the university maintains and enforces campus regulations regarding the time, place and manner of the exercise of free expression by individuals and groups,” he wrote. Lazier said the investigation was warranted because the career fair was a private, university-sponsored event. If it were confirmed that a violation of university policy took place, he explained, the students could face disciplinary action—which could range from loss of financial aid to expulsion.

SLOPC published a petition, which had received 3,420 signatures as of August 13, 2018, calling for Cal Poly to drop its investigation. It noted several previous protests on campus and questioned why the university had chosen to investigate this one. For example, in response to a protest against a visit by activist Milo Yiannopoulos, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong had said, “As a public university, Cal Poly is required to uphold free speech rights and provide an open forum for a variety of opinions, thoughts and ideas even those that may be distasteful or offensive.”

In late May 2018, Armstrong commented on the April 19 protest, saying, “Free speech rights do not include the right to disrupt university events.”


University investigation dropped due to insufficient evidence

Two months after the OSSR notified SLOPC student protesters they were being investigated, university officials announced that the investigation was being dropped after a preliminary review of the case. According to an email statement Lazier sent to The Tribune, a “full investigation was not warranted after finding insufficient evidence that violations of student conduct had occurred.”

SLOPC calls on university to offer academic accommodations, apology, and compensation

On June 6, 2018, after the university announced that the investigation had been dropped, SLOPC published a statement on its Facebook page asking OSSR and Armstrong to “arrange appropriate academic accommodations and compensation” for “unwarranted academic and emotional distress.” The group also called on the university to “issue an immediate apology for its disparate treatment of free speech rights on our campus” and to “implement training programs for all campus employees regarding proper engagement with student protest as well as issue a formal statement to the campus community.”

External References

Cal Poly drops investigation into students’ anti-war protest, The Tribune

Cal Poly SLO students say they face investigation, possible punishment for protesting career fair, The Tribune

Chapter 100: University Organization and Campuswide Policies, Cal Poly Campus Administrative Policies

Free speech or disruption? Cal Poly student protests sparks university investigation, KCBX Central Coast Public Radio

Raytheon ‘Who We Are’ page, Raytheon official website

The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities Homepage

Video of SLO Peace Coalition protest, SLO Peace Coalition Facebook page

Cal Poly Drops Investigation Against Peaceful Protesters, SLOPC Facebook page

Prepared by Erin Doherty ‘20

Uploaded August 20, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Syracuse University bans fraternity and suspends members for offensive skit; adjunct professor loses job after opposing decision – June 5, 2018

Syracuse, NY

As part of their pledging process, students in Syracuse University’s (SU) Theta Tau fraternity staged a skit that mocked disabled people, simulated sexual assault, and used explicit racist and anti-Semitic slurs and stereotypes. SU banned the fraternity permanently, and suspended fifteen of its members from the university for up to two years. Adjunct instructor Stuart Card expressed concern over the affair in an email exchange, and the university representative with whom he was corresponding reportedly informed him he would not be rehired to teach at SU.

Key Players

Fifteen members of the Theta Tau fraternity, some pledges and some initiated “brothers,” were suspended from the university for two years after videos of skits they had staged were sent to the school newspaper, The Daily Orange. Created as part of their pledging process, the skits featured vulgar, offensive, and racist scenes.

Stuart Card was an adjunct faculty member in the SU Engineering College before his alleged firing in April 2018. According to his LinkedIn profile, Card worked at SU intermittently between 2011 and 2018. He characterizes his work at the university thus: “I enjoyed and learned from teaching: both graduate level special topics electives in Computer Science, mostly for practitioners in local industry and a military laboratory; and service courses for non-CS [computer science] major undergraduates. I regret that in the current political climate, where free speech on campus is suppressed, I cannot continue.” He lists AZ Enterprise, where he is a principal engineer, as his primary place of employment.

Further Details

On March 30, 2018, pledges to the Theta Tau fraternity staged skits allegedly caricaturing their fraternity brothers, using racist, anti-Semitic, and ableist jokes. One of the skits was based on a member becoming mentally disabled after being “whipped” by his girlfriend, and the other depicted a member pledging always to hate black, Latinx, and Jewish people. Both mimed non-consensual sexual acts.

Videos of these skits were posted to a private Facebook group for the fraternity. Soon after, an anonymous individual sent them to the Orange, which released the first video on Youtube on April 18, 2018. Kent Syverud, chancellor and president of SU, suspended the fraternity almost immediately. On April 21, the Orange released the second video, and in response the university announced its decision to expel its Theta Tau chapter permanently.

The students involved claimed these skits were primarily intended to make fun of an older fraternity member, who was politically conservative. In a lawsuit filed against SU after the videos were released, five of the members characterized the skits as a “Roast [which] is a time-honored Chapter tradition that builds unity by satirically and hyperbolically depicting brothers.”

A few days after SU’s decision to expel Theta Tau, Card responded to an email about the matter from the College of Engineering and Computer Science, expressing his view that the university’s efforts to shield students from offensive opinions did a “disservice” to them and to the academic profession at large. He said he had been toughened in his youth by emotional and physical bullying, and that “coddling promotes weakness.” Card closed his email by urging the administration to “put me on a ‘do not hire as an adjunct any more’ list if you consider my position so objectionable as to disqualify me from further service.”

