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.
Montclair State University president Susan Cole revoked student Joseph Aziz’s suspension yesterday, putting an end to a controversial issue that had made it into the national news.
Aziz was suspended by the university after making derogatory remarks online (since removed) about a female student in September.
The remarks were brought to the attention of university officials and in October MSU issued Aziz a no-contact order forbidding the graduate student from having any “written, verbal, or electronic contact” with the female student. He was also barred from posting “any social media” about the student.
After he complained about the order and made more comments about the student on a private Facebook page, Aziz was charged with violating the gag-order and was suspended for a semester, beginning Jan. 2. His transgression was also noted on his college transcript.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties group, took up Aziz’s cause and on Jan. 4 wrote a letter to Cole alleging that the university’s no-contact order and subsequent punishment violated Aziz’s rights. According to FIRE, “the original rationale for the no-contact order—two weight-related comments posted on YouTube—was itself questionable” and the university no-contact order “had unconstitutionally restricted Aziz’s ability to discuss his situation, including in private social media discussions.”
In a statement on Tuesday, MSU officials said, “The university acted in accordance with its Student Code of Conduct which complies with the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.” Yesterday, however, Susan Cole wrote a letter to Aziz informing him that his suspension had been rescinded.
“I have determined that because the University hearing officer found you had not violated Section F (Disruptive Conduct) and Section M (Harrassment) of the Student Code of Conduct, the University’s No-Contact Order (UNCO) should have been rescinded,” she wrote. “As a result, your suspension is revoked and you are permitted to attend the courses in which you are registered for the Spring 2013 semester.”
She added: “Once you complete your graduate studies, achievement in your chosen profession will require an understanding of the world, an ability to deal appropriately with people of all characteristics, backgrounds and views, and at least some minimal empathy and compassion for others. I’m sure you are capable of achieving all these qualities if you wish to do so, and I urge you to pursue them. If you do, the world will be a better place, and you will play a more meaningful role in it.”