The tweets heard across campus

Student’s discipline nightmare sparks questions of free speech and social networking issues

A student was suspended and her posts on Twitter were used as part of evidence in a discipline hearing, which raises free speech issues locally. Diamond Cruikshank, a 21-year-old radio/television major, was suspended and is not allowed to set foot on campus.

Cruikshank’s problems began after a conversation about studio time with Professor of Commercial Entertainment and Arts Tammy Trujillo resulted in a disagreement. Cruikshank signed on to her Twitter account and began tweeting.

Trujillo’s student assistant Cheri Easley was informed by another student that Cruikshank was tweeting. Easley reported that she went to Cruikshank’s Twitter profile and began to read her most recent posts.

She notified Trujillo who immediately notified Department Chair and Television Professor Daniel E. Smith.

“I was trying to be respectful and not express how I really felt of the situation in an angry tone of voice to a person of authority, a professor in this case, so I went on Twitter to get the frustration out of my system and then get back to work,” Cruikshank said.

Trujillo’s accounts of the incident differ (see below).

Her tweets began with, “So someone with a fake grin and big ego that’s way to big for anyone to handle thinks I had an attitude.”

Cruikshank’s tweets never mentioned the professor’s name.

Trujillo reported, “The student posted libelous and slanderous comments about me on her Twitter account.”

Cruikshank also tweeted: “Im not going to war on this buuut don’t push me, cuz then you start playing with fire and oil. I respect you so you respect me.”

Trujillo reported that she perceived the tweet referencing “playing with fire and oil” as a direct threat.

Cruikshank said she has never threatened anyone.

“The words fire and oil meant nothing threatening,” Cruikshank said. “All I meant was that I didn’t want to have to go to the dean and then have to go to a higher person to talk with them about Tammy Trujillo and her assistant Cheri Easley about their consistent indecisiveness and disrespectful ways towards myself and other broadcasting students.”

Trujillo and Easley were contacted for comment but refused to be interviewed.

Smith said Cruikshank was misusing radio production equipment. (see Timeline Below).

“The Twitter issue is appropriating—a form of stealing— if she is using the equipment for her personal use,” Smith said.

On the posted flyers in the radio/television department hallway stating the rules to follow while in the R-TV studios, the specific use of social networking sites, e-mail, or any other Internet activity are not mentioned.

Smith added, “She was essentially posting nasty messages on Twitter.”

So the question is, can a student’s posts on Twitter be used as part of evidence in disciplinary actions against a student? According to Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, it can’t.

Goldstein said that Cruikshank has the right to post whatever she wants on her Twitter and cannot be disciplined for it. He also said, to punish a student for Tweeting violates a law.

“The state has the Leonard Law, California Education Code Section 66301 that states that a community college can’t punish a student for saying things that are protected by the First Amendment if they say them off campus. I think there is no question that those tweets are protected by the First Amendment,” Goldstein said.

“It’s clear from their statements that they took the content of the tweets into account in disciplining her,” Goldstein said. “That’s precisely what the law forbids. They can no more take her speech into account than they can take her religion into account – both are things the First Amendment forbids them to consider.”

Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, agreed.

“This clearly is protected speech,” Ewert said.

Goldstein also addressed the idea that the tweets are threatening.

“There is nothing in them [Cruikshank’s tweets] that is a threat of violence. There is nothing that would exceed what the First Amendment protects. Even if she put the teacher’s name it she couldn’t be punished for it,” Goldstein said.

Jay Seidel, professor of journalism at Fullerton College and president of the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, agreed with Goldstein.

“The student was in her First Amendment rights to post what she wants on her Twitter account and that has no bearing on her status as a student,” Seidel said. “I didn’t see a threat in what was written.”

Copies of Diamond Cruikshank's tweets used as evidence in her student misconduct report, filed on Nov. 17, 2009, by Tammy Trujillo, professor of commercial entertainment and arts. Cruikshank was asked to read the tweets out loud at the disciplinary hearing.

There have been a few cases that have hit the courts involving high school students and social networking.

One in particular involved Florida high school senior Katharine Evans who was suspended in 2007 for creating a Facebook page dedicated to criticizing her teacher called, “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met.”

