U of M student’s Facebook posts can lead to punishment, court says

The First Amendment does not give you the right to be free from punishment for engaging in unethical conduct, the Minnesota Supreme Court said today.

You may recall the case of the University of Minnesota mortuary sciences student who was disciplined by the university for making jokes about a cadaver and making threats on her Facebook page (Details here), posting about her punishment and talking to the news media about her punishment. Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the school’s right to discipline Amando Tatro, saying it did not violate her right to free speech.

“The driving force behind the University’s discipline was not that Tatro’s violation of academic program rules created a substantial disruption on campus or within the Mortuary Science Program, but that her Facebook posts violated established program rules that require respect, discretion, and confidentiality in connection with work on human cadavers,” the Court acknowledged.

“Nonetheless, the parties agree that a university may regulate student speech on Facebook that violates established professional conduct standards. This is the legal standard we adopt here, with the qualification that any restrictions on a student’s Facebook posts must be narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards,” it said.

“In this case, the University is not sanctioning Tatro for a private conversation, but for Facebook posts that could be viewed by thousands of Facebook users and for sharing the Facebook posts with the news media. Accordingly, we conclude that the University’s sanctions were grounded in narrowly tailored rules regulating widely disseminated Facebook posts.”

The university allowed Tatro to continue in the Mortuary Science Program with a failing grade in one laboratory course.

(Full opinion here)

  • Jim Shapiro

    Everyone thinks crazy things from time to time.

    Favorite son Bob Zimmerman perhaps said it best: “If my thought dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.”

    But in this case to publicize them shows a lack of discretion warranting the punishment.

    I could say that ANYONE who considers going into mort sci should probably be closely monitored, but I’m sure there was a sane individual once :-)

  • BJ

    I like this ruling because of the fact that they did frame it “must be narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards”.