Twins In Legal Fight After Making Disparaging Comments About Professor On Facebook

from the oh-come-on dept

We've been seeing more and more stories like this, and it's pretty disturbing that people still freak out so much over a minor negative comment. Apparently, two twin brothers at the University of Calgary made some disparaging remarks about a professor, setting up a page that read "I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra." Because of that, they were disciplined by the school and are now in court fighting the whole thing. This is pretty silly on many different levels. First, these types of comments are very, very common among students. I remember joking around about similar things back in college, way before Facebook existed. Now, just because it's on Facebook, it deserves disciplinary action? Even worse, it looks like the school is blaming the twins for comments made by others on that Facebook page. There are some other problems here: in that the school didn't give the students a chance to appeal or present their side. For a university that's supposed to be encouraging free thought and discourse, it seems pretty ridiculous to punish students for making statements on Facebook, even if immature.


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  1.  
    identicon
    Robert, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 2:40am

    it's easier to pretend this didn't happen in the past, when we didn't have public forums and websites like facebook. Now they are confronted with things they don't like and they fight it.

    will this stop people from thinking/saying bad things about the prof? no of course not, it just means that she can ignore the criticism and pretend everything is a-okay.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 3:59am

    Shocking. I can partially understand that the comments were made in a public forum, but this is getting ridiculous. You should see some of the damning comments on our University forums, but since they are not public, it's 'ok'. The comments and the people are dealt with internally, and that's that.

    Guess it's true... 'Nothing means anything until it's on FaceBook...'

     

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  3.  
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    Yogi, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 4:19am

    Interesting

    Considering that the universities are supposedly one of the pillars of democratic society by way of encouraging free though and free speech, it is interesting to note that they will tolerate free speech only up to the point where it hurts them personally or financially.

    Way to set an example...

     

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  4.  
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    Cipher-0, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 4:21am

    Re: Interesting

    And people say colleges don't prepare kids for the real world!

     

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  5.  
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    R65guy, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 4:51am

    Free speech on campus?

    Since the seventies, there has been a disturbing trend on college campuses to indoctrinate students in left wing doctrines. One sees examples in the press of K-12 students punished for exercising their First Amendments rights. In college, you only have free speech, so long as you agree 100% with the administration and professors. Third world juntas have nothing on a campus Senate "judicial" hearing.

     

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  6.  
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    Radjin, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 5:52am

    Freedom of Speech

    Seems Freedom of Speech depends on who is in charge.

     

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  7.  
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    Jim C, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 5:58am

    Freedom of Speech

    In the left wing paradise that is our higher education system you enjoy "freedom of their speech". Professors can say and do anything they wish. If you do not absolutely agree with them, you are considered unworthy and will be severely punished.

     

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  8.  
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    DH's love child, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 6:34am

    Re: Freedom of Speech

    to R65guy and Jim C:
    This isn't a left wing/right wing issue. Both wings spend a lot of time trying to silence speech that they don't like. It's a power trip.

    The bottom line here is that college (education in general) should be about freedom of expression and exploration of ideas and things like this clearly show that it doesn't really support that notion.

     

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  9.  
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    BBT, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 6:47am

    Re: Free speech on campus?

    freedom of speech is a left wing doctrine.

     

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  10.  
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    Jack, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 6:50am

    Feedom of Speech

    Hey....Univ of Calgary....I'll be sure to tell anyone looking for a school to be sure to avoid your organization. You and your teachers have a fundamental lack of respect for free speech.

     

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  11.  
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    Jack, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 6:56am

    Freedom of Speech

    Freedom of Speech is a left wing concept? Yea....and Nazi Germany would have loved to have you folks as part of their little love fest. A few more like you and they would have been successful.

     

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  12.  
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    iamtheky (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 7:02am

    "We've bee seeing..."


    good start.

     

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  13.  
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    Stuart, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 7:10am

    Re: Interesting

    Ha. Universities are only about free thought when it means THEIR thinking against what is already known. "But our side must be given equal weight even if it is bullshit. Free Thought!" Universities are 90% about making wour prof feel good about himself. Prove one wrong in front of a class and see how great it is for your grades.

     

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  14.  
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    mdominguez2nd (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 7:32am

    Rate My Professor

    I'm surprised institutions haven't taken issue with sites such as ratemyprofessors.com - some of the things I've read about my profs is pretty ridiculous.

