On Second Thought…

University of Central Florida lifts suspension of student whose tweet about his ex-girlfriend struck many as rude, but also as free speech.

July 20, 2017

Nick Lutz, a University of Central Florida student who was recently suspended for two semesters over a tweet he posted about an ex-girlfriend, had his punishment overturned Wednesday, as coverage here and elsewhere left many criticizing both Lutz and the university.

Lutz’s tweet, which went viral, mocked the grammar of a letter his ex-girlfriend sent him, and he gave the writing and composition a D-minus. He was later suspended, drawing in lawyers who argued First Amendment and due process rights were at stake.

Lutz’s lawyer, Jacob Stuart, said that Lutz’s letter did not identify the woman in question, who is not a student at UCF. The woman had filed a cyberbullying complaint with the local sheriff's office, but prosecutors declined to move forward. Stuart also said the precedent set by the punishment would allow UCF to troll all of its students’ social media posts, and that the original findings by the disciplinary board changed after the lawyer sent an appeal, raising due process concerns. (UCF credited the change to a technical error and extended the opportunity to submit another appeal.)

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a legal advocacy group that aggressively pursues what it sees as First Amendment issues on college campuses, had been reviewing the case.

“I was really surprised and thankful for UCF taking the immediate action that they did,” said Stuart, who added that the university should be commended for its reversal. “It’s unfortunate that a lawyer was needed … that should still be concerning.”

UCF officials declined to comment, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The letter announcing the reversal of Lutz’s suspension was provided by Lutz’s lawyer, and said that a punishment could still be delivered if there were appropriate grounds identified. Lutz had been suspended for violating the student conduct code, specifically regarding bullying and disruptive conduct.

“Specifically, the charges brought forward in this case were not supported by the original documentation received,” Adrienne Otto Frame, UCF associate vice president and dean of students, said in the letter. “I hereby remand the case to the Office of Student Conduct for a new hearing with new charges, if appropriate charges are identified.”

Stuart was confident the ruling would stand.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction,” he said.

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