According to an email from the College of Computer Science and Engineering that Card shared with Inside Higher Ed, the university administrator who sent the initial email responded to his objections by saying, “Yes, I do consider your position to disqualify you from further service teaching our students. Your views do not align with the values of the college,” and “Kindly stop referring to yourself as an adjunct associate professor.”

Card released a two-and-a-half-page statement on April 23, 2018, titled “Why I am no longer SU faculty,” in which he described his contact with the SU administration and expounded on the reasons for his so-called “little protest” against the “propaganda” and “confusion…with which we are surrounded.” The statement and Card’s argument garnered him national attention and an interview on Fox News.

Though numerous news outlets reported that Card was “fired” for his comments, an SU spokeswoman asserted that in fact he had not been employed by the university since 2015.


Theta Tau members given two-year suspension and other punishment

Eighteen members of the fraternity, including both pledges and initiated brothers, were investigated by SU’s student affairs office and the Department of Public Safety in relation to the skits obtained and released by the Orange. The university filed formal complaints against all 18 in April, three of whom immediately accepted unspecified punishment. The remaining 15 went through the university’s judicial process to determine their punishment, according to In the meantime, SU decided to remove those students “from academic participation,” instead making “alternate class and study arrangements” for them during the judicial process, reported the Orange. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to Syverud in May 2018 to demand that the disciplinary actions against the fraternity members be revoked. According to FIRE, SU violated the First Amendment rights of the students involved. The university proceeded with the students’ punishments.

The SU administration handed down its official rulings for the 15 students on June 5, 2018, finding them guilty of violating the university’s code of conduct and suspending them each for up to two years. The students will be required to re-apply to the university if they want to resume their education there, and they will have to prove they have committed themselves to academic or professional work during their suspension, read three books related to inclusion and/or bystander intervention, and completed 160 hours of community service.

Nine suspended fraternity members file suit against SU

Five of the Theta Tau members disciplined by SU anonymously sued the university in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, also naming Syverud; Pamela Peter, assistant dean of student rights and affairs; Robert Hradsky, dean of students; and Teresa Abi-Nader Dahlberg, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, as individual defendants.

On July 10, 2018, four more fraternity members joined the lawsuit, bringing the number of plaintiffs to nine. They claim that SU ignored the satirical context of the skits and unjustly painted the fraternity members as sexist, racist, and anti-Semitic in order to protect the university’s reputation.

External References

Theta Tau pledges stage offensive skit, youtube

The second skit from the Theta Tau pledges, youtube

Syracuse University Hearing Results, June 5, 2018

Letter to Syracuse University, May 4, 2018, FIRE

Video: SU suspends Theta Tau fraternity after video of ‘extremely racist’ behavior surfaces, The Daily Orange

Complaints filed against 18 people present at Theta Tau event, The Daily Orange

SU permanently expels Theta Tau chapter, The Daily Orange

SU suspends students involved in Theta Tau videos, The Daily Orange

Syracuse University suspends, does not expel, Theta Tau students in videos, lawyer says,

Why I Am No Longer SU Faculty

‘Fired’ for Free Speech?, Inside Higher Ed

5 Theta Tau brothers in Syracuse frat video file lawsuit against university,

Four more Theta Tau members sue Syracuse University over controversial videos, CNYCentral

Fraternity Members Suspended for Racist, Homophobic Video, Inside Higher Ed

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Uploaded August 20, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

University of Southern Maine removes artwork by sex offender from campus exhibition – May 2018

Lewiston, ME

In April 2018, the University of Southern Maine (USM) removed three pieces of artwork from an on-campus art show on its Lewiston-Auburn campus, after learning that the artist had once been convicted of sex-related crimes. In the aftermath of the decision, many criticized USM for its decision, and for not using the opportunity to have a discussion on the moral complexities underlying the case.

Key Players

Bruce Habowski, a 51-year-old artist living in Waterville, Maine, was convicted of unlawful sexual contact in 1999, a felony for which he served six months in prison. According to the Sun Journal, he also had two sex-related misdemeanor convictions around the same time, one involving a juvenile. Habowski is a prolific and highly regarded oil painter, and submitted three pieces for the “Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape” art show at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn campus.

Janice L. Moore, a local painter, was the guest-curator for the show, which ran from March 12 to June 1, 2018. She was responsible for selecting the artwork to be displayed. The gallery contained about 70 pieces of art from approximately 30 artists. Moore said she did not consider the background of each artist when deciding which works to include. She was upset that the university eliminated Habowski’s paintings, saying that she did not understand why he was being punished for the crime a second time, after he had already “paid his debt” years ago.

Glenn Cummings is president of USM. He initially refused to comment on the situation, allowing the general statement the university had released to speak for itself. But following increased scrutiny and adverse reactions, Cummings made an additional explanatory statement regarding the removal of the artwork.

Further Details

The art show opened on March 12, 2018, in the Atrium Gallery on USM’s Lewiston-Auburn campus, part of the main entryway to the school. About three weeks later, university administrators received a complaint from a relative of a victim of one of Habowski’s crimes, and decided the artist’s three paintings should be removed. Moore, the curator, was reportedly “livid” about this decision, according to the Portland Press Herald.

