A student who was penalized for swearing at a community college in Mississippi last March will have the punishment reversed following intervention from the civil rights organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and attorneys working on behalf of the student.
Hinds Community College initially issued 12 demerits against student Isaac Rosenbloom for using an expletive to describe to another student how the low score he had just received on a late assignment would damage his GPA. (Fifteen demerits would have led to a suspension at the school.) The instructor had found him guilty of “flagrant disrespect,” according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The demerits stopped Rosenbloom from completing the course and receiving financial aid; the demerits were added to his student record.
The school has since decided—probably due to outside pressures or the threat of litigation—that Rosenbloom should be able to return to that class and others, and any demerits will be removed from his record. A spokesman for FIRE said it was still troubling that this could have happened at all, as the college “isn’t some Victorian finishing school – it’s a public institution bound by the First Amendment.” The school has not said whether they would be looking into revising their code of conduct, which bans “public profanity, cursing, and vulgarity,” and assesses fines and demerits based on the severity of a student’s offense. According to an Inside Higher Ed article last spring, fines range from $25 for a first offense and $50 for a second offense.
In a disciplinary hearing last spring, Rosenbloom said the instructor had originally told him he would be sent to detention, which does not exist on the community college campus. The incident seemed to escalate from there. What do you think? Was the punishment too severe for the crime? Does your college have a fairly strict code of conduct? Colleges often have more informal policies in place regulating profanity, although those policies typically only deal with profanity when it is disruptive to the class. In this class, Rosenbloom dropped the swear word among his peers, after class.