Former high school principal Peter Bayer asked for the case to be dismissed but a Florida court ruled that social networking sites are protected under the constitution.

In his order, U.S. Magistrate Barry Garber found that the student had a constitutional right to express her views on the social networking site. Evans, now a student at the University of Florida, has asked to have her suspension expunged from her disciplinary record and is asking for a fee for what she argues was a violation of her First Amendment rights.

On the college front, there have been a few cases dealing with students posting on the web. A student from the University of Delaware was suspended for posting what the college deemed offensive material on his blog, hosted on the university server.

Maciej Murakowski, 19, published satirical essays and fake movie reviews. At a disciplinary hearing, Murakowski was suspended and banned from all university facilities. He would have to reapply and if admitted, he would be banned from residence halls until he seeks psychiatric counseling. His appeal was denied.

Murakowski sued the university in 2007 for violation of his free speech and won. The courts called his essays “immature, crude and highly offensive” but not a serious expression of intent to inflict harm.

Goldstein said he is unaware of any cases involving Twitter, but said there are strong laws in California that protect student’s First Amendment rights.

“There is no legal requirement that you like your professors. It is not even a legal requirement that you respect them. To tweet about not liking a professor, short of becoming an actionable threat, and obviously this isn’t, is not something you can be punished for, especially in California,” Goldstein said.

Peter Scheer, lawyer and executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said tweets should not be considered for discipline.“It was a mistake for [the discipline committee] to take into consideration any remarks that she made on Twitter unless those remarks could actually and reasonably be read as threatening or highly disruptive of the school environment,” Scheer said.

Scheer added, “She has the right to make comments on the Internet or a blog or on Twitter and those comments enjoy the same degree of constitutional protection as letters to the editor of the newspaper.”

In addition to her tweets, Cruikshank was cited for several other violations of the Mt. SAC Standards of Conduct. She was referred to a discipline hearing of which the result was a recommended suspension that was sent to the Vice President of Student Services, Audrey Yamagata-Noji.

According to Maryann Tolano-Leveque, director of Student Life, outcomes of discipline hearings are not the same for each student.

“It’s based on a committee by committee basis because it’s different members for a committee [each time]. It’s not like a club where you have to have bylaws and a constitution, I don’t believe that the decision process is required to be stated anywhere,” Tolano-Leveque said.

Depending on the incident, a student may be recommended for suspension
or expulsion.

“It just depends on the scenario; there are exceptions to every rule. We do case-by-case basis and some circumstances are different, actually every case is different,” added Tolano-Leveque.

According to a letter written to Cruikshank by Yamagata-Noji on the Discipline Hearing results, Cruikshank was suspended for three reasons. “1) your behavior was disrespectful and defiant in failing to comply with the request of your professors; 2) you failed to correct your behavior after the first incident and caused a second disruption to the educational environment and; 3) although you were remorseful during the hearing, you failed to acknowledge your behavior with an apology to your professors,” Yamagata-Noji wrote.

According to the letter, Cruikshank may only return to Mt. SAC in the Summer Semester 2010 if she seeks anger management counseling and attends the Character Development Workshop.

She must also sign a written contract, with the director of student life, specifying the conditions of Cruikshank’s return to Mt. SAC.

Robert Muilenburg, president of the Community College Journalism Association and professor of journalism at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi Texas, said using Twitter comments in a disciplinary action is unacceptable.

“I consider it completely unacceptable to ever utilize social networking information to discipline a student, Muilenburg said.

Muilenburg added, “At no time do I think that anything like that should be utilized in disciplinary action against a student. I can’t perceive very many instances in my own life where that would ever be acceptable.”


Nov. 17, 2009

•Cruikshank goes to the radio production studio to work on her R-TV 02 final project and assumes she does not need to ask permission to use radio production studio after a student does not show up for their scheduled time.

•Easley approaches Cruikshank and requests she leave that production studio because she is using up another student’s time.

•Following the procedure instructed to her about studio availability and usage, Cruikshank checks if she could use another studio. She notifies Easley and goes to another studio to continue working on her final.

•Easley reports that Cruikshank is using the facilities for personal use and informs Trujillo.

