Twin brothers who were reprimanded by the University of Calgary for posting critical comments about a professor on Facebook have found some vindication in a court ruling.
A justice of the Court of Queen's Bench issued her decision on Tuesday, finding that none of the Facebook comments made by Keith and Steven Pridgen caused injury to their professor and that the non-academic charges the men faced weren't warranted.
"Students should not be prevented from expressing critical opinions regarding the subject matter or quality of the teaching they are receiving," Justice Jo'Anne Strekaf wrote in her ruling.
"As an educational institution, the university should expect and encourage frank and critical discussion regarding the teaching ability of professors amongst students …"
U of C students set up the contentious Facebook page three years ago, on which they posted comments critical of their communication and culture instructor, including "I No Longer Fear Hell, I Took a Course with [the instructor's name]."
The twins contributed one comment each to the wall, and soon found themselves facing a university review committee. Keith Pridgen was put on probation for two years for non-academic misconduct, and along with his brother was ordered to apologize to the professor.
The brothers argued in court that the university violated their rights as students.
After winning their case, they told CBC News they hope the decision will help students feel freer to complain when they feel they've been treated unfairly.
Student criticism part of the job: professor
Keith Pridgen said it's an important Charter of Rights and Freedoms victory, one he believes will help students in everything from complaining about marks to fighting university censure over voicing unpopular opinions.
"All of those things … the university will now have to think twice before they pursue actions against students," Pridgen said.
One U of C professor said being criticized by students is part of the job.
Math instructor Jim Stallard said students have always complained about professors, so doing it on Facebook is really not that different.
"In some ways, our position is not different than a politician. We're not elected to our jobs but we do teach at a public university … I don't think it's unreasonable for students to have that type of forum," said Stallard.
"I would hope that the criticisms and comments are constructive."