Slip of tongue prompts campus speech debate

August 1, 2010

Isaac Rosenbloom never thought saying the F-word would get him in so much trouble, especially at this point in his life.

The 29-year-old father of two let the word slip as he was leaving class at Hinds Community College one day, and he was disciplined in a way that nearly cost him his financial aid.

"I didn't intend on this happening," he said. "Even as students, we have the right to free speech."

Last week, Hinds reversed its punishment for Rosenbloom after he contacted an attorney and drew national attention to the public college's free speech policy.

The reversal has paved the way for him to continue college. He'll start paramedic school later this month at Hinds' Allied Health campus in Jackson.

After that, he plans to go to nursing school and eventually get his doctorate.

Hinds spokeswoman Cathy Hayden would not comment Friday. "We don't comment on student discipline issues," she said.

According to Rosenbloom, it all started in March when he received a 74 - a "D" - on a speech he'd given in his oral communication class.

"This grade is going to f--- up my GPA," he said to another student as they exited the classroom.

His teacher "flipped out."

"She said she was going to send me to detention," Rosenbloom said. "I told her 'I'm 30 years old and this is college - there is no detention.' "

Attempts to reach the professor Friday were unsuccessful.

Following a disciplinary hearing, Rosenbloom was found to be guilty of "flagrant disrespect."

In addition to 12 demerits, he received an involuntary withdrawal from the class - knocking him below the required hours needed for the federal Pell Grant, his primary source of tuition.

"That really threw me for a loop," he said.

Rosenbloom, who works as an emergency medical technician, supports his wife and two young children.

He started researching free speech on college campuses and found out about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization that takes on campus free-speech issues.

"I didn't even think they'd take up my case," Rosenbloom said.

Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, said Hinds' free speech policy and Rosenbloom's punishment were "clearly unconstitutional."

"This is the first swearing case we've had in a while," Kissel said. "It's only a matter of time before another student decides to sue over this."

Despite the college's reversal of his punishment, Rosenbloom said he also is concerned that a campus-wide profanity ban remains.

Hinds policy states that "public profanity, cursing and vulgarity," can be punished with a fine of $25 for the first offense, $50 plus 10 to 15 demerits for the second offense and suspension for the third.

"I'm happy that my problem was fixed, but charging 18-year-olds money every time they cuss with their friends outside of class is wrong," he said. "They're going to turn around and do this to someone else."

Rosenbloom said he's always had an interest in constitutional issues - and not just the First Amendment.

"I decided to go into the medical field because I'm more of a hands-on person, but everyone has always said I should be a lawyer," he said.

Rosenbloom said he's also passionate about the Second Amendment. He's involved with Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a group that supports allowing guns at colleges.

"That was going to be (the topic for) my final speech in class," he said.

Kissel said most of the response he's received from Mississippians has been that Rosenbloom should not have said the word.

Outside, people have been more supportive.

"I just hope this doesn't affect my relationships with any of my future teachers," Rosenbloom said.

He still has to finish his oral communication requirement. Two professors teach it at Hinds-Rankin, including the one who reported him.

"I'd take her class again," he said. "Hopefully, she won't hold a grudge...

Schools: Hinds Community College Cases: Hinds Community College: Student Barred from Class