No matter how coarse or tactless their speech may be, college students enjoy First Amendment protections for their online and off-campus speech. On November 24, NCAC co-signed an amicus brief arguing just that, defending a nursing student who was expelled from school due to some charged, ultimately innocuous comments he made on Facebook.
Just a semester before he was slated to finish nursing school, Craig Keefe was expelled from Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN. The reason? According to school officials, his Facebook posts violated "professional conduct" standards. In one post, he used the words "stupid bitch" to describe a fellow student; in another, he joked about his need for anger management.
NCAC – along with Student Press Law Center, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and ABFFE – took issue with the college's punishment of Keefe for his off-campus online expression. The content of his posts involved matters of public concern, the signatories argued, even if Keefe communicated these concerns flippantly. There is no “unprofessionalism” exception to the First Amendment. This especially holds true when the regulator is a college and the speaker is a student using a personal, off-campus communication platform. As it stands, Keefe's expulsion sets a potentially dangerous precedent for online, extramural speech.