At Marquette University, dental student Theodore Schrubbe has been suspended, required to repeat a semester (costing $14,000 in tuition), and threatened with expulsion. (See reports in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Badger Herald, and the Marquette Tribune.)
His offense? - He posted uncomplimentary comments about an unidentified professor and some unidentified class-mates on his blog.
A University committee found him "guilty of professional misconduct in violation of the dental school's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct," and supposedly of violating a university rule against "stalking, hazing, or harassments." The Code includes provisions requiring students "to conduct interactions with each other, with patients and with others in a manner that promotes understanding and trust." It condemned "actions, which in any way discriminate against or favor any group or are harassing in nature."
These actions have already come under fire from defenders of free speech. Another student blogger at Marquette said the action would have "a chilling effect on free speech and free expression." Mark Goodman of the Student Press Law Center said, "This decision raises serious questions about the school's commitment to free expression. If the university has the ability to punish students for expression that occurs outside of class and school-sponsored events, they are really controlling students' lives." Daniel D'Angelo, an adjunct faculty member at Marquette, and a c0-director of its Ethics and Professionalism curriculum, wrote, "what he [the student] wrote was imprudent, immature, and oftentimes distasteful. But ... it doesn't make these entries unethical or immoral."
Schrubbe has appealed the matter within the Marquette system.
This case illustrates how at academic health care institutions, codes of "professionalism" can be twisted into a speech code, a means to to control free speech and free expression, and how health care professional students may be taught that whatever they do, they can't criticize the powers that be without paying a steep price.
Such enforcement of a speech code seems to be completely in conflict with Marquette's own stated mission, "Our mission, therefore, is the search for truth, the discovery and sharing of knowledge, the fostering of personal and professional excellence, the promotion of a life of faith, and the development of leadership expressed in service to others." One cannot search for truth, or share knowledge, while fearing that saying something displeasing to the powers that be will result in punishment.
FIRE has documented numerous cases of attacks on free speech, free expression, and academic freedom at American colleges and universities.
Health Care Renewal has noted more and more cases suggesting such threats exist in teaching hospitals and medical schools, and may affect even senior faculty. For instance, see the recent cases of Dr Aubrey Blumsohn, and Dr Eric Topol, just to start.
But I'm sure there will be those who will say that these cases just involved trouble-makers. After all, even Schrubbe's defenders allowed that he was "imprudent, immature, and distasteful." And they may be believe all will be fine and dandy in the health care academy, at least once we get rid of difficult people like Schrubbe. What a Brave New World we will have then.
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