‘University Discipline in the Age of Social Media’

CanadaAbstract: In the wake of two high-profile scandals involving misconduct by university students on social media, this article explores the administrative and constitutional law dimensions of university discipline of online behaviour. Using the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision in Pridgen v University of Calgary as a guide, the author examines how the characteristics of social media impact the jurisdictional, procedural, and substantive aspects of student discipline. Specifically, he explains that while universities may legitimately discipline students for online misconduct, their comments must amount to harassment of members of the university community, or threaten the learning environment. In addition, the author describes how social media raises the stakes for both accused students and victims, which militates in favour of broader and more extensive procedural fairness. Furthermore, he observes that the open and communal nature of social media interaction may lead to ‘guilt by association’, which is both unreasonable and unnecessary to combat online harassment. Finally, the author argues that a student’s Charter rights are engaged in disciplinary proceedings involving social media activity, but this does not unduly interfere with the traditional autonomy of universities.

[SSRN, 5 February]

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