Community college student Marc Bechtol says he was pulled out of class and then banned from campus all because he disparaged his school's stupid branded debit cards on his Facebook. Marc Bechtol deserves a failing grade in Campus Brand Ambassadorship 101, otherwise known as An Introduction to Selling Out.
A marketing(!) major at Catawba Valley Community College in North Carolina, Bechtol told WCNC-TV he didn't want the branded debit card in the first place, because he didn't want to hand over his personal info to Higher One—the financial services company that partnered up with CVCC to provide "seamless transitions" and efficiency and other niceties. However, the reading materials accompanying his debit card—which doubles as a student ID—said he had to activate it in order to receive his grant money; left with no real choice, Bechtol activated his card.
Not long thereafter, he began receiving e-solicitations and phone calls from credit card companies. Annoyed, he posted some Facebook messages, which the anti-censorship nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has republished:
Did anyone else get a bunch of credit card spam in their CVCC inbox today? So, did CVCC sell our names to banks, or did Higher One? I think we should register CVCC's address with every porn site known to man. Anyone know any good viruses to send them?"
He immediately added a second comment, "OK, maybe that would be a slight overreaction."
For whatever reason, WCNC's versions of Bechtol's messages are slightly different from the ones posted by FIRE, though they express the same general sentiment. In any event, Bechtol clearly does not sound like he seriously wanted to send viruses to his college, or to the credit card companies. Nevertheless, the overlords at Catawba Valley called his posts "disturbing," said the posts suggested "malicious action," and found him guilty of violating school policy. Now he's suspended for two semesters and can't even set foot on campus, lest he contaminate other CVCC students with his subversive anti-branding ideology.
FIRE—which, you might recall, is the same outfit representing the Wisconsin college professor whose Firefly poster has been accused of attempted murder—has written to CVCC in defense of Bechtol's First Amendment rights, but so far hasn't received a response. "When criticism of the college's financial partnership can get a student suspended and banned from campus, CVCC has caused a quite severe chilling effect," says FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel.
Then again, it might be necessary to "chill" students like Bechtol in order to protect the financial service industry's First Amendment right to fill up people's inboxes with credit card information and other spam. All Higher One was trying to do was to be helpful, after all.
Update: CVCC has dropped all the charges against Bechtol and is allowing him back on campus, but is requiring him to inform them every time he uses an on-campus computer.