Brett Joshpe and Edward Paltzik of Joshpe Mooney Paltzik LLP (JMP) wrote an op-ed that takes aim at higher education in America. JMP represents students and professors at schools and on college campuses in a wide variety of matters.
From the Classroom to the Courtroom
Outrageous Covid policies join speech restraints as causes of collegiate litigation.
By Brett Joshpe and Edward Paltzik
Sept. 14, 2020 7:05 pm ET
Austin Tong, a Chinese-born senior at Fordham University in New York City, was disciplined for two social-media posts he made this summer. One featured a photo of David Dorn, a former St. Louis police captain who was killed in a June riot, with a comment from Mr. Tong: “Y’all a bunch of hypocrites.” The second depicted Mr. Tong himself—an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party—holding an unloaded, lawfully owned rifle with a reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The university decided Mr. Tong’s posts were a threat, banned him from campus, threatened him with expulsion, and demanded an apology. Rather than capitulate, Mr. Tong sued, and Fordham now faces two federal investigations, one for accepting undisclosed foreign gifts from China, and the other for violating its own published free-speech guidelines in contravention of federal law.
Campus assaults on free speech are an old story. A new one is the way school officials are using Covid-19 to justify logic-defying rules that require rigid adherence and fail to account for the mental and emotional toll they will impose.
Northeastern University, which is using the Westin Hotel in downtown Boston to house incoming freshman, announced publicly to the media that it had dismissed 11 students for the entire semester for gathering inside a hotel room—with masks on after testing negative for Covid-19—to watch a basketball game. These students, many of whom were away from their families for the first time, some from foreign countries, had been effectively confined to a private prison for days during orientation with few avenues for socializing or engaging in normal human behavior. Northeastern is telling these students they may not take classes remotely and won’t get a refund of their $36,500 tuition, even though classes had not begun. Many other schools are conducting all classes remotely but charging the usual absurdly high tuition prices.
The Trump administration has started to crack down on abuses like these. A March 2019 executive order subjects schools that violate their own published free-speech guidelines to potential loss of federal funding. The president also has encouraged schools to reopen and return to some semblance of normalcy, and the Education Department has been aggressive in launching investigations into colleges for free-speech violations and undisclosed foreign gifts.
Ultimately, however, consumers must be the ones to hold these universities accountable. Parents should remind schools that they don’t empty their savings accounts for radical teachers to indoctrinate their children or for educational tyrants to smear the reputations of these young adults.
Colleges have become bloated, bureaucratic and hubristic. Covid-19 has caused society to rethink many of its previous assumptions, including whether certain staples of life are necessary. If colleges don’t shape up soon, belief in their indispensability could be next to go.
Messrs. Joshpe and Paltzik are partners at the New York law firm Joshpe Mooney Paltzik LLP, which represents Austin Tong and several families whose children were dismissed from Northeastern.