HANOVER — The dean of Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth is denying that the medical school issued a new social media use policy for students earlier this month because of online criticism it was receiving over administrators’ handling of an investigation into alleged cheating.
In an April 14 letter to Geisel Dean Duane Compton, Alexandria Morey, legal and public advocacy program officer for the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that the policy will “chill Geisel students’ ability to speak freely about Dartmouth, including its handling of the academic misconduct controversy.”
She asked that the school rescind it.
The policy, which went into effect on April 5, is “irreconcilable with Dartmouth’s robust commitments to its students’ expressive rights,” Morey wrote.
The policy requires that students be “courteous, respectful, and considerate of others” in “all communications.”
The Geisel policy urges students to include their names with their online posts, noting that “ ‘anonymous’ posts may still be traced back to the original author;” asks that they ensure that readers understand that students do not speak on behalf of the institution; and warns that “all future employment may be hampered by inappropriate behavior on the Internet.”
Repeated violations of the policy could cause the student to be blocked from the institution’s social media sites, while “disparaging” other members of the Geisel community would trigger a disciplinary review, the policy said.
In his response to FIRE, which Dartmouth provided to the Valley News on Friday, Compton said the timing of the policy’s issuance was coincidental and unrelated to the misconduct controversy.
The policy was reviewed by the Undergraduate Medical Education Affairs Leadership Group in December of last year, before administrators first learned of cheating allegations against students earlier this calendar year.
“Please be advised that, contrary to your assumption, there is absolutely no connection between the adoption of this policy, which occurred at the conclusion of Geisel’s policy development and review process, and any student disciplinary proceedings or student speech related to those proceedings,” Compton wrote.
The medical school is investigating allegations that several students cheated by accessing online course materials while they were taking closed-book tests online remotely.
Without commenting on any individual cases, Compton told Morey he stands by the school’s disciplinary policies and processes, which he said “afford students a fair, equitable, and individualized review of any performance and conduct allegations.”
On Friday, Geisel issued decisions in the 10 cases of suspected student academic misconduct that remained active, including instances in which students had admitted to the conduct in question, Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said.
He said he could not comment on the outcomes.
Students had taken to social media sites such as Instagram to discuss the controversy anonymously, in some cases denying the accusations and asserting that administrators had coerced them into admitting guilt. At least one account the students were using was taken down after the medical school issued the new policy earlier this month.
In its letter to Dartmouth, FIRE, which has waded into several free-speech controversies on campuses around the country, noted that the new policy conflicts with Dartmouth’s other policies that aim to protect individual’s rights to express dissent.
Morey said it will be difficult for students to know which statements an administrator might view as “sufficiently ‘courteous, respectful, and considerate.’ ”
She also expressed a similar qualm with the term “disparaging” and questioned whether the Geisel community the policy intends to protect from disparagement includes alumni and donors, as well as administrative and community leaders.
In his response, Compton said he and other Geisel officials will take Morey’s observations “under advisement” and “will thoughtfully consider and timely implement any appropriate modifications to enhance alignment with Dartmouth’s policies and ongoing and vigorous commitment to free expression and dissent.”
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3213.