•Both Trujillo and Easley look up studio sign up sheets and realize that Cruikshank has used her maximum number of hours for the production studio.

•Trujillo goes inside the production studio and speaks with Cruikshank about her exceeded studio hours.

•Cruikshank said that Trujillo walked in and told her she was taking up another student’s time. Cruikshank said she was confused because the name of the student whose time she had taken was crossed out indicating he would not be showing up.

•Cruikshank said she tried to show Trujillo what she did instead of Trujillo assuming what had happened.

•According to Cruikshank, Trujillo told her she was being disrespectful, needed to quit the attitude, and needed to be quiet.

•Cruikshank crosses her name off the studio availability hour for 4-5 p.m. at Trujillo’s request because she had signed up for more than the allowed hours.

•Cruikshank finishes the studio session she was in middle of before Trujillo interrupted.

•Easley reports that when the conversation between Trujillo and Cruikshank ended, a student discovers Cruikshank on Twitter and tells her that Cruikshank is tweeting while still inside the radio production studio.

•Easley signs on to Cruikshank’s Twitter page and begins reading Cruikshank’s most recent tweets. She notifies Trujillo that Cruikshank is on Twitter and posting comments about Trujillo.

•Trujillo immediately notifies Department Chair and Professor of Television Daniel E. Smith.

•Smith reported that Trujillo approached him at 2:57 p.m. indicating that Cruikshank would not leave the radio production lab and requested his help.

•Cruikshank said Trujillo never told her to leave the studio until Smith got to the studio and they read her tweets and then was told that she needed to vacate the vicinity.

•Smith reports that when he arrived outside the production studio he confirms via Easley’s computer that Cruikshank was still using Twitter. He reports that she was not only using the equipment in an inappropriate manner but was also using the computer for slander against the professors and staff.

•He reports that he informed Cruikshank that she was misusing college facilities and needed to leave the room immediately.

•Cruikshank said she did not leave right away because she was trying to justify and explain why she went on Twitter and that she was working on her music for her radio final.

•Smith reported that he was in the room with Trujillo and Cruikshank and that for 20 minutes or so Cruikshank seemed to be making incoherent statements.

•Smith informed Cruikshank that he would call security if she did not leave immediately.

•Smith reports that after three more minutes of her verbal assault Trujillo picked up the phone and called security while he blocked Cruikshank from following Trujillo.

•Smith reports that there were still two more minutes of verbal accusations and threats before Cruikshank left.

•According to his previous written statement, Smith indicates that Trujillo was not in the room when he blocked Cruikshank from following Trujillo.

•According to the dispatch log from the Public Safety Department, security was called at 3:16 p.m. and arrived two minutes later.

•Smith reports that verbal accusations and threats continued for two minutes after security had been called, Cruikshank was nowhere to be found when security arrived.

•A student misconduct report was filed by Trujillo on Nov. 17. Trujillo wrote “see attached” in the space for “Specific type of behavior and/or exact violation of Standards of Conduct” on the form. The attached report includes accounts of the events written by both Easley and Smith.

•After Cruikshank leaves the radio production studio and attends her other classes, she returns to the radio television offices at approximately 9 p.m. to ask about completion of her final.

•According to Cruikshank, she spoke with Alan Bailey, a student assistant of Trujillo, and is told that she is not to be near the studios because Trujillo and Easley had told him not to allow her in until further notification. Once a student misconduct report form is filed it begins a disciplinary procedure in which the student in question receives a letter requiring them to set up an appointment with the director of Student Life within 10 days.

Nov. 18, 2009

•Student Life Office receives the student misconduct report submitted by Trujillo.

•Cruikshank makes an appointment unrelated to the student misconduct report to speak with Director of Student Life Tolano-Leveque about her grievance with Trujillo. The
appointment was set for Nov. 24 with Tolano-Leveque.

Nov. 24, 2009

•Cruikshank said she missed her appointment with Tolano-Leveque and rescheduled for Dec. 14 because she forgot because of the holiday weekend.

•Tolano-Leveque writes a letter to Cruikshank explaining that student misconduct report has been written about her and that she must make an appointment to see her.

