Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chronicle of Higher Ed Covers Controversy Over Ciolli/Cohen "Discussion" Board; Quotes from Professors Hazard and Wendel

The story can be accessed by subscribers here; an excerpt:

A law-students' chat site whose operators have refused to remove derogatory, sexist, and racist postings about individual students has sparked a furor and prompted public rebukes by two law-school deans -- one from the school where a co-founder of the site is currently enrolled, and the other from a school in which students have been personally targeted.

The Internet discussion board for current and prospective law students is one of several boards hosted by AutoAdmit, which was co-founded by Anthony Ciolli, a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jarret Cohen, a 23-year-old insurance salesman....

Mr. Cohen said in an interview that one of the women who had been asking for two years that posts be removed had threatened to sue him. "I don't respond to people like that," he said....

W. Bradley Wendel, a professor of law at Cornell University, said he discusses such concerns in his professional-responsibility class.  "Students need to know that there are character and fitness committees out there that can consider these things," he said, referring to bar-admissions committees that have been known to reject candidates on the grounds that their actions show a propensity to violate rules governing the profession. "I don't like that whole process, in which committees can make invalid inferences about what people might do in the future, but students need to be aware of the potential consequences before they go popping off online."

Creating a fake Yahoo account and posting anonymously may not protect a student if a defamation lawsuit is filed and the site is required to turn over identifying information about its users. "I suspect that anonymity can be pierced pretty easily," Mr. Wendel said.

In a posting on a legal-ethics blog, he urged students to use caution in what they write online. "Even though I don't think acting like a complete jackass should be a basis for denial of admission, if I were one of the students who made some of the worst of these comments, I'd be sweating bullets right now," he wrote....

Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the nation's leading legal-ethics experts, said the Web site and the controversy it has created could come back to haunt Mr. Cohen's partner, Mr. Ciolli, when he looks for a job.

"He has the power to remove those offensive postings, and he is a fool not to."

Of Academic Interest, Student Advice | Permalink

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