A Central Lakes College (CLC) student — due to graduate this spring in the nursing program to be a registered nurse — was expelled from the program for allegedly posting “disturbing” comments on his personal Facebook page.
Craig Keefe of East Gull Lake filed a lawsuit Feb. 8 against the college in U.S. District Court stating that his First Amendment rights were violated and his rights to due process were denied. Defendants named in the lawsuit from CLC in Brainerd are Beth Adams, dean of students; Connie Frisch, director of nursing; Kelly McCalla, vice president of academic affairs; and Larry Lundblad, president. Steven Rosenstone, chancellor and chief executive officer of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, also is named as a defendant, as he had authority over actions occurring at the college and the ability to overrule the expulsion.
Keefe’s attorney, Jordan Kushner of Minneapolis, said the case is a clear-cut case of having someone’s civil rights violated. Kushner said college officials violated their own policy and denied Keefe of his due process rights by denying him the right to appeal, they violated his free speech rights and gave him no explanation for his expulsion.
“He (Keefe) was not given any notice of any of the hearings or meetings or given any chance to be heard,” Kushner said. “The law requires for due process and there was none. He was not told what the accusations are and what rules were violated. He wasn’t told the purpose of the meetings so he could prepare ... He didn’t know about the expulsion and they didn’t show him the Facebook pages.”
According to the lawsuit, college officials told Keefe Dec. 5, 2012, that some comments on his Facebook page were disturbing, including the phrase “stupid (explicit)” and a comment about there not being enough whiskey for anger management. Keefe stated that the comment about whiskey was a joke, that his Facebook account had been hacked a couple of weeks ago and he had tried to delete comments that had been posted. Frisch then told Keefe that he was going to be removed from the nursing program.
Frisch held up a stack of papers which was allegedly Keefe’s entire Facebook page and told him she had read the whole page and found it disturbing and she refused to allow him to see the documents, the lawsuit read. Frisch also allegedly refused to tell Keefe how she accessed his private Facebook page, but realized it was a violation of his First Amendment rights.
Two days later, Keefe received a letter confirming the decision to remove him from the nursing program. The reason given was “behavior unbecoming of the profession and transgression of professional boundaries,” which were based on the content of the Facebook page viewed on Dec. 3-5, 2012, the lawsuit said.
On Dec. 8, 2012, Keefe appealed the college’s decision and asked why he was being expelled through an email.
On Jan. 2, McCalla left a voice mail message for Keefe stating that his appeal was denied and stated that he did not find any violation of due process. McCalla stated that he would send a formal letter documenting his decision. To date, Keefe has not received any written decision in response to his appeal. Later that day on Jan. 2, Keefe sent an email to McCalla in response to his voice mail message explaining the violations of his due process and the procedures set forth in CLC’s Student Conduct Code, Keefe requested a contested case hearing, which was an option under the student policy.
Several days later, McCalla left another voice mail message for Keefe, stating that he was not entitled to a contested case hearing or any further appeal. McCalla asserted that Keefe was removed for an “academic” rather than “disciplinary” violation under the Student Conduct Code, and therefore a contested case hearing was inapplicable.
Kushner said Keefe, who has been a CLC student for the past 3 1/2 years, said since the nursing program at CLC isn’t an accredited program that his credits would be no good. Kushner said other colleges and universities would not allow Keefe to transfer his nursing credits.
Kushner said from what he knows, the Facebook comments made on Keefe’s private page had nothing to do with the college. He said that Keefe and another student had a dispute on Facebook, “but it had nothing to do about the college.
“We don’t know what their (college officials) motivation is.”
Kushner said Keefe’s Facebook page had strong, controversial views about guns, but said even so that would be another grievance that could be filed against the school as that would be a violation of Keefe’s civil rights.
Calls were made to Lundblad and the college’s attorney, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Woodruff, but calls were not immediately returned. The attorney general’s office was closed Monday to observe President’s Day.
Michael Dougherty, a vice chancellor at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, told The Associated Press he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
“The College’s legal response will be filed by the Attorney General’s Office with the federal district court,” he wrote Monday in an email