•Cruikshank is informed that a hold has been placed on her academic record and will not allow her to add or drop any classes.

Nov. 25, 2009

•The letter from Tolano-Leveque is sent to Cruikshank by mail.

Dec. 3, 2009

•Cruikshank tries to take her final on her scheduled day but was not allowed to because she did not attend training required for the final. Cruikshank said she did not attend training because she thought she was not permitted in the radio production studio.

•Easley reports that Cruikshank became disrespectful towards Trujillo and she spoke over her and would not leave the when asked.

•According to Cruikshank, she never argued with Trujillo or raised her voice. She only expressed that she had worked hard on her material for her final and was disappointed when told she could not take it.

•Cruikshank was never allowed to take the final. An additional student misconduct report was filed by Trujillo and a written account of the event by Easley.

Dec. 4, 2009

•The Student Life Office receives a second report filed by Trujillo in which she states the Mt. SAC Standards of Conduct that Cruikshank violated. According to Trujillo, Cruikshank violated Standards of Conduct #1, 11, 16, 17, and 19. (Standards of Conduct can be found in the Schedule of Classes.)

•Cruikshank meets with Tolano-Leveque to discuss both reports filed against her by Trujillo and discuss her account of the events.

•According to Tolano-Leveque’s summary of the meeting she informs Cruikshank that based on the severity of the reports and number of incidents she would be referred to a disciplinary hearing. During the meeting, the director determines whether the student’s behavior constitutes a violation, and if so, the student may be required to attend character development workshops, community service and/or sign a discipline contract.

Dec. 15, 2009

•Tolano-Leveque writes a letter to Cruiksank to notify her of the date, time, and location of her discipline hearing. The hearing was scheduled for Jan. 6, 2010.

Jan. 6, 2010

•Cruikshank arrives to her hearing scheduled at noon in the 9C Room 5. The disciplinary hearing consisted of a panel with Tolano-Leveque, Dean of Student Services Carolyn Keys, a faculty member, manager, and student.
Tolano-Leveque explains the student misconduct reports and what she was told by Cruikshank in their meeting.

•Cruikshank explains her account of the events that occurred on Nov. 17 and Dec. 3 to the committee.

•Members of the committee ask Cruikshank questions based on details surrounding the incidents.

•Questions asked included: Cruikshank’s time management issues, her relationship with professors, and her Twitter feed.

•Cruikshank was asked to read and explain her tweets.

•Cruikshank began to discuss employee regulations that Trujillo violated and was interrupted by Keys because the faculty members were not being evaluated in the disciplinary hearing.

•Once the panel finished asking questions to Cruikshank, she is asked to leave so that they can deliberate.
The Standards of Conduct reads that the hearing panel has within 10 days following the close of the hearing, to prepare and send a written decision to the College President/CEO in this case Yamagata-Noji. Yamagata-Noji also has within 10 days following the receipt of the hearing panel’s recommendation to render a final decision.

Jan. 26, 2010

•Cruikshank calls the Student Life Office and asks to be informed of the results of her hearing. She is told that she will receive her results in a letter soon.

Feb. 1, 2010

•Yamagata-Noji writes the disciplinary hearing results to Cruikshank explaining that she is suspended and if she is found on campus the Sheriff’s Department will be called and she will be subject to arrest for trespassing.

•The letter explains the reasoning for the hearing panel’s recommendation for suspension: 1. The panel perceived Cruikshank’s behavior as disrespectful and defiant in failing to comply with the request of her professors, 2. She failed to correct her behavior after the first incident and caused a second disruption to the educational environment and 3. Although Cruikshank was remorseful during the hearing, she failed to acknowledge her behavior with an apology to her professors.

•Yamagata-Noji concurred with the decision of the panel and Cruikshank will be allowed seek readmission for Summer Semester 2010.

•Cruikshank will have to participate in counseling to address anger issues, and attend the Character Development Workshop.

•Cruikshank must also meet with the director of Student Life and sign a written contract that will specify the conditions of her return.

– Evan Lancaster, Lianna Sapien, Claudia Gonzalez
Editor-in-Chief, News Editor, College Life Editor