‘Chronicle’ Reports: Administrators Are Backing Off Monitoring Students’ Online Activity

By March 4, 2008

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses how universities handle students’ activity on social-networking websites like Facebook and MySpace. When administrators first discovered student social networking, they treated it as a means to keep a close eye them. While an underage student may not be literally caught drinking, a photo of them appearing to be drinking could be just as damning.

Last year, FIRE reported on the case of Stacy Snyder, a 27-year-old student at Millersville University of Pennsylvania who was denied her education degree and teaching certificate because university officials found a picture on her MySpace page of her wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a yellow plastic cup with the caption "Drunken Pirate." She sued the university and the case is currently in court.

The article notes FIRE’s extensive battle against administrators meddling in students’ online activities, including the case of Justin Park at Johns Hopkins University, which landed Johns Hopkins on FIRE’s Red Alert list.

Johns Hopkins suspended Mr. Park for one year in connection with a racially themed "Halloween in the Hood" party he had advertised on Facebook. The student did not sue the university, but amid a fierce publicity campaign by FIRE, he appealed his suspension, which was reduced (to a penalty neither he nor Johns Hopkins disclosed).

The group has called attention to many institutionsincluding Cowley College, in Kansas; Syracuse University; and the University of Central Floridafor disciplining students for online conduct it argues is legally protected.

"What I hope will happen is universities are going to be a little bit more sensible about how and when they try to punish students," says Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE.

Recently, the Chronicle reports, universities have stepped back from monitoring their students’ online networking. We hope this is true, but as the case of Hayden Barnes at Valdosta State University (see FIRE video on the case here) demonstrates, an innocuous Facebook post can still land a student in a world of trouble.