A New Jersey university has apparently realized it was
unconstitutional to suspend a student for posting insults on a
social media page.
Joseph Aziz, a Montclair State University graduate student,
admits to making snide comments on YouTube regarding the weight of
a female student with whom he was having a political argument.
During a disciplinary hearing, he also admitted to mentioning the
woman's name while joking about the incident on Facebook. He was
suspended for a semester and barred from campus.
In response to questions about the violation of free-speech
rights, the school released a statement claiming that it had "acted
in accordance with its Student Code of Conduct, which complies with
the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, and other
applicable federal and state regulations."
Robert Shibley of the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education
(FIRE) says school officials "overreacted."
"Often when politics is involved, people can get pretty
personal," he recognizes. "In New Jersey, certainly people make
jokes about Governor Chris Christie's weight all the time in the
context of other political criticisms, and that's what happened
here. And Montclair State vastly overreacted by suspending Joseph
Aziz for an entire semester."
He argues that Aziz did not appear to be violating any specific
school policy, but that Montclair made up a policy to fit the
"They need to understand that it's their practices that need to
change," Shibley submits. "If they routinely order students not to
talk about topics or people on social media, even if they are not
talking in a place where that student can be heard, they need to
understand that those practices aren't going to fly with the
According to NJ.com, the incident began in August, when
Aziz attended a campus speech with Young Americans for Liberty. A
male student and his female friend heckled the speaker, which was
caught on video. He regrets making the comments on YouTube and
Facebook, admitting that his words were "in poor taste."
Three days after FIRE wrote the university a
letter pointing out the violation of the student's free speech,
Aziz's suspension was rescinded.