The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the University of Minnesota didn’t violate the free speech rights of a student it disciplined over Facebook posts.
Mortuary science student Amanda Tatro posted the 2009 status updates after her fiancé dumped her unexpectedly, she told the Minnesota Daily in a February interview. She said the posts — which included comments about wanting to “stab a certain someone” with a mortuary science tool — were just a way of venting. But the University saw it differently.
It responded by flunking Tatro from the class in which she used the mortuary science embalming tool and requiring her to enroll in an ethics course, formally apologize to faculty and undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
“It’s very easy to say that the University should have forgotten about it and done nothing about it, sitting here now in 2012,” Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel, told the Minnesota Daily previously. “An institution of higher education cannot simply say, ‘That’s fine, go ahead and make those kinds of threats with our teaching equipment, and we’ll not do anything about it.’ No.”
Justice Helen Meyer wrote in the court opinion that the University didn’t violate Tatro’s rights because the academic program rules she violated — those of the Mortuary Science Program — were narrowly tailored and related to established professional conduct standards.
Medical and mortuary science professional organizations supported the University in the case, while civil liberties groups sided with Tatro. In the months leading to the oral arguments, both sides told the Minnesota Daily that the ruling would have consequences that reached further than a single college campus.