At the University of California, Santa Barbara, grad student Christopher Brown was denied a Master’s degree for over one year for using language deemed offensive in the preface of his thesis. Brown submitted the thesis, along with his “Disacknowledgments.” Told he would not receive a degree unless he removed the language, Brown took out what he considered the offensive writing. When informed by the Dean that he had to eliminate the whole preface in order to receive the degree, despite the fact that his thesis independent of the preface had already been approved, Brown dissented, invoking his First Amendment rights. Threatened with expulsion, Brown turned to FIRE, who informed UCSB that as a public university they could not withhold a degree because of critical comments made about faculty in a separate and personal preface to his thesis. In the end, UCSB relented, and awarded Brown his degree, but only after substituting in an earlier version of the thesis, one without the Disacknowledgments.
FIRE Case Files