“He was convicted for his crime and he paid his debt. The act of making art, to me, it seems is a very positive thing. You are contributing to society in a positive way. I don’t understand how that should be punished,” she said. But Moore ultimately had to defer to the decision of USM administrators, since the gallery is a university-owned and -operated gallery. Following the removal of Habowski’s artwork, she chose to leave the spaces on the wall blank, save for a note which read: “This painting has been removed by order of the USM President.”

Eventually, the university released a statement on the matter, saying only that “USM received a complaint from a member of the public. The complaint was not about the content of the art, but the artist. After careful review, USM decided to remove his works from this exhibit.” Although Habowski was not named in the statement, nor by Moore, news outlets were able to determine that it was his paintings that were removed by examining the roster of artists included in the gallery show.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) disagreed with the university’s decision to remove Habowski’s paintings, saying, “As a public institution, USM not only should uphold freedom of expression, it also has a legal obligation to do so.” FIRE cited the university’s free speech guidelines, which read, “Academic freedom is the freedom to present and discuss all relevant matters in and beyond the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research and creative expression, and to speak or write without any censorship, threat, restraint, or discipline by the University with regard to the pursuit of truth in the performance of one’s teaching, research, publishing or service obligation.”


Critics complain about removal of artwork

Moore was not alone in decrying the university’s decision to remove Habowski’s art. The artist himself would not comment on the matter to any news outlet, but revealed to one reporter that he was disappointed the show had received mostly negative attention due to his paintings. The Portland chapter of the Union of Maine Visual Artists expressed its frustration over the decision by sending a letter to Cummings, and the National Coalition Against Censorship released a statement urging USM to return the artwork and to “adopt clear free speech guidelines for future exhibitions.”

USM president defends decision

Cummings did not initially comment on the situation, but following increasing backlash, he released a statement explaining the rationale for removing Habowski’s artwork. He observed that allowing the pieces of art to remain on display could potentially “serve as a trigger for…students and staff who have been victims of child abuse and sexual assault.” Cummings specifically drew attention to the physical location of the gallery, noting that “since the display is at the campus main entrance where…students and staff…enter and exit, the potential to trigger is very real. This is very different from a controversial speaker in which students choose—or not—to attend.”

External References

USM president defends decision to remove sex offender’s artwork in Lewiston, Sun Journal

Sex offender’s art removed from Lewiston exhibit, Sun Journal

By censoring art, University of Southern Maine misses an opportunity, FIRE

Sex offender’s artwork pulled from USM show at Lewiston-Auburn gallery, Portland Press Herald

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded August 8, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

High school valedictorian’s microphone disabled when speech veers off script – June 2, 2018

Petaluma, CA

Petaluma High School (PHS) valedictorian Lulabel Seitz had her microphone cut in the middle of delivering her commencement address. She was beginning to discuss her school’s handling of sexual assault when the interruption occurred, and she was unable to finish her speech.

Key Players

Lulabel Seitz graduated from PHS, located about 40 miles north of San Francisco, California, in June 2018. As valedictorian of her class, the 17-year-old was invited to give a speech during her graduation ceremony. According to the portion of her speech she was able to deliver, Seitz, the granddaughter of immigrants from the Philippines, is the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She will study applied mathematics and economics at Stanford University beginning in the fall of 2018, reported The Press Democrat. Seitz had the script of her original speech approved by school administrators, and it contained no mention of the school’s history with addressing sexual assault.

David Stirrat is the principal of PHS. He decided that Seitz’s microphone should be turned off during her commencement address.

Further Details

Seitz was approximately four minutes into her commencement speech at the June 2, 2018, graduation ceremony when she began to veer off-script. Her original script had been approved by school administrators, but when Seitz began discussing sexual assault — a topic not included in her text — administrators cut her microphone. She stepped to the side of the podium, reported the Press Democrat, and demanded that the microphone be turned back on, while members of the audience and her fellow students began to encourage her, chanting “Let her speak!” Despite these efforts, she was not permitted to continue.

Before her microphone was turned off, Seitz talked about struggles the school had faced during the previous school year, including dealing with the widespread wildfires that plagued Northern California in October of 2017. According to the full version of her speech, which she later posted on YouTube, she then moved into a discussion of some of her personal struggles. Seitz was allegedly assaulted on the PHS campus during high school, and she felt frustrated with what she perceived as a lackluster response from the PHS administration. She was preparing to allude to this grievance in her speech on graduation day, when her microphone was cut, although she had yet to say anything specific about sexual assault.

According to The Washington Post, the last words Seitz was able to deliver were: “The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream and to create change. Which is why even when some people on this campus, those same people — ”

Stirrat later explained that before the ceremony he and other school administrators had been alerted to the fact that Seitz might go off-script and bring up topics not covered in the script she originally submitted for approval.

According the the Press Democrat, Stirrat said he cut off Seitz’s speech because he was “trying to make sure our graduation ceremony was appropriate and beautiful.”

David Rose, assistant superintendent of student services for the Petaluma Unified School District, told the Press Democrat that turning off Seitz’s microphone was well within the school’s legal authority. “If the school is providing the forum, then the school has the ability to have some control over the message,” he said.


