A University of Kansas student avoided expulsion recently thanks to his location when he tweeted. Navid Yeasin, a KU student posted a series of sexually harassing tweets about his ex-girlfriend. Even after his ex obtained a no contact order, Yeasin kept it up. That led to Yeasin’s expulsion under the University of Kansas student code.
Yeasin, no doubt concerned about losing his season tickets to Jayhawk basketball games, filed a lawsuit challenging the decision.
The University argued that Yeasin’s conduct fell squarely under Article 20 of the student code:
“The University may not institute disciplinary proceedings unless the alleged violation(s) giving rise to the disciplinary act occurs on University premises, at University sponsored or supervised events, or as otherwise required by federal, state, or local law.”
In the University’s view, Yeasin’s comments constituted sexual harassment, prohibited by Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972.
Yeasin’s primary defense was simple. He posted his tweets from a location off campus. And since the student code, by its plain language, applied only to violations occurring “on University premises,” the student code had no application. Case closed.
The University argued it wasn’t that simple. It contended the “or as otherwise required by federal, state, or local law” was an alternative to the “occurs on University premises” provision. That is, in the University’s view, if the conduct violated the law (as opposed to just “hijinks” I guess) it didn’t matter where it took place.
The court was unpersuaded. In its view, if that’s what the code meant, it should have added the phrase “for conduct wherever committed.” Absent that language, the “on University premises” provision applied.
There’s an argument that WHERE a creepy guy like Yeasin tweets is irrelevant. The harm inflicted on the victim is the same no matter where the perpetrator happens to be standing. But the student code made that fairly logical argument unavailing. So the lesson for schools, colleges and employers generally is to check your handbooks and codes to make sure they apply in a digital world. The time space continuum is no longer such a big deal.