From “In Loco Parentis” to Just Plain Loco

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If it weren’t bad enough that some colleges and universities think they need to tell students how to think and what to believe, one public university has actually tried to force students deemed overweight—by the university—to exercise.

Beginning with entering students in 2006, Lincoln University, a public university in Pennsylvania, instituted a requirement that any student with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more would be required to take a physical fitness course called “Fitness for Life” in order to graduate.  The students’ BMI was not self-determined—rather, it was determined through a mandatory exam by college officials.  If a student had a BMI of 30 or higher, they were required to take the fitness course in order to graduate.

Student Tiana Lawson protested the requirement in The Lincolnian:

I didn’t come to Lincoln to be told that my weight is not in an acceptable range. I came here to get an education which, as a three time honor student, is something I have been doing quite well, despite the fact that I have a slightly high Body Mass Index.

Ms. Lawson’s editorial brought national attention to this policy, and it was thankfully repealed last week after the university received several complaints. 

This is one of the more ridiculous university policies I’ve ever heard of—it is condescending, paternalistic, and intrusive, as Temple University Law Professor David Kairys points out.  There is nothing wrong with encouraging students to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but this policy crosses the line.  As Ms. Lawson pointed out, the students are there to receive an education, not to have their personal characteristics scrutinized by a “nanny” university.

Given their recent attempts to control the bodies and exercise schedules of their students, it is not surprising that the school also apparently attempts to control student speech.  Lincoln University has a “red light” rating  from FIRE with regard to its policies affecting speech.  One policy prohibits “actions, words, jokes, or comments based on an individual’s sex, race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, or any other legally protected characteristic.” 

The irony of prohibiting students from simply making a “comment” about someone’s characteristics but essentially calling some of its students too “fat” to graduate was apparently lost on Lincoln.  Let’s hope Lincoln’s speech code soon goes the way of the fitness requirement, and Lincoln students are as free to exercise their First Amendment rights as they are to choose whether they want to exercise.

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