A Presbyterian university in Oklahoma appears to need a remedial course in Facebook tagging.
The University of Tulsa not only punished a student for allegedly harassing Facebook posts he was only tagged in – without giving him any due-process protections – but then threatened the student newspaper for reporting on its ham-handed attempt at justice.
The Student Press Law Center reports that The Collegian‘s story about George “Trey” Barnett’s suspension prompted a warning from an administrator, before the story ran, that the reporters could violate university policy by printing “confidential information”:
“Twice I asked them what information was confidential,” [Editor in Chief Kyle] Walker said. “They never gave me a list. I twice asked them for a copy of the disciplinary policies with the relevant sections highlighted, so that I would know what they were saying I would violate. I never got that either.”
The school claims it’s all a big misunderstanding, telling the center that the reporters were never “threatened” for investigating the case.
Barnett was suspended from several classes and only days later learned the substance of the complaint – harassment for allegedly defamatory posts about professors and a student.
His fiance confessed to the posts, but Barnett was then suspended without a hearing, partly because he shared the complaint with his fiance – which is expressly allowed for accused students who are gathering “witnesses for their defense.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has more details about the extraordinary punishment and press chilling:
Less than two months before Barnett was set to graduate, [Senior Vice Provost Winona] Tanaka not only suspended him until at least 2016 but also permanently banned him from receiving a degree in his major even upon his re-enrollment. Barnett was forced to wait two months for TU to respond to his appeal, which the university summarily denied on January 9 without explanation—leaving Barnett unable to earn his theater degree as planned.
There’s a dispute over exactly what protections apply to students accused of harassment, the center says:
After the stories were published, university President Steadman Upham sent a university-wide email Tuesday saying The Collegian’s story was incorrect. Barnett was not involved in a student conduct case, which would have required a hearing. Instead, Barnett was being investigated under a harassment policy, which includes a confidentiality provision and does not require a hearing, Upham said.
Walker published a response to Upham’s email on Tuesday saying the paper stands by its reporting and that “the Policy on Harassment states multiple times that the Student Code of Conduct still applies in harassment cases.”
If you’re a student looking for a Christian college, you might want to avoid TU.