Freedom of speech controversy arose at Stockton University in New Jersey after graduate student Robert Dailyda was hit by six student code of conduct charges after using a picture of President Donald Trump's various students called the background some form of hate speech and threat. The school has now dropped five of the six charges, but the remaining charge still represents a denial of freedom of speech on social media. The school claims that Dailyda can be disciplined if he says he is “to the death for ours Country Fight Would Try. "Dailyda was originally charged with disruptive behavior; Discrimination; Harassment; hostile environment; Damage; and bullying and cyberbullying. This follows a number of complaints about his use of the Trump background. Students complained that the image of Trump made them "insulted, disrespectful and ridiculed".
The remaining charges relate to a Facebook post in which Dailyda wrote that he would "fight to the death for our country". The posting was classified as disruptive behavior that can result in minimum penalties such as probation, community service and a fine.
The group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) turned against the university:
"(B) easter willingness to fight to the death for our country is a rhetorical exaggeration that is often used to underscore the unwillingness of the speaker to admit an argument or position." As a public university, Stockton must be careful with metaphorical political rhetoric. We hope this isn't the hill Stockton wants to die on. "
I agree with this statement.
The actions taken on the Facebook post are just the latest example of schools investigating or punishing students or teachers for speaking on social media. As a blog devoted to freedom of speech, we can defend students and professors from both left and right.
This particular incident adds to these concerns. Here is the Facebook post tagged in the Stockton letter linked below:
“I've come so far that I have to say something. I love this country. We are a diverse but assimilated population from diverse backgrounds. I believe everyone needs to have the same opportunities and I make a commitment to make this a priority. On top of that, I'm done with BLM's left agenda and white self-haters. I've seen it in action in my doctoral classes at Stockton and in the general media. I am not backing down. If we can't get past this, I'll be ready to fight to the death for our county and against those who want to mine it. I think there are many like me too. "
This is all protected language. However, Stockton noted that there was one comment that was not written or replied to by Dailyda as a basis for any possible discipline:
This post generated comments, one of which was cause for concern when Mr Dailyda said, "I'm surprised how many people are silent … maybe not …". That post says, "Bob Dailyda, this is what we do." (Calmly) but … we aim with precision. Boom done. No drama. "This reply was not written or replied to by Mr Dailyda, but the reporting parties mentioned the words, which sounded threatening, and they feared that Mr Dailyda might have similar views and thoughts on violence.
So is Dailyda being investigated for a comment someone else left? Google recently used this as part of its rationale for cracking down on conservative websites. As we discussed earlier, many websites have removed their comments section due to trolls, paid or bot comments, or offensive language. As one of the larger websites devoted to freedom of speech, we bucked this trend of opening up a forum for people to express themselves. We have tried to respond to complaints about offensive language and in relatively few cases have we excluded those who engage in such comments. However, our comments section allows people to share their views and while I often disagree with comments, I have tried not to censor them. In fact, I routinely leave comments that offend me or say things that are proven to be untrue about my previous writings or testimonies. The reason is that I feel uncomfortable with the role of censorship, especially when I am the subject of criticism.
This type of action would allow individuals to post offensive comments on blogs or social media in order to trigger such actions. With tens of thousands of comments on blogs like Res Ipsa, the chance of detection is less. Why should Dailyda, even if discovered, be investigated for a comment he did not make or endorse? I assume that many of Dailyda's critics have comments that are just as ruthless or threatening. However, these comments are not addressed. The concern is that schools like Stockton are working too hard to find reasons to discipline conservative students or teachers while turning a blind eye to similar rhetoric from opponents. The answer is freedom of speech. Allowing people to speak freely, including condemning such contributions in free and open debate.
Stockton must drop this final charge against Dailyda and reaffirm the principles of freedom of speech that support higher education.
Here is the Dailyda letter listing the complaint on the Facebook post: Stockton letter