Last time I checked, college students are adults with constitutional rights, but a recent court ruling states that some of these rights are snatched away at college doors.
The ruling started with the case Ward v. Polite, where Julea Ward sued Eastern Michigan University for expelling her from the counseling program after she refused to counsel a gay person about relationship issues.
Julea Ward was attending college for counseling, and she “violated two provisions of the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) code of ethics by: (1) ‘imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals,’ Rule A.4.b, and (2) ‘engag[ing] in discrimination based on…sexual orientation,’ Rule C. 5. R. 1-4 at 2,” according to the U.S. Court of Appeals’ publication of the case.
But instead of the judges using these issues as reason to affirm Ward’s expulsion, they applied the Hazelwood case, which states that high schools have the right to limit speech that could be seen as disruptive to the learning environment.
For example, the Morse v. Fredericka court ruling affirmed a high school’s decision in informing a group of students they would be suspended if they did not stop displaying a banner reading, “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS,” according to the Ward case publication.
Telling high school students they cannot publish material about drugs or teen pregnancy is justifiable because it would be viewed by minors, and their parents’ views may differ from the ones published.
But the fact that the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals applied the Hazelwood decision in making a ruling was not the right choice to make.
The problem with extending that decision to universities and colleges is that the students are not minors. They are adults who are paying for an education. Restricting what they are allowed to publish or say is a direct violation of their First Amendment rights.
Circuit Judge Sutton says there was never a line between the high school and college level concerning the Hazelwood case, and he has no intention of creating one. He makes the illogical point that doing so would somehow allow students to “exercise a First Amendment veto over” a college’s policies and course curriculum, or would allow students to write whatever they like on an exam—writing “views about Salvador Dali and the fourth dimension in a torts exam,” for example.
Even if students who voluntarily attend college wanted to attempt vetoing the college’s curriculum, it does not mean they would have the ability just because they’re given their right to free speech. Stating this is true does not even make sense, and is not the point of Ward’s case.
And why would a student who has freedom of speech think it’s acceptable to write whatever comes to mind on an exam? The statement is not only ridiculous, but also rather insulting.
Really, the violation of the ethics code is what should be used to punish her. The fact that Ward refused to counsel a gay person is unacceptable. If she is going to let her own strong religious beliefs cloud her judgment as a counselor, then counseling is not for her.
Ward should be able to believe and say whatever she wants, but if she makes the unprofessional mistake of violating ethics of a career in which she would be dealing with potentially emotionally unstable people, actions need to be taken for the sake of the patients.
So Julea Ward being expelled from the counseling program, though arguably harsh for a first offense, is deserved. But the court needs to come to that conclusion the correct and constitutionally lawful way.
That would not be by citing the Hazelwood case; the correct way would be stating that she violated the counselors’ code of ethics.