Valedictorian prevented from finishing speech, posts it on YouTube

In a phone interview with the Press Democrat, Seitz said, “I thought this is a public school with freedom of speech…. Even if the administration doesn’t give me a mic, I still want to speak.”

She posted the address in its entirety to YouTube. The video includes footage of the interrupted speech from graduation day, as well as a recording of her later reciting the speech in full. In the caption to the video, Seitz wrote, “The Petaluma High School administration infringed on my freedom of speech…. For weeks, they have threatened me against ‘speaking against them’ in my speech.”

In response to Seitz’s accusation of censorship, which she repeated in interviews, school officials said that graduation speakers had been warned that if they went off-message, they risked having their microphones cut.

Assistant Principal Deborah Richardson said she told Seitz during a meeting before graduation that “the expectation is that the speech you submitted is the speech you will give.”

As of July 28, 2018, Seitz’s video had been viewed more than 412,000 times.

External References

This valedictorian began to talk about sexual misconduct at her graduation. Then her mic was cut. The Washington Post

Petaluma High School Valedictorian’s Speech Cut Off When She Veers From Approved Script, NBC Bay Area

Lulabel Seitz graduation speech, “Valedictorian Mic Cut :: Uncensored Speech,” YouTube video

Petaluma High School valedictorian ‘appalled’ after mic cut off during her graduation speech, The Press Democrat

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded July 28, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Texas high school censors paper, fires award-winning journalism adviser – March 2018

Prosper, TX

After experiencing several instances of administrative censorship, a high school newspaper in Prosper, Texas, learned that its award-winning veteran adviser would not have her contract renewed. The Student Press Law Center learned of the incident and sent a letter to the school district’s superintendent criticizing the high school’s pattern of censorship.

Key Players

Eagle Nation Online is the school newspaper at Prosper High School (PHS) in Prosper, Texas, a small town directly north of Dallas, that began publishing in 2016.

Lori Oglesbee-Petter was a journalism teacher at PHS from May 2016 to May 2018, when her contract came to an end. Oglesbee-Petter advised high school publications in three different states over the course of 34 years and has been involved in the Journalism Education Association (JEA). She has also won pedagogical commendations, being named 2005 Texas Journalism Teacher of the Year and JEA’s 2009 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year. She served on JEA’s executive board for more than a decade.

During Oglesbee-Petter’s short tenure at PHS, her journalism students collectively won more than 175 state and national journalism awards. For example, in April 2018, three staffers from the Eagle Nation Online staff won Gold Key awards from the Quill and Scroll International Journalism Society for their photography work. Four of the paper’s staffers were also selected for the University Interscholastic League (UIL) All State Journalism team, a form of academic competition across Texas.

John Burdett has been the principal at PHS since March 2017. He allegedly criticized the Eagle for publishing articles that were unflattering to the school and not “uplifting” to the community.

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) is a nonprofit legal assistance agency that focuses on defending the rights of high school and college journalists.

Further Details

The Eagle Nation Online faced at least two incidents of censorship by the PHS administration in the 2017 – 2018 school year. The school district’s policy is that school administrators and trustees retain final editorial authority over school-funded publications, including the Eagle. The board of trustees of Prosper Independent School District (ISD) is predominantly made up of parents of Prosper ISD students, with one former school administrator.

“All publications edited, printed, or distributed in the name of or within the District schools shall be under the control of the school administration and the Board,” reads the PHS prior review policy, according to the SPLC.

In October 2017, Eagle copy editor Isabella Abraham, then a high school junior, published an article discussing a senior class event that had been cancelled due to miscommunication between past administrators and Burdett, the current principal. The day after the article was published, Burdett told Oglesbee-Petter to remove the story from the site, saying it was not uplifting or accurate, reported the SPLC. According to a letter sent by the paper’s staff to administrators, Burdett also claimed the story painted former principal Gregory Wright in a negative manner. The Eagle stood by the accuracy of the story and argued it was important to clarify the status of the event for PHS seniors.

In February 2018, then-junior and staff writer Haley Stack authored an editorial criticizing the high school’s decision to remove the novel A Separate Peace from the 10th grade English curriculum. Though no reason was given for the book’s removal, Stack theorized the book’s homoerotic undertones were the impetus.

“Censorship of books is censorship of thinking for yourself,” Stack wrote.

A week later, Burdett asked for the editorial to be removed because of grammatical errors and “a lack of positivity,” according to the SPLC. Eagle staff acknowledged that there were exactly two grammatical errors — an extraneous period and an apostrophe missing form the word “let’s.”

Following the removal of Stack’s article, the paper’s staff was told that any story which could be considered controversial, depicts the school negatively, or opposes “community norms” must be sent to administration for prior review before publication. Although they complied with this directive, Eagle staff wrote in an April 2018 letter to the school’s administration that it found the policy unnecessary.

“Since we did not want to be censored again or have any more restrictions, we sent [Burdett] every story that was questionable,” the letter read. “We do not think that Eagle Nation Online will need this kind of prior review next year, with or without our current adviser.”

