NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
Joseph Aziz, a 26-year-old student from Weehawken, expects to work with the university to take classes in the spring semester.
Montclair State University rescinded a suspension Thursday it had handed down to a male student who made fat jokes about a female student on social media websites.
Joseph Aziz, a 26-year-old student from Weehawken, began serving his semester-long suspension on Jan. 2 for violating the university’s No-Contact Order with a female student who he had made comments about online. But on Thursday, Montclair State President Susan Cole revoked the suspension.
“While Montclair State should never have issued its unconstitutional gag order in the first place, we commend President Cole for acting swiftly to end the situation once it became public,” wrote Foundation of Individual Rights in Education Vice President Robert Shibley, which is a nonprofit that pursues civil rights cases and was working with Aziz.
The suspension stemmed from Aziz’s comments he posted on YouTube — which have since been removed — at the start of the fall semester. Aziz poked fun at the female student’s weight and referred to her legs as “bleached hams.”
The university discovered the comments and issued a no-conduct order which forbade any written, verbal or electronic contact with the female student.
In October, Aziz referenced the university’s ruling in multiple Facebook posts on a private wall. The comments were reported to the university, and the ruled it a violation of the no-contact order and various codes of conduct.
After a university conduct hearing dropped some of the violations, it handed down a ruling to suspend Aziz for the spring semester on Dec. 13.
In a letter sent to Aziz on Thursday (which can be found in the photo gallery of this article), Cole wrote that because he was found not to have violated the school’s code for disruptive conduct and harassment, the no-contact order should have been dropped and so she withdrew the suspension.
The university originally justified its decision to suspend Aziz on the grounds of its own codes of conduct and New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.
“In implementing these laws and policies,” wrote Cole in her most recent letter to Aziz, “there is a very fine line that must be observed between the violation of one individual’s enjoyment of his or her rights in the community and the placing of inappropriate restrictions on another individual’s freedom of expression.
“… In short, up to a point that can only be determined on a case-by-case basis,” she continued, “a student is free to act in an offensive manner and free to say offensive things. The right to be offensive, however, does not mean that one should be.”
In a released statement on Thursday, the university said Cole had never received any appeal from Aziz directly. After getting a letter from FIRE on Jan. 4, she referred it to the university counsel and a final ruling was handed down Thursday.
While the university will permit Aziz to attend the courses he is registered for during the spring semester, the suspension prevented him from registering for any classes before the start of the new year. Shibley said he expects the university to make accommodations to ensure Aziz can attend classes in the spring.
A Montclair State spokeswoman said on Friday Aziz is can now register for classes in the spring like any other student.
“There are no restrictions on Mr. Aziz,” said a Montclair State spokeswoman. “He is free to sign up for any classes that are part of his program.”
[Updated Friday at 11:50 a.m.: The final comments about Aziz’s eligibility to register for spring classes was confirmed on Friday.]