Heenan v. Rhodes



In 2004, Judith Heenan was an Auburn University nursing graduate student who was expelled for Facebook postings that included statements critical of the university’s grading and discipline policies. The university complained that the postings were potentially disruptive and that under the Hazelwood standard they were justified in imposing discipline. Heenan claimed that since they were comments made off campus and were made in direct criticism of the university she was protected by the First Amendment. The case went to the U.S District Court for The Middle District of Alabama.

The SPLC was concerned that this cause could potentially lead to a dangerous expansion of Hazelwood power. Accepting the university’s position would permit schools to censor and punish whistle-blowers. The essence of Heenan's posting was to criticize university policies, not to create any disruption. Finally, the university is more than capable of teaching with students critical of their policies.

Read the district court ruling.