Opinions

Students and Free Speech

University Life 30

Francisco Orsolo/FLICKR

Zackary Wiggins
   Staff Writer

Under the United States Constitution, the government, or anyone for that matter, is not allowed to take away a citizen’s right to free speech.  In this country, we are allowed to express our opinions, criticize our government and enjoy the right to talk freely about a subject if we please.  

This Amendment, along with others, may be viewed as black or white, but nowadays it seems as though there is more gray area than the Founding Fathers could have ever imagined.  This is not their fault of course.  They could have never predicted the internet or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. However, it is because of these innovations that there is a new constitutional crisis that needs to be looked at.  

When does Freedom of Speech get out of hand? Is there a time when it is appropriate for the government, or for a company to step in and take actions against someone for saying something?

When looking at free speech, Facebook and other social media sites often come to mind first, as we’re in a highly technological age, and love to share our daily lives on our accounts.  This may seem harmless, and I would argue that it usually is, but there are times where people have been fired or punished for the the posts that show on their social media accounts.  

Recently, a nursing student was dismissed from the program because of the content that he had on Facebook.  Should universities have the ability or the right to dismiss a student because he or she is posting things on Facebook that they deem unprofessional?  

We all have been told to be careful on what we post on social media, because of future employers being able to see those posts and deciding whether or not to hire us.  Also, we have heard of employers firing employees because that employee posted something that was deemed unprofessional, but we don’t hear much about universities and whether they have the right to do so.

Is Freedom of Speech covered in colleges, and what should we do to make sure that each student is free to express themselves without fear of punishment?  And if there is going to be a punishment at all, where do you draw the line?  I believe that Facebook should be a place of freedom and expression.  

I think that your social media account should be used to however you see fit, and that it is a part of your personal characteristics.  With that being said, I also believe that you should always try your best to be professional, even on social media.  The courts decided against the nursing student who was dismissed, saying that his dismissal was due to academic reasons.  

Why would the nursing program care what was on this student’s personal social media account?  Well one could say that the program is like an employer.  Investing in that student, with the understanding that the student would do nothing to bring shame or embarrassment to the program.  

Employers want the best employees and do not want one that is going to bring in negative attention, so one could easily argue that the nursing program is the same kind of entity.  If the school is a private school, then the school could very well have different standards in terms of social media, and students may have to fill out a contract that states what is appropriate and what is not.  

If the school is private, and it’s in the contract, then there are legitimate reasons to see how the school could dismiss the student, as the student knew what to expect.  But, if this is a public school that is payed for by the taxpayers, then I truly do not believe that the school has any right to dismiss a student that is expressing themselves on social media.  

Obviously, I believe that there are exceptions.  I don’t think that a higher education institution should accept bullying of any nature as normal, and I don’t believe hate speech should be tolerated.  These are dangerous and could very well be seen as a danger to someone else’s well-being and safety.  If bullying or hate speech is involved, that should become a legal issue and the university should step in. And the same goes with anything that may be illegal.  

I am not aware of what the nursing student posted on his account, but if it was him bullying or spreading dangerous rhetoric, the university should be able to handle that situation however they see fit.  If the student was underage and drinking, or doing any other kind of illegal activities, then yes the university had every right to get involved.  

But, if the student was posting something about that was just seen as a little immature or unprofessional, then I think the university overstepped their bounds.  Let the student’s future employer be the judge on whether to hire that student or not.

 

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