Thursday, December 08, 2005

Marquette Tribune: More on Dental School Blogger

Today’s Marquette Tribune ran a follow-up story on the case of a Dental School blogger who was suspended for making derogatory comments about an unnamed professor, and unnamed fellow students.

We broke the story here this past Sunday.

Except for comments from Brigid O’Brien Miller, whose job as Marquette’s Director of University Communication is to defend the university, all the quoted reaction was negative. Perhaps the most succinct and relevant remarks came from a Communications faculty member.
Erik Ugland, assistant professor of broadcast and electronic communication, said cases in which students are disciplined for off-campus comments almost always involve “threats or clearly defamatory accusations.”

Ugland said [the student’s] comments, at least those he had seen in Tuesday’s Tribune, were not defamatory because they are simply opinions, not factual claims about students or professors.

Taking disciplinary action on such comments “sets up a slippery slope,” Ugland said.

“If a student’s non-defamatory, non-threatening off-campus expression of opinion is punishable, then all students on campus are vulnerable,” including to those who rate professors on www.ratemyprofessors.com and DogEars, he said.

Comments on DogEars range from those comparing a professor’s class to “getting a cavity filled” to those urging readers to “avoid (a professor) like the plague!”
Ugland teaches courses in Public Policy in Telecommunications, Media Law and Ethical Problems in Mass Communications.

Ugland thus joins Dental School ethicist Daniel D’Angelo among faculty members expert in the issues raised in this case who have been critical of the Dental School’s handling of the issue.

Even Law School professor Christine Hurt, who argues that Marquette might have a legally defensible case against the student, sees the punishment imposed on the student as disproportionate.

Marquette’s position seems to be that these faculty are expert enough to teach courses on the issues raised by the Dental School blogger, but not expert enough to have their advice taken by the University.

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