The letter alluded to the termination of Oglesbee-Petter, which had been announced the previous month. In March 2018, Eagle staff were informed that she would not return as their adviser after the school year concluded. Burdett was not required to explain the decision because Oglesbee-Petter was a temporary staff member, but some Eagle staffers saw the move as retaliatory. According to the terms of her contract, Oglesbee-Petter was not permitted to speak with reporters inquiring about the newspaper’s situation.

In its April letter, the staff petitioned Burdett, the superintendent, and members of the school board to allow Oglesbee-Petter to return. The letter also criticized prior incidents of censorship, among other matters.

“We feel a school newspaper is vital […] because a student’s voice when found and used to stand up for their beliefs, can not only make the student body more engaged but can change the school for the better,” the staff wrote.

Eagle staff never received a reply, according to then-junior and associate editor Neha Madhira. However, Madhira recalled Burdett mentioning the letter to her in an April 2018 interview and calling it “false,” according to the SPLC.

In May 2018, Madhira authored an editorial criticizing a team bonding activity Burdett organized in response to school shootings across the country. Burdett blocked the publication of the editorial, saying it was inaccurate and not representative of the opinions of all PHS students.

He subsequently prohibited the publication of any editorials by the Eagle. This policy remained in place as of June 2018.

“Any problem we face that we wanted to write about, we were censored. It’s like he just wanted happy news out there,” Madhira said in an interview with the Dallas News.

“If a story goes against the community norms, I will say no. […] That’s part of the reason I was hired … to make sure that what is being published is a fair representation of Prosper High School or Prosper ISD,” Burdett said in a meeting with Madhira, a recording of which was obtained by the Dallas News. “That doesn’t mean we couldn’t publish something controversial.”


SPLC sends a letter to Prosper High School administrators

On May 31, 2018, the SPLC sent a letter to Drew Watkins, the superintendent of the Prosper Independent School District, calling on him to “intervene in the situation” at PHS. The letter was signed by 17 other organizations, including the Journalism Education Association (JEA) and the National Coalition Against Censorship, and expressed the SPLC’s concern over the incidents of censorship at PHS and the dismissal of Oglesbee-Petter.

On June 1, Watkins was injured in an accident while out for a morning run, putting him out of his office for “an undetermined period of time to recover from his injuries,” according to a tweet from the Prosper Press, a local newspaper. Watkins was released from the hospital on June 19. There has been no response yet to the SPLC’s letter.

External References

Prosper ISD School Board Members

Staff members win international awards, Eagle Nation Online

Texas principal censors paper, bans all editorials and ousts award-winning adviser, Student Press Law Center

Prosper High School journalists allege newspaper censorship by principal, fight editorial policy, Dallas News

Texas school faces censorship, St. Louis Park Echo

SPLC sends letter to Texas school district to stop censoring student media, 17 orgs sign on, Student Press Law Center

Alleged censorship of high school paper fuels hope for legislative action, The Texas Monitor

Some news on @ProsperISD Superintendent Dr. Drew Watkins, Twitter

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded July 9, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Florida teen faces disciplinary action after racist ‘promposal’  – April 23, 2018

Sarasota, FL

Noah Crowley, a high school senior in Sarasota, Florida, asked a fellow classmate to prom using a poster in April 2018. This “promposal” was met with massive backlash due to its seemingly racist message, and subsequently Crowley’s high school banned him from attending the prom and graduation.

Key Player

Noah Crowley was a high school senior at Riverview High School in Sarasota when he decided to ask his girlfriend to the prom using a poster with a clever message on it, as has become customary for many students around the United States. He posted a picture of himself holding the poster and sent it to his girlfriend on the social media app Snapchat. His poster’s message was widely interpreted to be overtly racist, and a picture of it went viral on social media.

Further Details

On April 23, 2018, Crowley used the social media app Snapchat to send his girlfriend a photo of himself holding up a poster that read: “If I was black, I’d be picking cotton, but I’m white, so I’m picking u 4 prom.” The caption underneath included two heart-eye emojis. A screenshot of the Snap was posted to Twitter, and it quickly went viral. Before long, it was picked up by news outlets such as Huffington Post.

Riverview High School responded to the viral post via an automated call to parents later that day. In the message, then-acting principal Kathy Wilks said that “Riverview High School absolutely does not condone or support the message conveyed in this post.” She explained that the incident provided an opportunity for greater learning about mutual respect in the school community.

The school district later announced it would be partnering with groups such as the Sarasota NAACP to engage students in training about racism and race. Its public statement read, in part, “Although this message is one student’s opinion, we take the matter of racial relations and school safety seriously, and we look forward to working with our students and these outside groups to have a meaningful and informative dialogue and expanded curriculum related to this important national topic.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Tracey Beeker, a spokeswoman for the Sarasota County school district, said the district would “host roundtable discussions regarding social inequalities and racism in hopes of providing students an open and safe place to speak their minds.”

Beeker also told The Washington Post it was “more than likely” that Crowley would face disciplinary charges. She pointed to a social media policy in place within the school district, which prohibits “using profanity, obscenity, epithets or other language that violates generally accepted norms of appropriate public discourse.”


