A university in New Jersey has dropped all but one charge against a doctoral student who landed in hot water after using an image of President Trump as his background during a Zoom class and posting several strong political opinions on social media.
According to a press release, Stockton University has dropped five of its six charges against a Robert Dailyda, a doctoral student represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
If found responsible, the university’s proposed minimum sanctions for Dailyda include a semester of probation, community service, and a $50 fine. He might also be forced to attend a “decision making workshop.” This marks an improvement over the earlier charges, for which Dailyda could have been suspended or expelled.
Although it was Dailyda’s Zoom background that reportedly sparked complaints from other students, the university claims a Facebook post in which he said he was “ready to fight to the death for our country and against those that want to take it down,” is what warranted the charge of “disruptive behavior”.
Dailyda’s Facebook post, according to the Daily Star Post, read:
I have gotten to the point that I have to say something. I love this country. We are a diverse, yet assimilated population from all backgrounds. I believe all must have the same opportunities and I commit to make that a priority. Beyond that, I am done with the leftist agenda of BLM and the white self haters. I have seen it in action in my doctoral classes at Stockton and the general media. I’m not backing down. If we can’t get past this, ok, I’m ready to fight to the death for our county and against those that want to take it down. I believe there are also many like me. If we can’t get past this, ok, I’m ready to fight to the death for our county and against those that want to take it down. I believe there are also many like me.
The university says some students found the post to be “threatening.”
In a recent letter, FIRE warned the university’s president in a letter that its charges and possible punishment of Dailyda could violate his First Amendment rights.
“Dropping some of the charges is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough,” said Zach Greenberg, author of FIRE’s second letter to Stockton President Harvey Kesselman. “Stockton has no business investigating the political speech of its students, and FIRE will continue to defend Robert’s speech rights.”
Dailyda’s statements, FIRE argued, are “quintessential political expression meriting the highest level of protection under the First Amendment, which Stockton is bound to uphold.”
For the university to punish Dailyda for his speech, the letter declared, “is also incompatible with Stockton’s obligations as a public institution under the First Amendment.”
FIRE added that “no reasonable person could construe [Dailyda’s post] as a serious expression of an intent to undertake violence” and that Stockton “must tread carefully with metaphorical political rhetoric; we hope that this is not the hill Stockton wants to die on.”
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