Threatened suspension lifted from student


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The threat of a two-year suspension toward computer science graduate Cody Hatfield was lifted by UTD on Aug. 18 after an intervention from The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. 

On April 11, Hatfield received a citation on his car charging him for parking in the incorrect spot. As he drove off campus, video evidence showed Hatfield flipping off a group of parking attendants, shouting “fuck off and get a real job” and calling them “fucking parasites.” Hatfield later defended his actions as protected by his “right to protest.”

Two of the parking officers responded by filing a report to the Office of Student Conduct. After two disciplinary meetings on April 25 and May 11, UTD found him responsible for “disorderly, lewd, indecent, inappropriate, loud, or obscene conduct or behavior that interferes with the orderly functioning of the University,” according to the report filed by Student Affairs. Hatfield was given 17 days to schedule an appointment to accept his deferred suspension, a status that suspends a student if they violate the Student Code of Conduct again. He appealed this decision but was denied in a letter from Gene Fitch, vice president of Student Affairs.

“Although one could argue that your conduct might have amounted to Constitutionally protected speech and therefore is not subject to penalty under law, that does not mean it did not violate the Student Code of Conduct and therefore is subject to administrative processes and sanctions,” Fitch said.

Without a lawyer to represent him, Hatfield notified FIRE of the incident for free advocacy and, if necessary, enactment of FIRE’s legal branch. FIRE sent UTD a six-page letter asking them to revoke Hatfield’s deferred suspension on Aug. 14, saying it violated the First Amendment. They gave UTD three days to respond. Graham Piro, program officer for FIRE Campus Rights Advocacy, said that bringing this to light was the best way to correct the situation.

“The communication from [Fitch] rejecting his appeal was enough of a basis to write it, and we argue that when it comes to Constitutionally protected speech,even investigating clearly protected expression can be chilling for speech rights,” Piro said.

The university lifted the threatened two-year suspension on Aug. 18. Since the incident, Hatfield has resumed his studies on campus and works as an assistant for computer science professor Farokh Bastani. 

“In the end, UTD did the right thing, which was all I ever wanted,” Hatfield said in an email statement. “I’m quite happy with my currently quiet life of research and study.”

This is the second time UTD and FIRE have clashed. The first incident occurred in July 2022 after computer science professor Timothy Farage said “Can we at least try to find a cure for homosexuality, especially among men?” on social media, which resulted in several student protests during the fall semester. In response, UTD initiated an investigation into Farage’s conduct both in and outside the classroom. FIRE then sent UTD a five-page letter calling for the end of the investigation, stating that UTD legally could not punish Farage for his post as it was protected by the First Amendment. 

Currently, FIRE labels UTD as a red-coded school, meaning there is at least one policy that FIRE argues substantially restricts freedom of speech. The policy in question is UTDSP5005: Student Grievances in relation to sexual harassment, a definition which FIRE argues is too broad. The Mercury obtained a private letter that Mary Griffin, senior program officer for FIRE, sent to President Benson about UTDSP5005 on Jan. 27, 2023. In the letter, Griffin argued that the policy goes against the Supreme Court’s ruling that in order to be harassment, speech must be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that it damages the victim’s education enough to essentially deny them equal access to opportunities.

“Interestingly enough, the university also maintains a definition of sexual harassment that does meet the Court’s standard in [Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education] in the UTDBP3102: Sexual Misconduct Policy,” Griffin said. “This policy earns a green light rating from FIRE. We’d advise the university to utilize this policy for all instances of peer sexual harassment.”

A follow up article by The Mercury providing UTD’s insights on five other flagged UTD policies will be published in a future issue.


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