    Essentially, people take for granted the loss of anonymity they have on the internet - you can publish information readily available to millions of people but at the same time you can easily be connected to what you say. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    Also, its one thing for a state/public institution to raise these issues, another for a private institution since public institutions are governed by the laws/regulations in the state they reside in while private instutions are pretty much free to make whatever rules they want.

     

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  15.  
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    Someantimalwareguy, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Freedom of Speech

    My take on this trend is more related to performance reviews and how too many negative comments in public could effect the staff professionally - both as professors and administrators.

    With more emphasis being placed on performance and the indication that it will become more relevant rather than less as time goes forward, there is a strong incentive for those on the receiving end of the commentary to push back or try to have it censured.

    Be careful what you ask for as it can have unintended consequences with resulting problems attached...

     

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  16.  
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    Nastybutler77 (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 12:03pm

    It's interesting that the university was more interested in repremanding these students than it was in addressing their complaints. That's been my experience with universities as well; they don't treat students like customers. They forget that the sole reason they exist is because of students and that students often have a choice in where they get their education. Just like any bureacracy though, they're customer service is terrible.

    Instead of seeking to punish these students they should have been appologizing for a bad experience, just like a restaurant would (or should) do if they found out there was a Facebook site saying that a particular waiter was bad. A restaurant wouldn't blame the patron for creating the page would they? If they did, much like this university is finding out, the backlash and negative press will negatively impact their "business."

    For some reason universities seem to think students have to put up with ill treatment and won't start attending other universities.

     

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  17.  
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    Former College Instructor, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 2:07pm

    Some commenters should have failed out of college...

    Some of you people are idiots.

    To wit:

    1 - The doctrine of Freedom of Speech usually refers to governmental censuring of speech critical of its policies. It does not protect against such things as yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater when there is in fact no fire; that might provoke a charge of inciting a riot or creating a threat to public safety, which are both crimes. It does not protect people who lie publicly about enemies they don't like; defaming another person can get you sued for libel or slander. It also does not protect you in any instance of voluntary association (such as college or work); both places often can fire you without just cause unless you can prove it was some sort of retaliation...and even then, good luck!

    2 - The University of Calgary has an honor code, which the twins were supposed to be aware of and willing to follow upon acceptance of their admission. A telling quote from the linked article:

    "The comments on the website, including suggestions that the professor 'got lazy and gave everybody a 65,' were unsubstantiated and against the student code of conduct, according to university lawyer Kevin Barr."

    The twins broke the code and were thus disciplined just like any other person who breaks a law. Should they have had a chance to rebut the charges? Depends on UoC's internal policies. Quite frankly, if the evidence was as clear as it appears to be, a fake trial was unnecessary.

    3 - The whole "left-wing" agenda conspiracy theory simply demonstrates a general ignorance of the real world. Laws tend to be beyond political agendas, and anyone who thinks that following the rules is either left-wing or right-wing really has a limited grasp of how society works.

    4 - Specifically to Nastybutler77, students ARE NOT CUSTOMERS. Going to college IS NOT the same as going to McDonald's. You're obviously not a teacher of any sort (thank goodness) or else you would know that effective teaching falters for almost everyone who caters to accommodating ignorance without deference to expertise. In short, "stupid is as stupid does." Most students who make defamatory comments without evidence are just experiencing sour grapes because their incompetence was exposed and they're embarrassed that their high opinion of themselves has been shattered as the delusion it is. The twins got low grades and were mad so they blamed their teacher instead of blaming their own lack of studying, inability to read the material, poor class attendance or just plain lack of talent for the class's discipline. It's hard for someone to learn calculus if they can't multiply or divide.

     

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  18.  
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    Nastybutler77 (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 3:25pm

    Re: Some commenters should have failed out of college...

    The twins got low grades and were mad so they blamed their teacher instead of blaming their own lack of studying, inability to read the material, poor class attendance or just plain lack of talent for the class's discipline.

    That's an interesting statement considering that the independant instructor who reviewed the twins papers gave them a full letter grade higher than the original instructor. So maybe you don't know what you're talking about and the students had a ligitimate arguement. At least that's what I'm taking out of that little fact.

