Facebook criticism lands UCalgary in court - Macleans.ca

Facebook criticism lands UCalgary in court

Students placed on probation for criticizing a professor on Facebook are asking a judge to review the case


Twin brothers, both students at the University of Calgary, were in court Friday asking a Court of Queen’s Bench judge to affirm their right to publicly criticize a professor. Keith and Steven Pridgen were reprimanded in 2008 under the University of Calgary’s student  code of conduct for creating  a Facebook group that the university says was defamatory towards Aruna Mitra, a former law instructor in the interdisciplinary department of communication and culture.

The group titled “I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra,” contained comments from at least 10 other students, one of whom compared Mitra to a shoe. Another comment said that Mitra “got lazy and gave everybody a 65.” Yet another alleged the instructor said that the Magna Carta was signed in 1700 when it was signed in 1215.

After Mitra, who had discovered the Facebook page, informed the dean, the brothers were placed on six-months probation. The university lifted the requirement that the students write an apology letter after they refused to do so.

The brothers are viewing the case as a fight for their constitutional right to free expression. “I’m happy to fight for what I believe in is right,” Pridgen (Keith) was quoted as saying by the CBC. In asking the court to review their case, Pridgen said he wants to ensure no other students find themselves in a similar situation. “The injustice that was done to us, first in having to bear with this specific professor in the class . . . all the way through to having to bear with the different issues all the way along, the appeals process, the denials, the delays . . . for that to not be forced onto another student, that’s what I think would be right is the solution.”

The Pridgen’s lawyer argued on Friday that while the university believes the Facebook group was defamatory the Pridgen’s should have been given the opportunity to demonstrate that the comments on the site were justifiable under the truth and fair-comment defenses permitted in defamation cases. However, because the students were only reprimanded with probation, the university said that there was no obligation that an appeal be heard.


Facebook criticism lands UCalgary in court

  1. Pingback: Facebook criticism lands UCalgary in court : Macleans OnCampus | Sectorprivate's Blog

  2. Pridgens = plural. Pridgens’ = plural possessive.

  3. They should say sorry

  4. I agree. The university and the professor really should offer a public apology for the treatment of these students.

  5. When I saw the title: “I no longer fear hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra,” I laughed. It reminded me of my student days at UBC in the 60s. We had some of the same problems as students complain of now: profs who did not want to teach, incompetent teachers, profs who failed to show up for classes or left all teaching to their TAs. I can even remember some Arts and Education profs who were so opinionated, they were ready to fail a student with a differing point of view. At the same time, profs – any and all – were considered fair game for criticism. Those who displayed the above-mentioned misbehaviours got ready to duck the “rotten tomatoes” thrown at them in the form of scathing criticisms – often in print. We had a student publication at the end of each year that took no prisoners. But nobody was sued, and some profs even took it upon themselves to answer in print. It was generally believed that students had a duty to criticize as long as they did so in a rational manner. Whatever happened to Academic Freedom?

  6. I congratulate these individuals for standing up for what is right. Unfortunately I am deeply concerned about my academic future and have chosen to remain silent over an University of Calgary instructor who has, in multiple occasions, been verbally abusive to me (Fall 2010 term). The last time that this occurred, other students stood up for me and confronted the instructor and informed the instructor that I had followed the instructor’s directions exactly (the instructor was trying to shift blame of their failure onto me).
    I don’t know the criteria that the University of Calgary employs to decide who are appropriate instructors, but in all of my post secondary education I have never come across someone as ill placed as this instructor.