Negative Facebook Post Gets Student Barred From Commencement

June 1, 2011

A student has been barred from commencement in part because of comments he made on the Facebook page of Saint Augustine’s College, in North Carolina. The penalty has raised the ire of a national civil-liberties group.

The apparent offending comment—a “negative social-media exchange,” as the college put it—concerned Saint Augustine’s handling of recovery from tornado damage. The student, Roman Caple, posted this remark ahead of a meeting scheduled to discuss the recovery: “Here it go!!!!! Students come correct, be prepared, and have supporting documents to back up your arguments bcuz SAC will come hard!!!!”

The college’s retribution was condemned this week by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil-liberties group. “While it promises free speech, Saint Augustine’s College has apparently rolled out a brand new, unwritten ‘don’t challenge our decisions on Facebook’ rule that warrants keeping a student out of graduation ceremonies,” said Robert Shibley, the foundation’s senior vice president. “It’s hard to think of a pettier way to punish a loyal, graduating student for publicly disagreeing with administrators.”

Saint Augustine’s confirmed the student’s punishment in a written statement. “It was determined that the comments made to the page by Mr. Caple, coupled with other comments he made to select individuals, were designed for the sole purpose of inciting students to react to the college’s continued efforts to manage a difficult situation,” said LaToya Sutton, a spokeswoman. “At a time when the college staff was working diligently to ensure the well-being of all students, Mr. Caple, a senior, chose to attempt to create chaos.”

Despite the punishment, the student still got his cap and gown and officially graduated.

Schools: St. Augustine’s University Cases: Saint Augustine’s College: Student Prohibited from Walking at Graduation Due to Facebook Post