    And exactly how are students not customers? Apparently you never taught an Economics class (thank goodness) or else you might know that higher education is an industry that has customers (students). In case you actually care to educate yourself further on what constitutes a business: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business

    If a student doesn't like the college they attend, they are free to leave and spend their tuition money somewhere else, aren't they? How does that not make them customers? Just because you say so? I realize schools have other means of funding, but without students (customers), they'd be hard pressed to stay in business. Well I'm glad I never had a class with you if that's the way you view your paying customers (students).

     

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  19.  
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    Nastybutler77 (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Re: Some commenters should have failed out of college...

    Damn! Preview fail. Meant to just italicize the quote from FCI which is just the first paragraph. Carry on.

     

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  20.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 6:02pm

    This Stuff is Really Old.

    When I was in engineering school, back in the early 1980's, people sometimes wrote graffiti on the classroom walls about professors they didn't like, and the graffiti stayed in plain view indefinitely, at least long enough for the entire college to have a chance to view it. Case in point: a graffiti making fun of a Chinese professor's accent. He pronounced "zero" as "gero," and someone wrote on the wall of one of the classrooms, "[first_name][middle initial] gets gero." That was, again, sufficient identification that the whole college knew who was meant, though outsiders might not have been able to translate. At any rate, no one turned up with a bucket of whitewash.

     

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  21.  
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    William A. Kennedy, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 8:53pm

    Freedom of speech

    Every student has the right to speak about their professors if they felt they have been criticized for what they've done. Additionally, it is illegal to say about things to the professor in a manner that it has already over taken to emotional or psychological abuse.

     

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  22.  
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    Linda, Jun 27th, 2010 @ 4:35pm

    times are a-changing

    When I saw the title: “I no longer fear hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra,” I laughed. It reminded me of my student days at UBC in the 60s. We had some of the same problems as students complain of now: profs who did not want to teach, incompetent teachers, profs who failed to show up for classes or left all teaching to their TAs. I can even remember some Arts and Education profs who were so opinionated, they were ready to fail a student with a differing point of view. At the same time, profs – any and all – were considered fair game for criticism. Those who displayed the above-mentioned misbehaviours got ready to duck the “rotten tomatoes” thrown at them in the form of scathing criticisms – often in print. We had a student publication at the end of each year that took no prisoners. But nobody was sued, and some profs even took it upon themselves to reply in print. It was generally believed that students had a duty to criticize as long as they did so in a rational manner. Whatever happened to Academic Freedom? I am amazed at the people who try to make this into a left-wing/right-wing issue, but I see a lot of that these days. What I do not see much of these days is lively academic debate in common areas - you know, like in a real university. The food court and dining area of the U of C remind me of a factory cafeteria. Cosy alcoves, furnished patches of hallway and inviting stretches of grass in shady garden areas (lures for informal gatherings in my student days) are eerily silent. Please spare me the kant about how hard students work these days vs. the way my generation supposedly spent all their time goofing off. (Hey, how else could we have staged all those teach-ins and anti-war demonstrations?) Then, just as now, it was common for students to work their way through university, and courses were every bit as demanding - but it would have been nice to have had some of the research facilities available that students take for granted now. At the same time, I notice that a post secondary education seems to be getting less affordable for students from low income backgrounds. Paying for university used to be difficult, but do-able for anyone motivated enough. I'm not sure this is true anymore, despite all the "positive thinking" propaganda out there. University is now a financial burden that takes years to work off, so there may be pressure not to "make waves" but to concentrate on getting through the process as quickly as possible (so you can start earning money to pay off your debts!) If this is the case, there is really no such thing as university life any more.

     

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  23.  
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    ee, Dec 11th, 2010 @ 11:23am

    comment

    The owner of Wikilinks should remember that if the legal
    system does not put you in jail, you will be spending
    the rest of your life running from those who want you dead.
    Jail might be a more safe place. Money will not protect you.
    These thoughts apply to the owner of Facebook as well. Get
    Wikileaks off your site or face some unhappy reality.
    It won't be you that is smiles.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    DB, Mar 17th, 2012 @ 6:13pm

    Not the school's problem

    I was openly reviled as a "faggot" by one of my students on RMP until I threatened the online site to remove it. The issue is with the ratings site.

     

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