Student banned from prom and graduation

The day after his unusual prom invitation circulated online, Crowley released a statement apologizing for its message. He called it a joke, but acknowledged that it “went too far,” and said he understood he had offended many people. “Anyone who knows me or [my girlfriend] knows that that’s not how we truly feel,” he said.

His parents announced on April 25 that they had discussed an appropriate punishment for Crowley with school administrators. They mutually decided that he would not be allowed to attend any further school functions, including the prom or his graduation ceremony.

Racist promposal inspires others

At least two “copycat” promposals have been reported since Crowley’s went viral. A Missouri teen first replicated it word-for-word on April 27, and two students in Michigan did the same on April 30. The school districts to which each of the imitators belong released statements announcing that the incidents were being investigated, and that the students responsible for circulating these copycat messages would be disciplined according to school policies.

External References

Sarasota high school investigating student’s racist ‘promposal,’ The Bradenton Herald

Sarasota student makes racist prom proposal, Herald-Tribune

This teen’s racist prom invite was a bad idea. But a free-speech expert says it’s his right, The Salt Lake Tribune

This teen’s racist prom invite was a bad idea. But a free-speech expert says it’s his right, The Washington Post

Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’, Tampa Bay Times

Missouri Teenager Copies Viral Racist ‘Promposal’ Sign, The Independent

Michigan teens copycat racist ‘picking cotton’ promposal, Detroit Free Press

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded June 27, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

High school valedictorian prevented from giving graduation speech – May 25, 2018

Covington, KY

Christian Bales, a graduating senior and valedictorian at Holy Cross High School in Covington, Kentucky, was told hours before his graduation ceremony that the local Catholic diocese would not permit him to deliver the speech he had prepared for the occasion. Using a megaphone after the formal ceremony, Bales gave his speech outside the school instead.

Key Players

Christian Bales graduated from Holy Cross High School on May 25, 2018. He was valedictorian of his class, and was slated to give the keynote address during the graduation ceremony. Bales is openly gay and gender-nonconforming, and though neither of those things had been an issue at his Catholic school before the incident, he later questioned in interviews whether that might have influenced the church’s decision to pull his speech.

Katherine Frantz also graduated from Holy Cross in May. During her senior year, she was student body president. She was also supposed to address the audience during the May 25 graduation ceremony, but her speech was pulled by the diocese as well.

Holy Cross High School is a private Catholic secondary school located in Covington, Kentucky, just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. It has about 385 students, and falls within the purview of the Catholic Diocese of Covington. The school’s mission statement explains that it is dedicated to diversity and acceptance of all students and their faith-lives.

Further Details

Several days before graduation, Bales’ valedictory address was reviewed — and seemingly approved — by Holy Cross administrators. The speech touched on themes of youth activism, civic engagement, and standing up for one’s beliefs. It specifically mentioned the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which was the site of a deadly shooting in February 2018, and their movement to end gun violence.

The morning of May 25, the principal of Holy Cross and other school officials informed Bales he would not be allowed to give his scheduled speech at the ceremony. The Diocese of Covington said it had reviewed it and found it to be “too angry and confrontational,” according to The New York Times. Frantz, who had also submitted her speech for review several days before graduation, was told hers was “too personal” and would also be disallowed.

The diocese later released a statement explaining that neither speech had been submitted before “the deadline,” though neither Bales nor Frantz was aware of any specific deadline. They were also unaware that review by the diocese was even a possibility, Bales said. The diocesan statement noted that the proposed speeches “were found to contain elements that were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Bales frequently wore makeup and dresses to school, and had never encountered a problem with any Holy Cross officials because of it. However, the Times reported that administrators had enlisted the help of his mother to ensure that he would wear “appropriate male dress,” without makeup, to graduation. Bales had been planning to meet that expectation, and his speech did not contain any references to his sexuality. It is unclear whether the diocese took issue with his sexuality and gender-nonconformity.


Bales and Frantz deliver speeches outside the school after the official ceremony

According to Bales, Holy Cross reprinted the graduation programs after the diocese made its decision, eliminating any mention of his or Frantz’s speeches. However, the valedictorian and student body president decided to deliver their speeches anyway. They gathered outside the school after the ceremony with other students, teachers, and family members, and used a megaphone to address their audience. The impromptu gathering proceeded without incident, and neither Bales nor Frantz faced a penalty for delivering their speeches in this manner.

Op-ed published in local newspaper

Frantz published an op-ed in a local publication, the River City News. She wrote about how hard she and Bales had worked for the opportunity to speak at graduation, and how frustrated and upset they both were when they were denied that opportunity. She also included the full text of her speech in her op-ed.

External References

Holy Cross High School Mission Statement

Denied permission to speak at his own graduation, Holy Cross valedictorian delivers speech outside, WCPO Cincinnati

Catholic School Rejected Its Gay Valedictorian’s Speech. So He Gave It With a Bullhorn. The New York Times

Kentucky valedictorian’s speech too much for religion that favors silence, Courier Journal

Gay valedictorian delivered speech through megaphone after it was rejected by Catholic school, USA Today

A Valedictorian Was Barred From Delivering His High School Graduation Speech. He Spoke by Megaphone Instead. TIME

Op-Ed: My Speech Was Also Cut from Holy Cross Graduation, The River City News

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded June 27, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Coffee shop fires two employees after Duke University official complains about music – May 2018

Durham, NC

After a Duke University administrator complained that the song playing in a campus coffee shop was vulgar and offensive, the store’s management asked two employees who had been working in the shop at the time to resign. Uproar over the incident sparked an on-campus protest, garnered national media attention, and led to criticism of the administrator’s perceived hypocrisy. Days later, the coffee shop cut ties with the university.

