A University of Calgary student says the school violated his constitutional right to freedom of speech when it disciplined him over Facebook comments.
Keith Pridgen, 20, was in court Friday, asking a Court of Queen's Bench judge to decide if the university has the authority to discipline students for commenting on the competency of their professors.
"I'm happy to fight for what I believe in is right," Pridgen, who just finished his third year of political science, told CBC News on Friday.
In 2008, Pridgen, along with other students, posted on a Facebook group titled "I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with [instructor's name]" that criticized his former law instructor.
Pridgen wrote: "[Instructor's name] IS NO LONGER TEACHING ANY COURSES AT THE U OF C!!!!! Remember when she told us she was a long-term prof? Well actually she was only sessional and picked up our class at the last moment because another prof wasn't able to do it … lucky us. Well anyways I think we should all congratulate ourselves for leaving a [instructor's name]-free legacy for future [law and society] students."
Other students complained that the teacher asked them not to quote her on facts she mentioned in class. According to Pridgen, the instructor said the Magna Carta was signed in 1700, when it was actually signed in 1215.
The controversial group was later removed completely from Facebook.
The university found the page and some of the comments to be defamatory, and decided that Pridgen was guilty of non-academic misconduct. He was placed on academic probation — basically a formal warning — for six months.
The course ended in November 2007 and the instructor was not hired back for a second semester.
Pridgen and his twin brother, Steven, have applied for a judicial review in challenging the university's decision.
Right to criticize
"Our argument is that they have the fundamental right … to make critical remarks," said Pridgen's lawyer, Tim Boyle. "It's a sacred right. It is a right which is granted by the Constitution.
"It's true the probation period is now over, but that doesn't change that they were found guilty of misconduct in the first place and to that extent it besmirches their reputation and they want to get that cleared up."
The university's lawyers argue that some of the criticisms were defamatory and that the school has the authority to discipline students for commenting on the competency of its instructors in a public forum like Facebook.
Pridgen said he'd like to see the University of Calgary change its policies so other students don't have to go through the same thing, including the complicated process for challenging the university's decision.
"The injustice that was done to us, first in having to bear with this specific professor in the class … all the way through to having to bear with the different issues all the way along, the appeals process, the denials, the delays … for that to not be forced onto another student, that's what I think would be right is the solution."