Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds University’s Right to Discipline Student Over Cadaver-Related Facebook Posts

by Franczek Radelet P.C.
Contact

[authors: Neil Goldsmith, Ellen Babbitt]

In the continuing saga involving the intersection of social media, university policy, and student speech rights, a public university’s right to discipline students for social media activity has been further defined and upheld.

In Tatro v. University of Minnesota, the University gave a mortuary science student a failing grade for posting inappropriate comments about her cadaver on Facebook. The University found the student’s conduct to violate the “academic program rules” of the mortuary science department, which were included in the course syllabus. The student argued that the discipline imposed by the University violated her free speech rights. The Appellate Court upheld the University’s discipline, however, and the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed.

The Supreme Court viewed the academic program rules issued by the department as being consistent with professional conduct standards for morticians and funeral directors. Citing case law from the Sixth and Eleventh circuits, the Court found that a student’s refusal to abide by professional and ethical obligations embedded in curricular requirements is not protected speech under the First Amendment. Recognizing that this was an issue of first impression in any federal or state court, the Court articulated the following legal standard: a public university has the right to regulate student speech on Facebook as long as the restrictions are “narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards.” The Court specifically noted that it adopted a narrower standard to “limit the potential for a university to create overbroad restrictions that would impermissibly reach into a university student’s personal life outside of and unrelated to the program.”

Applying this standard, the Court found that the academic program rules for the mortuary science department were narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards. Borrowing language from a relevant Minnesota statute, the Court concluded that “dignity and respect for the human cadaver” qualifies as an “established professional conduct standard” in the field of mortuary science. The Court also found that the prohibition included in the academic program rules on disseminating information about a human cadaver was narrowly tailored because it still allowed students to engage in “respectful and discreet” conversations about their experiences with cadavers. Based upon these findings, the Court held that the University had the right to discipline the student because her comments were not limited to personal, private conversations; rather, they were posted over the internet for thousands of others to see.

Although the Court emphasized that the decision was “based on the specific circumstances of this case,” the Tatro holding is noteworthy not only for its adoption of a new constitutional standard, but also for its rejection of previous standards typically used in school speech cases. It specifically declined to use the “legitimate pedagogical concern” and “substantial disruption” standards enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in the longstanding Tinker and Hazelwood cases, finding those standards inapplicable to the facts before the Court in Tatro.

Although Tatro applies by its terms to regulation of students within professional programs, the decision represents a victory for educational institutions nonetheless, and it should be instructive going forward. Despite its narrow holding, the decision provides another useful guideline for public universities to examine as they aim to strike the difficult balance between respecting the First Amendment rights of their students and effectively administering their academic programs.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Franczek Radelet P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Franczek Radelet P.C.
Contact
more
less

Franczek Radelet P.C. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.
Feedback? Tell us what you think of the new jdsupra.com!