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Wednesday, December 07, 2005 

Volokh on Dental-gate

Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy has picked up on what is now known as Dental-gate. Prof. Volokh states...
Marquette is a private university, and is thus not bound by the First Amendment. Moreover, this case doesn't seem to involve punishment of students for their ideological viewpoints, and thus doesn't pose the most serious academic freedom problems. Nonetheless, it seems to me that Marquette should be condemned for this: Students, it seems to me, must be entitled to criticize the quality of their professors and the student body, even when they do it in childish terms; moreover, restricting speech under standards as vague as "unprofessional" risks deterring a good deal of speech, including more serious criticisms.
I think the bold text is an important point. Serious, legitimate criticism of university policies, administrators, and professors is likely to be curbed if this suspension stands. When an incident comes up that isn't just "I think this professor is bad," will a student come forward with criticism? Or will they fear possible reprisal, even if the criticism is valid and appropriate?

EDIT: MULS Prof. Hurt over at Conglomerate has an interesting legal take on this. She argues that the student is an agent of the university because of his participation in their clinic. Therefore, he has a duty of loyalty (that's part of agency) and his comments are a breach of that duty.

Prof. Volokh responds, arguing that Prof. Hurt's argument applies in the business world, but not the academic world. He argues that there is a large duty of loyalty to the truth. If his university is doing something wrong, he believes that he is duty bound to speak out. He also states that the Dental School's rationale and Prof. Hurt's rationale would stifle "legitimate" criticism (something beyond calling professors and fellow students dumb).

I guess I picked the right time to attend Marquette. Nothing but controversy emerges from this school.

Prof. Hurt makes a very important point at the end of her post...
In addition, I hope that any future professional students know at the outset what the expectations are concerning blogging.
As a current professional student, I would like to know the standards too. This is assuming that the school adopts standards for blogging.

Honestly, I don't think that I've violated any ethical rules on ED. I don't think I've ever criticized the law school (I haven't had a real reason; I honestly like it here). I don't criticize my fellow students. I have used a few four letter words in my time. I have also talked about drinking, as Prof. McAdams pointed out in his original post. Unless professional students are required to abstain from alcohol or never acknowledge that they're had a drink, I don't think that is an ethical issue at all.

I'm very interested to see what happens Friday...

EDIT 2: I've been keeping up with the comments on the Volokh post, and a commenter named DK made a great point...
IMHO, what is really ironic in this situation is that Marquette is harming its own reputation by punishing the student, just turning some minor criticism no one outside of the dental school would have read into an incident with national publicity.
I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the existence of blogs here at Marquette. Until the post by Prof. McAdams, I had no idea that this dental student's blog even existed. I bet that only a handful of people read it regularly. Through their heavy handed punishment, the administration has turned this into a national issue. Another PR blunder...

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