The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a great article today about FIRE’s ongoing case at St. Louis Community College at Meramec (STLCC). As detailed in our press release, STLCC has placed student Jun Xiao on disciplinary probation and found him guilty of several offenses—including hazing, disorderly conduct, and breach of the peace—simply for sending e-mails to his classmates about his plans to disenroll from a class at STLCC and take other courses with different professors. Unhappy with his professor in a course he was taking at STLCC, Xiao invited other students to retake the course with him in the spring, informed them about other professors with good reputations, and pointed out that the same course is available at another community college.
As the Post-Dispatch article points out, Xiao did not in any way make his concerns a personal matter between himself and the professor in question:
He never mentioned his current professor’s name or directly criticized her in the e-mails.
Rather, Xiao had perfectly understandable reasons for thinking about withdrawing from the course and seeking an alternative:
Like him, that professor is a non-native English speaker and was sometimes difficult to understand in class, he said. He approached her a number of times to clarify the material, including during her office hours, but he said she was impatient.
Having these concerns, Xiao acted as a helpful classmate and shared his insights regarding other options with his fellow students. But despite the innocuous nature of his emails, STLCC apparently found him to be an inconvenience or nuisance. The result is the appalling case in front of us.
It is truly an injustice that such an accomplished student—Xiao holds a doctorate from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has post-doctoral research experience at MIT, Columbia University, and Washington University—faces such ridiculous and undeserved punishment. Xiao is rightfully concerned that having a probation on his record will jeopardize his chances of being admitted to medical school. As he is quoted as saying in the article, “If the probation is there, the probation will ruin my life.” Such a result is completely unwarranted for engaging in clearly protected speech.