• September 2, 2015

College in Mississippi Withdraws Penalties Against Student Who Swore

A community college in Mississippi has dropped penalties against a student for using a profanity after learning he had received a poor grade on a tardy assignment. The student, Isaac Rosenbloom, said in an interview that Hinds Community College sent a letter on Tuesday stating that he would "not suffer any future consequences" related to the March 29 incident.

Mr. Rosenbloom and a few other students had remained after a speech class one day to discuss their grades with the instructor, Barbara Pyle. Upon seeing that he had received a score of 74 on the late assignment, Mr. Rosenbloom testified in a recorded disciplinary hearing that he turned to a classmate and said, "This grade is going to [expletive] up my entire GPA." He said the instructor had told him his language was unacceptable and ordered him to detention.

Hinds does not have detention, but it does punish students who use profanity through a system of fines and demerits, an arrangement that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech advocacy group known as FIRE, contends is unconstitutional.

Hinds found Mr. Rosenbloom guilty of "flagrant disrespect" and issued 12 demerits against him. The college also blocked him from finishing the course and placed a record of the incident in his student file, an action that FIRE says caused Mr. Rosenbloom to lose his student aid.

Mr. Rosenbloom, who works as an emergency medical technician and is pursuing paramedic training at Hinds, appealed the decision twice and lost both times. His lawyers, Robert B. McDuff and Sibyl C. Byrd, persuaded Hinds to reverse its decision, according to a statement by FIRE.

Mr. Rosenbloom said that he remained on "financial-aid probation" and still had a "W" on his transcript, signifying his involuntary withdrawal from the speech course, but that the demerits had been removed from his record.

He said that while he was happy to be able to finish his course of study, he's disappointed that Hinds is not going to do away with its speech code. "They're just going to turn around and do this to the next guy," Mr. Rosenbloom said.

Hinds's spokeswoman, Cathy C. Hayden, said via e-mail that the college did not comment on student-disciplinary matters. Ben J. Piazza Jr., Hinds's lawyer, said that President Clyde Muse was convalescing after losing his wife of 58 years, Vashti U. Muse, in a July 9 automobile accident, and thus would not be available for comment either.

In the letter he sent to the student's lawyers, Mr. Piazza wrote, "We are sorry for the difficulty this has caused Mr. Rosenbloom and wish him well in his future academic endeavors."

That was insufficient for Mr. Rosenbloom. "To me it's not a win if the other guy just gives you back what he took from you in the first place," he said.


1. 22228715 - July 29, 2010 at 07:09 am

The reporter forgot to include the key piece of info here - is the college a public or private institution? If it is a community college, one would assume the former, but not always. And your individual rights are different at a private versus a public institution (and your remedies and rationale for rights are different.)

It sounds like he got due process if there was a formal hearing with a transcript. So there's no constitutional issue there (assuming a public institution.)

What are the college's published standards of conduct? Is there a publicly acknowledged "speech code" or expectation of behavior of some sort that is spelled out? Or is it just generally about being respectful?

What was the role of the faculty member? Was she the complainant, or the college?

Also fishy... it's very odd that a disciplinary action like that would result in losing financial aid. Financial aid from whom? Again, the source counts for the news story. If he lost federal loans... very weird. If he lost a scholarship from a local church or Boy Scout group... maybe less weird. College-sponsored aid... still unusual.

The whole demerit system, and use of detention is odd too. Really? Is that in the college handbook?

Overall, this story left a lot of questions unanswered.

2. 22228715 - July 29, 2010 at 07:13 am

Side note: The issue of appropriate sanctioning aside... I'm not sure how Mr. Rosenbloom figures it's a "win" to tell the entire world, including future employers (permanently on the internet) that he turns in his assignments late and ungracefully.

3. jffoster - July 29, 2010 at 08:32 am

A quick bit of "research", which should have been done by the reporter, as 9 points out, revealed that Hinds Community College is public, with several campuses, and apparently the largest college in Mississippi. With "demerits" and "detention", it is apparently run by little twits who think it's grades 13 and 13 of high school.

4. dinw1520 - July 29, 2010 at 10:40 am

While this whole debacle has elements of a farce, I do grow weary of the ongoing controversies related to free speech. As a person who uses few expletives, I would prefer to live in a society that respectsthe rights of all to express opposing viewpoints without fear of reprisals of any kind but also believes that any public area should be a neutral ground that honors everyone's right to civility and courtesy. Expletives and profanity are offensive to many and are really unecessary to make one's point. I would like others to respect those of us who might prefer not to hear "gutter" words. Having said that, however, I think this is a tempest in a teapot and far too much has been made of it.

5. pittlaw - July 29, 2010 at 10:53 am

No 9: The fact that he may have gotten due process doesn't mean that anything goes. There underlying substantive legal issue is free speech, and if there is a free speech violation, merely giving him a fair hearing doesn't right the wrong.

6. ehyouadvisor - July 29, 2010 at 10:59 am

Mr. Roosenbloom will make a great %4*#@!? public servant as he curses at the dying victim who gets blood on his newly cleaned uniform or swears at the eldery individual who is needing his assistance but is slow to move toward the ambulance.

Nowhere do we see his regret for acting in an uncivil manner. So it would seem he got what he deserved through his immaturity. Sadly he appears to have learned nothing from this incident and continues to lobby for what is "owed" him.

Luckily his "detention" was served for the Internet to see. Colleges used to be filled with individuals who had the maturity and vocabulary skills to find more eloquent ways for expression. This is now a thing of the past. While the ACLU can battle over the free speech merits of this dispute, the moral is that disrespecting ones professor will get you whatever punishment the faculty member is able to dish out.

