Student faces possible suspension, fine for Zoom background of President Trump

August 7, 2020
  • Other students at New Jersey’s Stockton University reported feeling “offended, disrespected, and taunted” by the image
  • Student also facing violation for “intolerant” political Facebook post
  • He faces six charges, including harassment and cyberbullying, and may have to take a “social justice workshop” if found guilty by the public university

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Aug. 7, 2020 — A student at Stockton University is facing disciplinary charges for a political Facebook post and making his Zoom background a photo of President Donald Trump during class, causing other students to feel “taunted.” Today, with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, he’s fighting back

“Like its Atlantic City neighbor, Stockton is doubling down and gambling with students’ constitutional rights — a risky bet when FIRE is involved,” said Zach Greenberg, author of FIRE’s letter to Stockton President Harvey Kesselman. 

Doctoral student Robert Dailyda used a photo of the president as his Zoom background during a July 1 virtual class, prompting complaints from other students in a private GroupMe chat after class. Dailyda removed himself from the chat in order to, as Stockton acknowledged, “avoid continued conflict.” The administration wrote in an incident report that the photo caused students “to feel offended, disrespected, and taunted.”

On July 10, administrators asked him to explain his political views, claiming that students were offended by his Zoom background, comments in the GroupMe chat, and a subsequent Facebook post defending his expression, which the university claimed students found “offensive, threatening, and concerning.” The university also expressed concern about comments others left on the post.

In his post, Dailyda wrote in part, “I’m ready to fight to the death for our county and against those that want to take it down.” (If that, in Stockton’s estimation, is worthy of investigation, wait until they learn about Patrick Henry.)

Six days later, Stockton charged Dailyda with violating the code of conduct for disruptive behavior, discrimination, harassment, creating a hostile environment, causing harm, and cyberbullying. At a pre-hearing interview on July 31, an administrator listed potential sanctions for the charges, including: “[s]uspension, $50 fine, community service project, social justice workshop, and decision making workshop.” The deadline to contest the charges is noon today, and Dailyda is responding with the letter from FIRE.

“Stockton’s organizational leadership program claims to focus on the integrity of leadership, however from my experience they do not associate integrity with free speech and open debate,” said Dailyda. “They have created a deeply embedded and systematic environment that squelches the free speech of those who disagree with their radical agenda. I never thought I would see this from a public university that should be facilitating a marketplace for the full spectrum of ideas, not a monopoly.”

FIRE’s letter outlines Stockton’s obligation as a public institution to respect students’ First Amendment rights. It also reminds Stockton administrators that the First Amendment protects offensive expression and that Dailyda’s expression does not constitute discriminatory harassment.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

CONTACT:

Daniel Burnett, Assistant Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org

Harvey Kesselman, President, Stockton University: 609-652-4521; Harvey.Kesselman@stockton.edu 


Schools:  Stockton University

Cases:  Stockton University: Disciplinary Charges Over Trump Zoom Background and Political Facebook Post