Montclair State Student Suspended Over Online Fat Jokes

January 16, 2013

A Montclair State University masters student is suspended for the spring semester after he posted insulting comments about a female student on social media websites. 

Joseph Aziz, 26, of Weehawken, made comments on YouTube — which have since been removed — at the start of the fall semester poking fun at a fellow female student’s weight and referred to her legs as “bleached hams,” according to Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit that pursues civil rights cases and is working on Aziz’s behalf.

The comments were soon brought to the attention of the university. On Oct. 9, the university issued Aziz a University No-Contact Order, according to FIRE. The no-contact order forbade Aziz from any “written, verbal, or electronic contact; physical or ‘in person’ contact; or contact by third parties” with the female student, according to the university’s letter to Aziz posted online by FIRE.

After the order was issued, Aziz posted multiple comments about the incident on a private Facebook wall in October. In the Facebook posts, which can be found on FIRE’s website, Aziz said he was previously “trolling” or posting comments online to provoke a response, and took issue with the university’s action. 

Soon after on Nov. 29, Aziz was charged with failing to comply with the university’s no-contact order and charged with various violations, according to FIRE. While some charges were dropped after a university conduct hearing, he was still found responsible for violating the no-contact order and suspended for the spring semester. 

The order to curb Aziz’s freedom of speech and his suspension caused FIRE to get involved, which has since called the actions a “gag order” and “unconstitutional.”

“What Montclair State did was a real serious violation of Constitutional principals,” said Robert Shibley, senior vice president of FIRE. “They government doesn’t have the power to order you not to talk about some subjects on social media, and unfortunately that is what Montclair State decided to do here.

“What people say on social media is not always … the business of the university.”

FIRE sent a letter to university President Susan Cole on Jan. 4, calling the no-contact order a violation of Aziz’s First Amendment rights and requesting the university reverse its decision to suspend Aziz.  

The university issued a statement about the incident that read it would not make “not comment upon individual student discipline.” In addition, the university stated that its actions were in accordance with its own codes of conduct, and federal and state law. 

"The University acted in accordance with its Student Code of Conduct which complies with the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, and other applicable federal and state regulations," read the university’s statement. 

While Aziz continues to serve his suspension for now, Shibley said he expects the university to change its ruling. 

“From a Constitutional perspective,” said Shibley, “it’s not a very hard case. The university is clearly in the wrong. A lot of times they are reluctant to acknowledge that, but the Constitution supersedes their desires or policies, and I think it is inevitable they are going to have to recognize that eventually.” 

Aziz could not be reached for comment for this article. 

Schools: Montclair State University Cases: Montclair State University: Student Barred from Campus for Violating Unconstitutional ‘Gag Order’