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Felkner v. Rhode Island

January 2008
Rhode Island College (Private college or university)
Providence, RI, United States

Identity of Speakers

  • William Felkner
    Student
    Other

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Other
  • Incident Responses:
    University administration not protective of speech
    Faculty responses (e.g., asking student to leave classroom)
  • Incident Status:
    Other
  • No protest Occured
  • Did not involve Speech Codes

Summary

William Felkner was a graduate student at Rhode Island College, pursuing a Masters in Social Work. In 2004, Felkner had issues with his professor of “Policy and Organizing” due to Felkner’s conservative political beliefs. Felkner alleges that the professor had students lobby the Rhode Island legislature for policy change, but Felkner did not agree with any of the proposed policies and wanted to instead lobby against change, or for the Academic Bill of Rights. His professor rejected these plans, and gave him a failing grade on his paper and in-class debate on the issue, which did not conform to the assignment. Felkner also could not find a field placement due to his objections to the political views of the proposed field organizations. The next academic year, the Social Work Department rejected his proposed academic plan because Felkner refused to work in the field placements, which was mandatory for the degree. Throughout, Felkner experienced a pervading sense that Social Workers were expected to subscribe to a particular set of views that he did not share. ¶ Superior Court Decision: Complicating these facts are additional facts found in the Superior Court’s decision. The Superior Court found that Felkner was also disruptive to class, and that many of the incidents were also a result of Felkner’s behavior. For example, for the in-class debate, Felkner refused to debate one side, leaving his partner to prepare the entire debate herself. The Superior Court ruled against Felkner and found that Felkner never approached the professor about new topics, and that no students were forced to actually lobby the General Assembly.