Yesterday, Joanna highlighted an article in North Carolina’s Shelby Star bringing further attention to FIRE’s case at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC). The Shelby Star is the latest media outlet to cover this outrageous free speech case, in which student Marc Bechtol was pulled out of class and, without a hearing, given a suspension for two semesters after he criticized CVCC on Facebook for the school’s aggressive marketing of a debit card company to its students.
While CVCC has thankfully backed off its stance in the face of public pressure and dropped the charges against Bechtol, allowing him to return to campus, the case continues to make the news. The Shelby Star returns with an excellent editorial making clear just how badly CVCC’s actions betray the ideals (and the law) of free speech on campus.
As the Star editorial points out,
Some may consider Bechtol’s Facebook comment immature or inappropriate. But it was clearly a satirical statement, not a call to arms for cyber-warfare against the college. It’s protected by the First Amendment, and as a public college funded by North Carolina taxpayers, Catawba Valley crossed the line when it disciplined Bechtol for his words.
If CVCC found Bechtol’s comments distasteful, administrators could have simply clicked the "delete" button. The comments were made on a college-maintained Facebook page, and the college bears responsibility for that page and can moderate user content at its discretion.
There’s much more content in the editorial that’s well worth your read (so make sure to check it out in its entirety), but I’ll just highlight this zinger with which the editorial closes:
Is criticizing the way a college does business incompatible with the college’s mission? Not if that mission is to produce good citizens capable of expressing their opinions and advocating for positive change.
A better question to ask is whether the college’s mission is to promote its brand at the expense of students’ constitutional right to free expression.
Ouch. And so very on-point, sadly. Our thanks to the Shelby Star for its continued coverage of the CVCC case.