A university inside the suburban sprawl of northeastern New Jersey has suspended a student for comparing another student’s legs to “a pair of bleached hams” in a YouTube comment, reports CBS New York.
School officials at Montclair State University allegedly determined that Joseph Aziz, a 26-year-old graduate student, violated the school’s student code when he published the derogatory comment.
The history of the fracas dates back to August, when Aziz showed up at a campus speech by Republican Steve Lonegan along with other members of Young Americans for Liberty, which describes itself as the school’s largest political organization.
The female student who was the subject of Aziz’s mockery also attended the speech along with a male companion, reports NJ.com. The male companion heckled Lonegan during his speech.
Someone apparently videotaped the episode and put it on YouTube. Aziz commented twice under the video. The comments allegedly called attention to the weight of both the heckler and the female student.
YouTube has since deleted the video and its comments.
“The initial comments were in poor taste and I regret making them,” Aziz told NJ.com. “I was frustrated with what I perceived as an attack on the speaker whose appearance my group sponsored.”
Such would have concluded one of millions of wonderfully insignificant instances of free speech in the United States but for the fact that someone later reported Aziz’s comments to the taxpayer-funded university.
On Oct. 9, CBS New York says, officials at Montclair State issued a no-contact order — basically a restraining order — obligating Aziz to avoid “written, verbal, or electronic contact; physical or ‘in-person’ contact, or contact by third parties” with the female student. The order also barred Aziz from contacting the other student on social media, and even mentioning her on social media.
If Aziz did not comply, the order warned, he would face legal action.
Later, Aziz posted comments about his travails in a private Facebook group — wholly unrelated to the school. “Insults are also illegal if the person gets offended,” he said in the Facebook group “Oceanian Troll Order,” according to CBS New York. He also claimed to love “trolling” online.
A member of the private Facebook group reportedly sent copies of Aziz’s comments to Montclair State officials, and school officials suspended him for the semester. The administration also threatened him with arrest if he sets foot on campus during that time, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a national civil liberties group that has thrown its hat in with Aziz.
In a letter denying Aziz’s appeal, Montclair State official Karen Pennington described the graduate student’s conduct as sophomoric, according to CBS New York. She also added that the 26-year-old frequently withdraws from courses, actions which “waste valuable time.”
FIRE has since informed Montclair State that it believes both the restraining order and the suspension are “a serious violation of Aziz’s rights.”
“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,” said Robert Shibley, FIRE’s senior vice president, in a press release.