Marc Bechtol: Prophet of Ill-Gotten Profit?

By on August 9, 2012

As the saying goes, "a prophet is without honor in his own country." That’s certainly how Catawba Valley Community College (N.C.) treated student Marc Bechtol, who was banned from campus from sarcastically complaining on Facebook about the college’s deal with the Higher One financial services company.

Today comes the news from The Chronicle of Higher Education that Higher One has agreed to return $11 million to 60,000 students who were overcharged for their debit cards with the company and pay a $110,000 civil fine for its actions. Given that Bechtol’s complaint focused on what he perceived to be Higher One’s shady business practices, we imagine that he might feel pretty justified today. 

Further, this report comes on the heels of news that Higher One is expanding into student affairs database software, making it the bank that not only has students’ money, but also manages colleges’ data on things like "student participation in activities and service hours" and "students’ self-reported interests."

Although I do think it’s safe to say that everyone is against overcharging for debit cards, FIRE doesn’t have an official opinion on whether or not Higher One is a good bank or whether it’s a good idea for a bank to manage student affairs-type data. That said, it’s undeniable that the sorts of issues that arise when banks work with colleges are ones about which many students will have strong opinions. They might even voice those opinions on Facebook, and in a sarcastic fashion, no less! Those who do should not be treated like Marc Bechtol was treated. After all, sometimes there turns out to be merit to such complaints!

FIRE was able to get Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) to back off Bechtol’s punishment and get him back in school. Unfortunately, CVCC has maintained the unconstitutional policy it used to punish him, which bans "[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." While that’s not surprising considering how much colleges will do to avoid having to admit they’re wrong, CVCC’s policy is looking increasingly ridiculous—and ripe for further abuse—in light of today’s news about Higher One.

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