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August 19, 2011


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I have no expertise in this area, but my gut reaction is that speech by a student should be treated differently from speech by a teacher. Given their different roles within the school, shouldn't we give far less deference to teacher speech than to student speech? Imagine being a student and having to accept an authority figure who wants to throw up when he thinks about the idea of the state giving legal recognition to your parents' rights.

Calvin Massey

Anon: Faculty speech is treated differently than student speech. The Pickering/Connick test applies to faculty speech, and under that rule the teacher's speech (if uttered as a citizen on a topic of public concern and not in the course and scope of employment) cannot be punished unless there is good reason to believe that the teacher's speech will significantly impede the ability of his school to perform its function. Student speech is subject to different rules. Student speech at school or in school-sponsored activities can be punished if it is disruptive, vulgar, advocates illegal drug use, or is part of the curriculum itself. The public concern and course and scope of employment caveats in public employee speech law serve somewhat the same ends, but the tests are indeed different.
I fail to see why a teacher's speech rights should be less than those of a student. If there is to be a material difference, I should think it would be the reverse.

Scott Boone

We may need more facts than this. Saying it was posted on "his own personal Facebook page" as the linked article does is a bit misleading. That's not how Facebook works. While posts to Facebook do show up on a page identified as yours, those same posts show up in the News feed of everyone you are friends with (unless one of the parties gone out of their way to limit it in some way). In other words, the teacher's comments were likely broadcast to everyone he is Facebook friends with and not simply posted on "his personal page" where someone would have to go looking for them. I doubt that alone would change anything, but we also need to know whether his Facebook account was used for anything related to his employment. For example, did he use Facebook to communicate with his students? Such use is not all that uncommon. And if so, might that mean that he broadcast these comments to students in a medium they had to track to get needed information about assignments, etc.

Obviously, that's quite a bit of speculation, but nothing in the article rules it out. I'm just saying that, although they probably just "reassigned him" because a lot of people were angry with his comments, we might need quite a bit more information to know that for sure.

Calvin Massey

Thank you for educating me about Facebook. I don't use social media, so I was unaware of the possibilities you outline. Yes, we do need more facts.

Scott Boone

Facebook is a strange creature. There is a certain way that it works and many of the older users (meaning 30+) take their use cues from how it is coded to function. But some younger users (think high school) shape their usage through custom and the like rather than through how it is coded.

For example, they will often post something directly on a friend's wall (their own page) when they want to tell that person something or ask them a question. That post will then show up in the news feed of everyone who is friends with both of those people. But if you comment on that post, that is in your newsfeed, they often treat that as butting in. When you point out that Facebook has a message feature (identical to email) for messages intended to be part of a fairly private conversation, they pretty much ignore you. Similarly, even though Facebook makes no distinction between types or levels of friends, they expect people to make distinctions on their own and behave in accordance with that.

I find the differences between taking cues from how Facebook is coded and developing customs and expectations independent of the code to be quite interesting.

Scott Boone

Updated info in case anyone is interested: (reinstated with conditions, posts did go to some current students, etc.)

There's also some more info (such as statements they are making him take out of his syllabi) at:

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