TCU has benefited in any number of ways from its relatively recent success on the football field. Applications for admission have skyrocketed, financial donations and support for the football program, as well for the entire school, have swelled the school’s reputation and its coffers.
Now TCU has recovered a public relations fumble that could have cost it much of the good will and good fortune it has accrued over the last several years.
On Aug. 6, administrators at TCU reportedly modified the punishment of 19-year-old Harry Vincent, a student from Maryland who had been slapped with a harsh “suspension in abeyance” for using his personal Twitter and Facebook accounts to send out messages that the university – and at least some of the people who read them – considered offensive.
The initial penalty, handed down by a university administrator and upheld by an appeals board, basically allowed Vincent to attend classes but to participate in virtually no other phase of student life at the school. The poor guy was even banned from football games.
Vincent now says he’s been notified that the punishment was reduced to a much less stringent “disciplinary probation.” TCU has refused to comment on either the initial punishment or the reported reduction, citing federal privacy laws.
In the controversial social media posts, Vincent referred to Mexicans as “beaners,” a term he later said he did not know was offensive; ridiculed the Nation of Islam; and made derogatory comments about anti-police demonstrators in Baltimore, calling them “hoodrat criminals” and saying they should be banished to the Sahara Desert.
When Fox News turned Vincent’s suspension into national news, free-speech advocates around the country rallied to his defense.
Those folks, in my view, confused the difference between constitutional guarantees of free speech – which protect citizens from the government – and a private university’s right to discipline students for what it sees as violations of its rules of conduct.
TCU clearly had the right to suspend Vincent.
The relevant question is, should they have suspended him?
The suspension was a bad idea, as I see it.
Vincent is at worst a bigot, at best immature and irresponsible. But the TCU decision makers who punished him end up in a tie with Vincent for behaving like idiots.
TCU entered a fight they had to lose on the public relations front. The punishment did not fit the crime. The school could have simply told Vincent not to tweet in that manner again or face expulsion. Then it could have made his case a warning to the rest of the student body.
Instead, the school overreacted and I believe did trample on Vincent’s right to express himself in any disgusting manner he chooses.
The suspension decision “looked” bad and created the perception of political correctness outweighing common sense at a school whose positive public profile has been soaring; just this week, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and the school’s Horned Frog mascot were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The Vincent flap rained on the Frogs’ parade and it never had to happen.
TCU’s top officials dropped the ball by not intervening in this matter early on and disposing of it in a way that would have saved the school from being subjected to the contempt of free-speech advocates from coast to coast.
Still, they get credit for finally acting to fix the problem. They recovered the fumble.
As for Vincent, add lack of grace to his list of personal flaws. He reportedly announced the reduction of his penalty with the hashtag #freedomwins.
How about #stupidityforgiven?
Richard Connor is chairman of the parent company of Fort Worth Business, DRC Media. Contact him at email@example.com.