MONTCLAIR, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — An advocacy group this week was defending the conduct of a Montclair State University student who was suspended for making unflattering comments at the bottom of what the group called a “politically charged” YouTube video by another student.
Joseph Aziz, a 26-year-old graduate student at the university, was disciplined for violating the student code of conduct after commenting on the YouTube video that a female student’s legs looked like “a pair of bleached hams,” according to published reports.
The YouTube video has since been taken down, but the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is backing Aziz, said it featured a male student with whom Aziz disagreed politically.
Published reports said they were heckling a campus speech by Steve Lonegan, the director of the New Jersey chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity and a onetime Republican gubernatorial candidate. Aziz was at the event as a member of the conservative campus group Young Americans for Liberty and did not approve of the heckling, reports said.
Aziz reportedly made the comment about the male student’s girlfriend.
The comments were reported to the university, and on Oct. 9, the university issued a no-contact order – essentially a restraining order – barring Aziz with all interaction with the female student.
The order, which was posted online by the foundation, forbade Aziz from “written, verbal, or electronic contact; physical or ‘in-person’ contact, or contact by third parties.” The order forbade Aziz from being anywhere physically close to the student whether in class or the student center, and from leaving any messages for the student or comments on social media items she posted or mentioning her on social media.
The order warned that failure to comply with the order would result in legal action.
But Aziz got into additional trouble when he posted a comment about the incident in a private Facebook Group. In the group, “Oceanian Troll Order,” Aziz complained that “insults are also illegal if the person gets offended,” and said he loves “trolling” online.
Later, Aziz added that he joked about the escaping the student’s “tyrannical ham lock.”
The foundation emphasized that the female student did not have access to the private Facebook group, but a member of the group copied his comments and forwarded them to Montclair State officials, according to the published reports. As a result, he was suspended for the spring semester and barred from campus under threat of arrest, the foundation said.
Aziz appealed his suspension, but the university upheld the penalty. In a letter denying the appeal, university Vice President Karen Pennington characterized his conduct as immature, noting that he also consistently withdrew from courses so as to “waste valuable time.”
“Are you so focused on non-productive activities such as Facebook and ‘Trolling’ that you have misplaced your priorities,” Pennington wrote to Aziz in a Dec. 18 letter that was published the foundation.
Pennington also said it was “hard to understand how someone of your age could truly expect what you put on the Internet is private.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education fired back at the university earlier this month, calling the restraining order and suspension “a serious violation of Aziz’s rights.”
In a news release, the university said the no-contact order itself had “unconstitutionally restricted Aziz’s ability to discuss his situation, including in private social media discussions,” and that he effectively had been “barred from campus for discussing his case and defying an unjust administrative decree. “
“As an agency of the government, Montclair State has no power to order students not to discuss any topic or person on independent social media sites like Facebook,” foundation Senior vice president Robert Shibley said in the release. “If President Nixon couldn’t use prior restraint to stop publication of the Pentagon Papers, why in the world does Montclair State University think it can use prior restraint to stop students from joking around on Facebook?”
But the Star-Ledger reported that while declining to discuss the case, Montclair University stood by its code of conduct as complying with the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.
Enacted in 2011, the act followed the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who took his own life after a sexual encounter with another man was streamed on the Internet by his roommate.
Aziz’s suspension began this month, the foundation said.
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