This week, the California Court of Appeals, Second District, issued a decision in the matter of Yu v. University of La Verne. This case, involving a private college and law school, is very interesting and explores the free speech rights of college students. It also may be applied outside of its limited forum (private university) in the future.
Yu involved law student Katrina Yu who was punished for alleged plagiarism and academic dishonesty when she submitted an assignment which contained verbatim internet content. The assignment also contained content alleged to have been copied from another student. In May of 2010, Yu and three other law students were informed that they were being investigated for plagiarism and academic dishonesty. While the other university students involved negotiated an unknown outcome, Yu took her matter to a three panel hearing within La Verne.
After the hearing, the panel issued a decision where Yu was to receive no credit for the class and a "0" grade on the record. Yu appealed to the Dean. In the La Verne policies, it states that the Dean may increase a student's punishment.
The Dean reviewed and raised Yu's punishment to a year suspension and a letter of censure, presumably along with the other punishments recommended by the panel.
Yu thereafter filed a request for a preliminary injunction (order from the court) to halt the implementation of the Dean's punishment. The reason alleged was that Yu had been punished for the exercise of her free speech (aka First Amendment) rights for filing an appeal to the Dean (e.g. she alleged that her punishment was increased ONLY because she appealed). The request for preliminary injunction was filed under Education Code section 94367.
Yu's request was denied by both the trial court and the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals found that Yu's communication to the Dean was within Yu's free speech rights, but that she had not shown that she was punished solely for her exercise of speech to the Dean, as required by 94367. They denied her request.
This case if very interesting and useful as far as the discussion of the free speech rights of college students. It also holds a lesson in what can happen if a plea deal is not accepted. College students should go into their appeals cautiously as the outcome can be more than the student bargained for and can involve a punishment not previously contemplated.
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