Key Players

Larry Moneta, who complained about the music in the coffee shop, is vice president for student affairs at Duke University, where he has worked since 2001. He oversees numerous student services, including housing, dining, health care, and student activities. In the past, Moneta has been a vocal defender of Free Speech.

Britni Brown and Kevin Simmons are the baristas who were working at the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop, a privately owned facility on Duke’s campus, when Moneta heard the music that offended him. Brown, a black woman, interacted with Moneta at the register, while Simmons, a white man, looked on as he made drinks. Both were penalized for the incident.

Further Details

On Friday, May 4, 2018, Moneta — a regular customer at the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop at Duke — went into the store for his usual order. The song playing at the time, “Get Paid” by rapper Young Dolph, contains multiple profanities, including the n-word. Moneta objected to the song’s content, later explaining in an email that he thought the sexual lyrics were “quite inappropriate for a working environment that serves children among others.”

Moneta complained to Brown, who was operating the register and was in charge of the store’s music playlist that day. She immediately shut off the song, apologized to Moneta, and offered him a muffin free of charge. He declined, and insisted he pay for it. Simmons, another barista who was on duty at the time, recalled the exchange and noted how upset the customer seemed. He later claimed Moneta was “verbally harassing” Brown.

After leaving the shop, Moneta contacted Robert Coffey, Duke’s director of dining services, to express his concerns. Coffey in turn called Robbie Roberts, the owner of Joe Van Gogh, to relay the message. About 10 minutes after Moneta left the coffee shop, Roberts called Brown to inquire about the incident. The barista said she took responsibility and apologized again.

Duke spokesperson Michael Schoenfeld said there are no university policies describing what kind of music should be played in on-campus facilities, but that there is a “general expectation” that the music be appropriate for families and children who might patronize the shop.

On May 7, Brown and Simmons were called into Joe Van Gogh’s main office in the nearby town of Hillsborough, where they met with Amanda Wiley, a human resources representative from the company, which operates stores throughout North Carolina. Wiley asked the two baristas to resign and offered them severance packages in exchange, reported Indy Week.

At that meeting, Brown voiced her concern that firing Simmons was unfair. “I feel like you guys were trying to cover it up as to make it not look discriminatory for firing a person of color,” she reportedly told Wiley.

Wiley claimed “Duke University [had] instructed [Joe Van Gogh] to terminate the employees that were working that day,” reported Indy Week. However, Moneta insisted in a statement to the Chronicle of Higher Education that his call to Coffey had been “the end of [his] involvement” in the incident, and that Joe Van Gogh’s response “to the employees’ behavior was solely at their discretion.” Schoenfeld, the university spokesperson, denied that Duke had requested the employees’ termination, asserting that the coffee shop wholly controls hiring and firing of its staff. Moneta said that “it was never [his] intent that any of the Joe Van Gogh employees be terminated.”


Moneta accused of hypocrisy for inconsistent stance on free expression

Moneta came under fire after the incident because some, including many Duke students, construed his complaint about the music playing in the coffee shop as an attempt at censorship. As such, his action seemed to contradict his previous defenses of Free Speech.

In August 2017, Moneta had authored an op-ed in Inside Higher Ed that criticized the toppling of Confederate statues, equating it to vandalism and calling instead for “their removal through legitimate, law-abiding processes.” In April 2018, he tweeted that “freedom of expression protects the oppressed far more than the oppressors.”

The Duke administrator defended his stance on Free Speech, saying, “To those who feel that I’ve flipped on my positions on free expression, I say this. The artist who wrote, recorded and performed the music is absolutely entitled to do so, however offensive I might find the lyrics.”

Students and employees protest outside coffee shop and at Moneta’s office

On May 9, more than a dozen protesters gathered outside the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop on campus, according to The Charlotte Observer. The group — made up of students and coffee shop employees, including the two who had been terminated — blared “Get Paid” on a loop as they marched to Moneta’s office. He allowed some of the protesters in for a brief discussion, according to the Observer.

Young Dolph, the rapper behind “Get Paid,” was also critical of Moneta, writing in a May 9 tweet that he “don’t give a dam about nobody but his self.” A few days after the incident, Young Dolph donated $20,000 to the two terminated employees.

Joe Van Gogh leadership apologizes, cuts ties with Duke

On the same day, Roberts, owner of the Joe Van Gogh chain, apologized for how the company had handled the incident and invited the two employees to return to the company. He also clarified that the university was not at fault for the firing.

Brown said she was not interested in Roberts’ offer. “I have already made my mind up that I am not returning to Duke or Joe Van Gogh,” she told the Observer, calling Duke “a white supremacist campus.”

