Minnesota Supreme Court rules against college student in off-campus speech case

Update: The Court has ruled against Amanda Tatro, holding that “a university may regulate student speech on Facebook that violates established professional conduct standards,” where the restrictions on speech are “narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards.” They declined to apply either Hazelwood or TinkerSEE OUR NEWS FLASH FOR DETAILS ON THE DECISION


We’re expecting a significant court decision tomorrow morning (Wednesday) on the First Amendment rights of college and university students, particularly when posting about their schools on social media.

The case involves Amanda Tatro, a former mortuary sciences student at the University of Minnesota who posted comments on Facebook about “playing” with a cadaver in her anatomy class and wanting to stab someone with an embalming tool. Tatro claimed the 2009 posts were satirical. The university disagreed, giving her a failing grade in the course, placing her on academic probation and requiring her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. She’s challenging that discipline, arguing it violates her free speech rights.

At issue is what legal standard should apply to cases involving off-campus speech by college students. Among the options are the Tinker standard, which would permit discipline only when the speech creates a material and substantial disruption on campus. UMN has argued that the more restrictive Hazelwood standard should apply, allowing discipline for any legitimate educational reason. The court could also decide that what students say off-campus is categorically off limits for discipline by colleges, it could limit that authority to situations involving “true threats,” or it could fashion a new legal standard.

A state appeals court, siding with the university in 2011, relied primarily on Tinker. Now the Minnesota Supreme Court will have to decide for itself. Tatro has vowed to take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court if she loses.

Follow SPLC on Twitter when the decision is announced at 11 a.m. Eastern Time for real-time updates. Look for coverage on SPLC.org throughout the day.