Adam in ‘USA TODAY College’ on Catawba Valley Case

By October 13, 2011

FIRE’s own Adam Kissel is featured on the front page of today’s USA TODAY College online edition discussing Hickory, North Carolina-based Catawba Valley Community College’s (CVCC’s) indefensible decision to suspend a student for two full semesters for his Facebook complaint about the college’s deal with a financial services company.

Student Marc Bechtol, a father of two, looked into CVCC’s deal with the company, Higher One, back in June when it was announced and didn’t like the various fees the company charged. He also didn’t appreciate being pressured into signing up for a Mastercard debit card (which doubled as his CVCC student ID) with the company. And he really, really didn’t like the fact that if he wanted the money from his Pell Grant without a significant delay, the only way to do that was to sign up for an account with Higher One. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he started getting solicitations from other banks shortly after signing up for the account. As Adam reports:

Bechtol criticized CVCC’s partnership with Higher One on the school’s Facebook page. On September 28, he also posted: "Did anyone else get a bunch of credit card spam in their CVCC inbox today? So, did CVCC sell our names to banks, or did Higher One? I think we should register CVCC’s address with every porn site known to man. Anyone know any good viruses to send them?" He immediately added a second comment, "OK, maybe that would be a slight overreaction."

What CVCC did then gives new meaning to the term "thin-skinned":

A week later, on October 4, as Bechtol waited for his second class of the day to begin, he was pulled out of his classroom by CVCC Executive Officer of Student Services Cynthia L. Coulter and told that he could not return. On October 5, Coulter sent him a disciplinary letter stating that Bechtol’s first Facebook comment was "disturbing," "indicates possible malicious action against the college," and violated CVCC’s policy against "[c]ommission of any other offense which, in the opinion of the administration or faculty, may be contrary to the best interest of the CVCC community." Bechtol was suspended without a hearing and was banned from campus for two semesters.

That’s right—the college found this comment so "threatening" that it banned him from campus for two semesters without even giving him a hearing! This is the sort of action a college takes when it believes someone is an immediate, violent threat to campus, which Bechtol clearly was not. But even if CVCC administrators try to make the argument that Bechtol was such a threat (which wouldn’t even pass the laugh test), why in the world would they wait a week to remove such a threatening person from campus? Answer: they wouldn’t.

Let me give Adam in USA TODAY College the last word:

CVCC not only must reinstate Marc Bechtol, but also must revise its unconstitutional policy. When sharp criticism of the college’s financial partnership can get a student suspended and banned from campus, CVCC has caused a severe chilling effect.

And how!

Schools: Catawba Valley Community College Cases: Catawba Valley Community College: Student Banned from Campus after Protesting College’s Deal with Debit Card Company on Facebook