Hinds Community College in Mississippi is receiving some unwanted attention due to a controversy involving the discipline of Isaac Rosenbloom, 30, for using a single foul word in the presence of a teacher after a speech class.
Rosenbloom’s transgression occurred after the end of a class when he sought to discuss a bad grade in the speech class. Rosenbloom turned to another student while waiting and said “This is going to going to [expletive] up my entire GPA.” He was punished for “flagrant disrespect on any person on college owned or controlled property.”
“Flagrant disrespect”? That seems a rather fluid and ambiguous standard. In the criminal area, the Supreme Court has struck down more descriptive terms like “loafing,” “strolling,” or “wandering around from place to place” under the void for vagueness doctrine. See Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972). Likewise, a prohibition on “sacrilegious” speech was found unconstitutional. Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952). This is obviously not a criminal case, but schools should have standards that allow for an average person to anticipate and understand the lines of prohibited conduct.
In this case, teacher, Barbara Pyle, was upset by the use of the foul word and allegedly told him that she would send him to “detention.” Rosenbloom claims that he responded by informing her that he was 30-years-old and there was not detention at a community college. He was then told he would not be allowed to continue in the class and would receive 12 demerits—three short of suspension.
I can understand that not all speech is welcome at a speech class. However, this hardly seems to merit such a strict liability approach — particularly for a single incident of a first offender. After all, some of the most famous speeches involved such spicy language, here.
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