Costume Catastrophe: Where do we Draw the Line on the First Amendment?

A recent incident regarding a UIS employee is discussed through two differing viewpoints on the subject.

Although the employees’ costumes were in bad taste and offensive, we should not fire them or even punish them. The University is a publicly funded institution, and as such is held to a stricter interpretation of the first amendment than private entities would be. Further, the employee made a post that did not reference the University on her own personal account at an event that was not associated with the University in any way. There is no written policy prohibiting offensive speech on private accounts. Firing or punishing the individuals involved would mean the University would be punishing people for rules that the University never set and that the employees never signed on for. Punishing the employees could lead to a court battle over both the First Amendment and over a breach of contract. We cannot punish people for breaking rules that were never set.

Instead of punishing these individuals, which could lead to unforeseen consequences, this needs to be the call to rewrite the University’s social media policy. The University’s hands are tied because there are no written rules barring employees from doing this. So we need to untie those hands and write those rules. Once the policy is changed and employees start signing contracts that have a more strict social media policy included, the University can take punitive action against offensive and potentially threatening actions like this. We cannot and should not punish those involved this time, but we can make sure we are better able to prevent it in the future.