U. of Chicago Student Questions University’s Reaction to Facebook Post

By March 25, 2010

by Jill Laster

The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

A student at the University of Chicago says an innocent status update on Facebook led to an investigation by university police.

Joseph Dozier, a third-year political-science and classics student, posted a comment on his Facebook page on December 6 saying “Dreamt that I assassinated John Mearsheimer for a secret Israeli organization-there was a hidden closet with Nazi paraphanelia [sic]. Haha! :-)” Mr. Mearsheimer, who has been one of Mr. Dozier’s instructors, is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

Mr. Dozier told The Chronicle that his post referred to the professor’s book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which proposes that a coalition of people and groups guide U.S. policy toward pro-Israel stances. The student said his post was making fun of criticism of the book, which discusses the lobby’s power and says it has unintentionally harmed Israel.

Mr. Dozier says a police officer called to question him about the post the next day and said he would need to remove the post or it would be reported to Mr. Mearsheimer. The student contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit group that focuses on free-speech issues, which told the news media about the case on Wednesday and has posted documents online, including a screenshot of Mr. Dozier’s status update and a rough transcript of the officer’s call based on Mr. Dozier’s notes about the case.

Steve Kloehn, a spokesman for the University of Chicago, said the institution could not comment on specific cases. He did say that the University of Chicago police and administrators do not routinely monitor Internet sites but do check them in response to specific complaints or investigations.

Mr. Dozier said he did not plan any legal action against the University of Chicago but wants clarification of its policies for monitoring students’ online activities.

“In light of events at campuses around the nation in recent decades and our responsibility for the well-being of all members of our campus community, police do not take any possible threat lightly, but investigate such reports as diligently as necessary in order to rule out a threat or take appropriate action,” Mr. Kloehn said in a statement to The Chronicle.

Mr. Kloehn also cited a university Web page, which says the university does not limit statements that it may find “unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive.” The university does consider some behaviors as in need of formal university intervention, including “acts of violence and explicit threats of violence directed at a particular individual that compromise that individual’s safety or ability to function within the university setting.”

Adam H. Kissel, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said Mr. Dozier’s situation is concerning. He also mentioned another situation FIRE is monitoring in which another University of Chicago student, Andrew Thompson, posted photographs of his former girlfriend on a Facebook photo album called “[Name of ex-girlfriend] cheated on me, and you’re next!” According to FIRE, a university official told Mr. Thompson that his ex-girlfriend had complained, and the album needed to be removed. She reportedly cited the Student Manual, saying it allowed her to require he remove the offensive language.

View this article at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Schools: University of Chicago