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University Denies Student Degree Over MySpace Picture; Student Sues

Some things you just can’t make up.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports this week that Stacy Snyder, a graduate of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, is suing her alma mater for denying her an education degree and teaching certificate for a picture she posted on her MySpace profile. The picture showed her drinking out of a yellow, plastic “Mr. Goodbar” cup and wearing a pirate hat. The accompanying caption read: Drunken Pirate.

Stacy was of legal drinking age at the time the photo was taken; however, the school claimed she was promoting underage drinking. The day before graduation, Ms. Stacy was informed she would be awarded an English degree in lieu of her education degree, robbing her of the ability to teach.  Ms. Snyder is suing for the receipt of her education degree and $75,000 in compensatory damages.

So let’s get this straight. An adult student is punished by the loss of her earned degree for a photo published on a non-university website depicting her engaged in a legal activity off campus. This would be unbelievable—that is, if I didn’t work at FIRE, where we see incidents like this all too often. For example, FIRE came to the aid of student Justin Park at Johns Hopkins University, who has been suspended for posting a party invitation on Facebook. Similarly, FIRE helped a student at the University of Central Florida, who was in trouble for calling a student government official a “jerk and a fool” on Facebook.

Do administrators really have nothing better to do than check to see what their students are up to off-campus on their own time? What did they used to do before the advent of online networking sites? Criminy. 

On a related note, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and Senior Program Officer Will Creeley published an essay in The Boston Phoenix a few months back on how online sites like MySpace and Facebook make administrators’ snooping much easier. They point out that the rise of technology makes private lives much less, well, private:

Maybe we simply have to become more sophisticated and accept that people behave badly sometimes, just as they always have; the only difference now is that we can see that misbehavior in color on our Web browsers. As the information citizens have about one another approaches the infinite, respecting privacy will increasingly be a duty incumbent upon the viewer.

Back to Millersville University. Stacy Snyder should be awarded her degree immediately and administrators should go back to doing what they used to do—administrating.

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