Thursday, December 08, 2005

Defending Marquette on the Dental School Blogger Issue

A sophisticated, but in our view wrongheaded, defense of the Marquette Dental School and its decision to discipline a student blogger has been offered by Law School professor Christine Hurt on The Conglomerate.

Hurt suggests that the student may be an “agent” of the University.
From an agency standpoint, the student is not only a student, but an agent of the university. The clinic charges fees for its services (it does not accept third-party insurance). The university has an interest in maintaining good public relations with its client base and to continue to have paying clients. Having someone who provides services in its clinic blogging negatively about dental school professors and other students, all of whom provide services in the clinic, is against the interest of the university. I could definitely make the argument that the student is an agent who has breached his duty of loyalty.
But as one of the comments in response to this post points out, professors are “agents” of a university, yet they clearly have the right to criticize the institution.

And students aren’t merely employees of the University, they are students in an academic institution. That ought to mean that they have fairly extensive free speech rights. At a minimum, some real damage to the employer’s interests (not a mere hypothetical argument that criticism might hurt the dental clinic’s interests) ought to be required to punish students for speech.

Hurt, however, doesn’t seem keen on harsh punishment for the student. She observes:
That being said, a warning may have sufficed as discipline; I am not sure that having to restart dental school is the proportionate sanction. In addition, I hope that any future professional students know at the outset what the expectations are concerning blogging.
Yes, at a minimum.

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