7. kaburgess - July 29, 2010 at 11:45 am

Personally, I'm just plain tired of the "F" word and support any institution which tries to clean up public speech. I'm also tired of students who feel that their "rights" are paramount, their GPAs are the point of education, and their professors exist only to issue grades. What's wrong with demanding respect in the classroom?

8. lovecolour - July 29, 2010 at 11:58 am

Anyone else sees the irony that this was related to a SPEECH class that he apparently got for FREE (aid)? It is another situation where disruptive beahvaior to affect the rights of MANY is thought as better for presrving the right of one. It appears he further wss marginal student at best - most finacial aid cant be lost with one class - and not with a "W". The fact that he wants to "WIN" suggests he probably used this tatic to remain in school - or to continue receiving aid - but not to show an interest in sucessful schooling.

9. ikerose - July 29, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Ok, I've tried to stay out of the discussion in the name of neutrality, but #13's comments are too much. I would NEVER "curse at the dying victim who gets blood on his newly cleaned uniform or swears at the eldery individual who is needing his assistance but is slow to move toward the ambulance". Because I made a frustrated comment to a peer does not mean I cannot have a conversation before without using profanity.
You are just revealing your own idiocy and arrogance by implying that you are somehow morally superior to me. I save lives on almost a daily basis for little of no thanks, and to insult my professionalism is crossing the line.
You need to take a good long look in the mirror and figure out what it is in yourself that makes you such a bitter and cynical person.

10. ikerose - July 29, 2010 at 12:09 pm

And to #9, not that it's your business, but I qualify for financial aid because I am the sole income provider for my wife and two children. I take my education very seriously or I wouldn't have fought so hard to retain it. I lost my Pell Grant because removing me from that class put me under the required credit hours needed to retain it. And if you consider a 3.3 GPA "marginal" then I'd hate to be your child at grade time.

11. rsmulcahy - July 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm

What is wrong with you people? this kid turned to a friend and made a personal comment, he didn't go to a children's cancer ward and start screaming expletives at sick kids. Who cares if you want to live in a world without expletives, I would like to live in a world without tomatos, but that is not going to happen and I have accepted that. One of you wrote: "Expletives and profanity are offensive to many and are really unecessary to make one's point." What planet are you living on? Condsidering the litany of abuses humnan beings face in the act of living out their existence on this chunk of space rock, profanity is absolutely essential to communicating the pathos of our lot. Anyway, words are words, puffs of air that come out of your mouth, why do you want to give them so much power. If you think words are offensive try focusing on people's actual behavior, I believe you will find a lot more to find offense over.

12. jffoster - July 29, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I concurr with 11, "What's wrong with you people?" A Community COLLEGE that has DETENTION and DEMERITS. What it is is a Dumbed down Ding Dong Junior High School that calls itself a "college".

13. toho95 - July 29, 2010 at 01:13 pm

ikerose, you would make a stronger case for your maturity if you could respond to the posts criticizing you without displaying your anger. "Not that it's your business" and "if . . .I'd hate to be your child" and "you are just revealing your own idiocy and arrogance" really don't do much to undo the impression that you lack self-control.

14. 22199179 - July 29, 2010 at 01:18 pm

I think there is a difference between being cussed at and having someone cuss near me. The reporter clearly states that Mr. Rosenbloom turned to a fellow student and then cussed. He did not cuss "AT" the instructor. Big difference! One might ask why was the instructor listening in on someones private conversation?

When I have had students cuss in my class, I have clearly and politely asked them not to do so again and left it at that...they have always been respectful and never repeated that type of language in my class again. How much stress, time, energy and money could have been saved if this instructor had acted as a professional and calmly reminded the student of the language policy instead of freaking out???

And jffoster -- I agree DETENTION & DEMERITS??? Really? I feel like I am having a flash back to 1956...but then again, this did happen in the deep south and they do have a different style. (And yes, I have worked at a college in the deep south, the north east and the pacific north west...I know the differences!)

15. ccherry - July 29, 2010 at 01:23 pm

#9, #10: Thanks for responding to uninformed speculation. And I am glad you fought back on the basic speech issue.

#11: "Who cares if you want to live in a world without expletives, I would like to live in a world without tomatos, but that is not going to happen and I have accepted that." Best line I've read in days, and I almost agree with you!

16. ikerose - July 29, 2010 at 01:38 pm

toho95-You're right, I should have refrained from personal insults; I get very defensive when it comes to my job.

17. jffoster - July 29, 2010 at 01:55 pm

No 14. I grew up and went to college -- 2 of em in fact -- in the deep South and my baccalaureate degree is from one of them. Also went to a college in New England. None of them had "detention" nor, generally, "demerits", the exception for demerits being that they were used in only and pertaining only to the Corps of Cadets. Now, to be sure, these were not junior / "community" colleges, but I don't think this is a "Southern" style -- this is a 'the stupid idiots who run Hinds Community College' style.

18. lslerner - July 29, 2010 at 09:51 pm

Holy *&%#! The place sounds like a grade school, not a community college.

19. saraid - July 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

20. opinionated_party - August 05, 2010 at 08:00 am

I attended a conservative, some would say fundamentalist, Christian university in the southern state where I grew up. We couldn't drink alcohol even if we were of age, no tobacco, no this, no that. Had to attend daily Chapel services with no more than "X" number of absences or face restrictions. I went on to earn a Ph.D. from a public university that is a liberal bastion within a conservative state here in the south, and have taught public middle school, high school, community college, and university courses. Let that information contextualize what follows:

I cannot IMAGINE even my alma mater refusing to allow a student to finish a course for credit simply for using an expletive **in speaking to his friend** in the instructor's presence. So long as this action by the college was on the basis solely of that behavior, and not on any kind of retaliatory or escalating action afterward on the part of the student, this incident is one of the most ridiculous cases of school overreaching (and loss of perspective as to its mission) that I've seen in years.

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