Showing President Trump’s image is enough to trigger many college students. But who knew it could also get you prosecuted by a taxpayer-funded institution obligated to follow the First Amendment?
New Jersey’s Stockton University charged a student with disruptive behavior, discrimination, harassment, creating a “hostile environment,” causing “harm” and cyberbullying. His violation? Using Trump’s image as his Zoom background during an online class July 1. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is representing doctoral student Robert Dailyda, warning the public university in a letter Friday that it has no legal authority to punish a student for sharing his political views, even if they offended his classmates.
A student at @Stockton_edu is facing disciplinary charges for a political Facebook post and making his Zoom background a photo of President Donald Trump during class, causing other students to feel “taunted.”https://t.co/rh9jSnpMle
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) August 7, 2020
FIRE’s summary of the factual background says there were “no disruptions to the class or other feedback about Dailyda’s choice of background during the class” other than a private chat another classmate send him, according to the College Fix. Several classmates piled on Dailyda for his Trump background in a post-class group chat, but the university admitted that this conversation was not “threatening” to anyone and that Dailayda exited the chat to “avoid continued conflict.”
The student wrote a Facebook post after the pile-on, saying he was “done with the leftist agenda of BLM and the white self haters,” including his classmates:
I’m not backing down. If we can’t get past this, ok, I’m ready to fight to the death for our county and against those that want to take it down. I believe there are also many like me.
University police called Dailyda to report that he had been accused of making “threatening statements.” A week later he met with Director Amy Jones and Assistant Director Stacey Rose of the Care and Community Standards Office, who told him classmates were offended by his behavior: “They asked him to explain his political views, Zoom background, and Facebook post.” Give me a break!
Six days later he was charged with six violations of the Campus Conduct Code. (Two of the alleged violations have rather high thresholds to clear: disruptive behavior requires “obstruction or substantial disruption of University activities or operations,” and hostile environment uses a four-prong test, all of which must be satisfied: “Severe, pervasive, persistent, and objectively offensive conduct.” Another multi-prong charge, discrimination, uses “and/or” so that any one prong counts as a violation.)
New Jersey student being investigated for conduct violations after using Trump background on Zoom call https://t.co/A4qpImzX3E
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) August 8, 2020
In FIRE’s statement on the case, Dailyda accused the university of creating a “deeply embedded and systematic environment that squelches the free speech of those who disagree with their radical agenda” and promotes a “monopoly” on ideas. As students return to the classroom this fall and with less than 90 days until the November election, it’s just a matter of time to see what snowflake’s feelings are hurt next!