Two days later, Joe Van Gogh announced it would end its relationship with Duke and shut down its on-campus location. In a post on the company’s website, Roberts wrote that it was “the right thing to do to preserve Joe Van Gogh’s brand independence without conditions.” The company offered jobs elsewhere in the company to all employees who had worked at the university location, including Brown and Simmons.

External References

When Activism Came to My Hometown, Inside Higher Ed

A Duke University VP Walked Into the Campus Joe Van Gogh, Heard a Rap Song, Demanded That the Employees Be Fired, Indy Week

Baristas were playing the rap song ‘Get Paid.’ A Duke VP complained — and they got fired, they say, The Washington Post

Dispute over rap song leads to protest at Duke and apology from coffee shop owner, The Charlotte Observer

A Vice President, the N-Word, a Coffee Shop and Culture, Inside Higher Ed

Coffee Shop Ends Ties to Duke, Inside Higher Ed

Duke Administrator’s Complaint About Music Apparently Got 2 Campus Baristas Fired, Chronicle of Higher Education

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded June 27, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Law students at Lewis & Clark College interrupt appearance by Christina Hoff Sommers – March 5, 2018

Portland, OR

Christina Hoff Sommers, a widely known conservative scholar and commentator, spoke at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, on March 5, 2018. A small group of students protested the event, first by attempting to prevent her from entering the event space, and then by chanting and singing during her remarks.

Key Players

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar and philosopher at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. She is best known for her opposition to modern-day feminist ideology and methodology, and she commonly expresses the view that claims of rape and sexual assault on college campuses are exaggerated, and that rape culture is not real. In April 2015, students at Oberlin College protested Sommers while she spoke on what she describes as the radicalization of feminism.

Janet Steverson is a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School and serves as its dean of diversity and inclusion. According to the school’s website, this office “is responsible for the strategy and implementation of Lewis & Clark’s commitment to a safe, welcoming, and equitable learning community.” Steverson assisted in moderating the event with Sommers, and also attempted to manage the protesters.

The Federalist Society is a national legal society with a student chapter at Lewis & Clark Law School. The group describes itself as a “non-partisan conservative and libertarian organization dedicated to freedom, federalism and judicial restraint.” According to its mission statement, one of the group’s goals is to “bring the best legal experts available” to the school, in order to “ensure that there are voices on campus to challenge…liberal orthodoxy that pervades the law school culture.” The Federalist Society invited Sommers to Lewis & Clark, and she was slated to speak on May 5 about “trigger warnings, safe spaces, and victimhood culture.”

Further Details

Ahead of Sommers’ speech, a number of student organizations from Lewis & Clark Law released a joint statement condemning the event and calling for her disinvitation. They included the local student chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, the Minority Law Student Association, the Women’s Law Caucus, the Immigration Student Group, the Jewish Law Society, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, the Black Law Student Association, the Latino Law Society, and OutLaw.

Their statement read, in part, “The Federalist Society found it necessary to unilaterally invite a known fascist to our campus to encourage what we believe to be an act of aggression and violence toward members of our society who experience racial and gendered oppression.” It continued, “We call on the Federalist Society to rescind their invitation to have Christina Sommers speak on campus.”

Sommers’ talk proceeded as planned on March 5. However, before the event, protesters blocked access to the room where she was scheduled to speak. The event organizers had to re-route access to the room, directing attendees to enter through a back entrance. Throughout Sommers’ speech, protesters chanted various refrains like “Rape culture is not a myth” and “Microaggressions are real” and “The gender wage gap is real.” At one point, they began to sing over her, apparently addressing the other students in the audience: “Which side are you on, friends? Which side are you on? No platform for fascists, no platform at all. We will fight for justice until Christina’s gone.”

Sommers was able to speak for sustained periods of time, reported Inside Higher Ed, though she later complained that she wasn’t given enough time to finish her remarks, because Steverson initiated the question-and-answer period earlier than Sommers had planned. Following the event, she criticized Steverson on Twitter for cutting her speech short.

Steverson told Inside Higher Ed that she chose to do this because she had promised the protesters they would have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with Sommers, which helped subdue some of them. Steverson said she adjusted the timetable to ensure there would be time for this conversation. Indeed, according to a statement released by Lewis & Clark, “students engaged in a vigorous discussion [with Sommers] during the question-and-answer session.”


Lewis & Clark condemns students’ demonstration, indicates possible disciplinary action

Following the event, Lewis & Clark released a statement about the protest. The school said it did “not condone the intentional efforts by even a few students to prevent this speaker from communicating her views to the vast majority of students who were willing to hear and debate them…Critical thinking and discourse are integral to the mission of Lewis & Clark Law School.” The statement also noted that the school would be “taking appropriate disciplinary actions in accordance with school policies.”

External References

Law students at Lewis & Clark College interrupt appearance by Christina Hoff Sommers, Inside Higher Ed

The Federalist Society at Lewis & Clark webpage

Statement on the Christina Hoff Sommers Event at the Law School, Lewis & Clark

Student organizations statement on Christina Hoff Sommers, @CHSommers Twitter

Law students caught crying ‘wolf’ over Christina Hoff Sommers speech, Washington Examiner

Students Protest Sommers’ Lecture, The Oberlin Review

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded June 25, 2018