K-State, KU in legal dispute about off campus speech

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Does a university have the authority to limit the off campus speech of its students? That was the question posed in the Kansas Court of Appeals on Tuesday as K-State and KU took opposing views in the case of Navid Yeasin v. The University of Kansas.

In June 2013, Yeasin, a KU student, was charged with criminal restraint and criminal battery in an off-campus altercation with his ex-girlfriend, also a KU student. KU ordered Yeasin not to contact his ex-girlfriend.

In the fall of that same year, Yeasin made comments about his ex-girlfriend on his private Twitter account, according to Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, senior program officer with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Although he did not specifically name her in the tweets and she did not have access to his account, his ex-girlfriend discovered his comments and filed a complaint with KU. The university expelled him after a Title IX investigation, citing the law’s protection for students against harassment.

Yeasin then sued KU for violating his freedom of speech since both the tweets and altercation happened off campus.

“Title IX does not override the Constitution,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

The SPLC and FIRE filed a brief in the case, challenging KU’s assertion that a university has jurisdiction over speech that takes place off campus.

“No matter how honorable the motivation, a public university does not have limitless disciplinary authority to regulate everything a student says and does off campus,” they wrote in their brief.

K-State filed its own brief, stating, “Title IX does not require schools to take responsibility for instances of off-campus sex discrimination (including sexual violence or sexual harassment) unless the school has substantial control over the context in which the alleged conduct occurs.”

Beck-Coon said she is glad K-State filed the brief.

“It’s very good to see another university weighing in on the situation and taking up for free speech.”

The case was brought to appeals by KU after a district court judge originally ruled in favor of Yeasin last year. LoMonte said the case is a question of just how far a university can go to dictate what students can say outside of campus.

“When you police what happens off campus, then you’ve taken ownership of that speech,” LoMonte said.

Beck-Coon said the case could have an effect on other free speech cases.

“It’s especially relevant within Kansas,” she said. “Other states might also look at this case for guidance as well.”

The court met in Topeka on Tuesday to hear the appeal, though a decision will not come until later.

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