University Tells Student to Alter His Facebook

U of C told student to take down offensive material

Schools have the responsibility of protecting their students, sometimes even from each other. But just how far should they go to carry out that duty?

In January, a University of Chicago student accused his girlfriend of cheating on him via the social-networking website, Facebook. According to Adam Kissel, director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the student posted several photos of his ex-girlfriend with the title "(She) cheated on me, and you're next."

The male student's friends wrote several insulting and derogatory comments about the girl in the photos.

Kissel says the ex-girlfriend then complained to the dean of students.

The university asked the young man to remove his ex's name and pictures from his Facebook page, threatening him with possible disciplinary action, Kissel said.

"In order to make the free exchange of ideas possible, students, faculty, and other members of our community must help create a safe, respectful climate in which inquiry and debate can flourish," university spokesperson Bill Harms said in a written statement. "The University's policies and practices are designed to safeguard that culture of robust and respectful discussion, and the legitimate rights of all involved."

But Kissel argues that the university went too far.

"A request to consider the feelings of the ex-girlfriend would have been appropriate," he said, the Chi-Town Daily News reports.

Some will immediately cry, "Free Speech!" But the First Amendment prohibits Congress from making laws that forbid freedom of speech and has no authority over a private institution like the university.

Even if the school were to implement the law as written in the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment does not protect defamation, defined as the communication of a (usually false) claim that gives a person or group a negative image.

But where does one draw the line between libel or slander and "free speech"?

The University will host an open forum on Friday to discuss free speech issues.

Matt Bartosik, editor of Off the Rocks' next issue, thinks not enough Americans understand their governing documents.

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