Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Do student employees have fewer rights? 

A new case FIRE is pursuing involves a student at William Patterson University in New Jersey, who objected to receiving an invitation to a film described as a "lesbian relationship story." FIRE has posted both the email the student received and his private reply to the faculty member. The student is in his sixties, and also works at the university, and received the email from the campus' announcement email list. The university placed a letter of reprimand in his permanent employee file, claiming that calling the film a "perversion" was harassment of the faculty member who sent the annoncement.

Wendy McElroy writes about the case:
First, the entire weight of the state's legal authority is being directed at quashing Daniel's personal response to an unsolicited e-mail � an e-mail that invited feedback by instructing recipients on how best to do so. The university obviously feels the need to draw a big gun on this little man.

Second, Lukianoff refers to Daniel as a student; both Speert and Harvey call him an employee. Daniel is legitimately both, but in the capacity of student he undoubtedly has more established procedural "rights" against the university. The attorney general's office clearly wishes to reduce the "rights" it needs to recognize.

But as Lukianoff states: "Even in a workplace, it is ridiculous to conclude that a one-time e-mail constitutes unlawful discrimination and harassment. It is especially ridiculous to apply such a policy to a working student at an institution of higher education that has a special responsibility to ensure academic freedom."
Indeed. And the state's attorney general has decided to permit the university's claim to due process protection and ignore the student's First Amendment rights.

There's lots more here.