What’s A Trocar?

If any readers can enlighten me I’d appreciate it. But whatever it is, it got a University of Minnesota mortuary science student in trouble. And a court upheld the discipline. The student, apparently having spent too much time in the creepy lab, posted these notes on her Facebook page:

looking forward to Monday’s embalming therapy as well as a rumored opportunity to aspirate. Give me room, lots of aggression to be taken out with a trocar.

Who knew embalming lab was so cathartic! I still want to stab a certain someone in the throat with a trocar though. Hmm..perhaps I will spend the evening updating my “Death List #5” and making friends with the crematory guy. I do know the code . . . .

The student had hundreds of Facebook friends. A fellow student who saw the post notified university police. The police investigated, concluded the “threat’s were not serious, and dropped the matter.

It didn’t stay dropped. The university’s office for student conduct and academic integrity submitted a formal complaint against the student, alleging violations of the university’s student-conduct code. The complaint alleged that the student engaged in threatening, harassing, or assaultive conduct, and that she engaged in conduct contrary to university rules related to the mortuary-science program, anatomy-laboratory course rules, and the rules listed on the anatomy-bequest-program disclosure form.

For punishment, the student got a failing grade in her lab class, was required to enroll in a clinical ethics course, write a letter to the mortuary-science department faculty on the issue of respect within the department and profession and complete a psychiatric evaluation.

The student challenged the punishment, on the grounds that she had a First Amendment right to post on Facebook. She argued that the court should apply a “true threat” standard – and permit the school to discipline her only if the post constituted a “true threat.” Since the university police pretty much concluded it wasn’t, the student would likely prevail under this standard.

The University asked the court to apply a broader standard focused on whether the speech caused a “disruption” to the educational process. This standard would permit discipline whether or not the speech was a “true threat” so long as evidence established the speech caused a disruption. This standard has been applied more commonly at the high school level. But as the Minnesota court noted, there is no reason why it should not apply at the University level. And based on this standard, the court upheld the discipline.

The holding begs the question, though, about who really caused the disruption. If the school had elected to drop the matter once the university police concluded there was nothing to it, would there have been any disruption at all?