Nursing student sues after dismissal over blogging

By March 13, 2009

A woman dismissed from the University of Louisville nursing school because of posts on her personal blog sued Friday, saying her First Amendment rights were violated.

Nina Yoder of Louisville asked U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson to issue an injunction that would allow her to resume classes and graduate in August.

The school dismissed Yoder on March 2, saying in a letter that she violated the school’s honor code by posting blog items concerning patient activities and naming the university on her MySpace page. A week later, the university rejected Yoder’s written appeal to return to school.

Yoder’s attorney, Daniel Canon of Louisville, said the postings are mostly political and don’t identify patients.

"There’s no allegation that I know of that she disrupted the education process," said Yoder’s attorney, Daniel Canon of Louisville. "It’s speech that’s entirely protected."

University spokesman John Drees declined to address the merits of the lawsuit, calling disciplinary action against students confidential.

"The university takes seriously academic and disciplinary matters," Drees said. "There are several processes available for students who seek review of any decisions affecting their academic status."

The case is part of what free speech advocates describe as a "disturbing trend" among universities seeking to exert some control over what students do and say off campus and online.

Students at universities around the country, including high profile cases in Georgia and Colorado, have faced disciplinary action for their online postings, said Adam Kissel, director of individual rights defense program for the Philadelphia, Pa.-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

"If the university really went after every nursing student who put up a MySpace page, they’d have to expel a whole lot more people," Kissel said.

Yoder’s blog posts, which date back almost a year, cover topics including suicide, religion, sex, guns and politics. She metioned the university several times but revealed no patient names in postings filed along with the lawsuit.

Yoder also frequently wrote about guns and her opposition to gun control laws and posted pictures of various weapons on the site.

In the lawsuit, Yoder said university administrators cited the gun-related postings and told her "students voiced concerns that lead us to believe you may have a gun." Canon said Yoder didn’t have a gun at the time and hasn’t ever brought a gun on campus.

Canon said Yoder was told she could not continue in the program because of her blog posts and was considered "persona-non-grata" and withdrawn from classes immediately.

In one post dated Oct. 5, Yoder offered her take on the presidential and vice presidential candidates, at times using obscenities to describe the candidates.

She described Democratic nominee Barack Obama as a "socialist pig with a twisted life viewpoint." She also agreed with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s stance on guns, even tough she knocked Republican nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain for choosing her.

"The only reason McCain picked her is because she is a hot chick with intelligence slightly above average," Yoder wrote.

Canon said by citing the blog as the reason for the dismissal, the university clearly violated his client’s free speech rights. But, Canon said, much about his client’s situation remains a mystery.

"We’re not sure how they found out about the blog," Canon said. "They simply haven’t told us."

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Schools: University of Louisville