At TCU, Free Speech in ICU

Conservative student punished for political views expressed on social media

by Deirdre Reilly | Updated 04 Aug 2015 at 8:20 AM

Texas Christian University has effectively suspended 19-year-old student Harry Vincent for doing nothing more than exercising his First Amendment right to free speech on Twitter.

After a series of derogatory tweets (which he posted while in high school) were packaged by a former middle school foe and brought to TCU’s attention on the social media platform Tumblr last April, Vincent found himself on the wrong side of school regulations.

“I am not backing down,” Vincent told LifeZette of his fight against the college. “And the support I have gotten from friends, strangers, and even TCU donors who are rethinking their financial pledges in light of all this gives me hope.”

“I am not backing down,” Vincent said of his fight against the college.

Vincent, a sophomore at the Fort Worth-based university, apparently violated two Student Code of Conduct provisions concerning “infliction of bodily or emotional harm” and “disorderly conduct,” according to TCU. The series of tweets were posted during a six-month span during his days as a high school student.

“These hoodrat criminals in Baltimore need to be shipped off and exiled to the sahara desert (sic). Maybe then they’ll realize how much we provide for them (welfare, college tuition, obama’s phone’s, medicare, etc.),” read one tweet.

Several others referenced ISIS and the Mexican population, whom he called “beaners.”

“I didn’t even know what that word meant,” Vincent told LifeZette. “I’m from the east coast. I heard a friend say it out there in Texas, and thought it sounded funny. I had no idea it meant Mexicans – I have no racist feelings about any group at all. I do have strong feelings about ISIS, the Baltimore riots and other dangerous events against America — and it is my First Amendment right to express them.”

Public colleges have to tread carefully lest they violate a student’s First Amendment rights, but this is not the case with private colleges. They have more latitude when it comes to disciplinary measures.

A private university is “free to — as least as far as the law is concerned — do whatever it wants, to expel a student for whatever reason,” Robert O’Neil, former president of the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin System, told the Dallas News. “It’s unlikely that a court would intervene.”

The 19-year-old told Vincent LifeZette he is puzzled at the one-sidedness of the free speech issue as it affects conservatives.

“My accuser has said some vile things that make me very angry,” Vincent told LifeZette. “But I would never give you her name, or take away her right to say those things.”

“My accuser has posted comments like ‘I want to set all boys on fire,’ and I don’t see anyone coming to tear her apart and ruin her college years,” Vincent told LifeZette. “But I am being made a pariah at the school we have paid a lot of money to — I can’t even be in a group discussion in class without notifying the dean and getting prior approval. They are treating me like I am criminally insane, instead of a young person who is still learning, but who has the constitutional right to his own opinions.”

Vincent, a conservative, staunchly defends even the rights of the young woman who turned his tweets over to his college.

“She has said some vile things that make me very angry,” he told LifeZette. “But I would never give you her name, or take away her right to say those things.”

Vincent cannot attend football games, cannot participate in campus activities, and had to quit his fraternity. The initial email from the dean that alerted Vincent to a potential issue came during finals week last semester and stated no reason for a requested meeting.

Vincent said to LifeZette, “I sat around with my frat buddies and my friends saying, ‘What in the world could I have done wrong? Why do they want to speak with me?’”

Vincent and his parents are considering legal action against TCU, which is not commenting on the case. Vincent is unsure if he will return to the university.

“They say they want to prepare future leaders, but it sounds more like they will discard a future leader if he or she doesn’t fall in line with the progressive, ‘PC’ crowd.”

“It’s so ironic,” Vincent said. “I am treated this way at a Christian college. They say they want to prepare future leaders, but it sounds more like they will discard a future leader if he or she doesn’t fall in line with the progressive, ‘PC’ crowd.

“I am willing to learn from my mistakes, and I have said I am sorry,” he added. “But do they have to go to these lengths to try to keep my views silenced?”

Vincent’s case highlights the numerous cases of social media conversations being taken to a vitriolic level.

“There is a tendency to exaggerate the importance or impact of statements that appear on social media, such as the ones for which Mr. Vincent has been charged,” O’Neil said to the Dallas News, calling the TCU case “bizarrely complicated.”

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