Campus Free Speech

Student Expelled Without Fair Hearing After University Misrepresented His Inoffensive Comment

Matthew Schultz said he wanted to "shoot all black people... a smile :) "


M Tech
Bobak H'Eri

After the protests at the University of Missouri last fall, Matthew Schultz—a junior at Michigan Technological University—felt like expressing his support for students of color. He posted the following message on the anonymous social media app, Yik Yak: "Gonna shoot all black people… a smile tomorrow." He ended the statement with a smiley face emoji.

Shoot all black people… a smile. Smile at them, in other words. Schultz was expressing solidarity with black people.

Michigan Tech saw it differently. Schultz was suspended from school and arrested on domestic terrorism charges. He faced 20 years in prison.

That charge was eventually dismissed. But the university persisted in its utterly mistaken view that Schultz had done something wrong, and expelled him anyway.

Schultz is now suing Michigan Tech, according to His suit accuses the university of making him out to be "the poster boy for white hatred" in order to prove that Michigan Tech takes racism seriously. He believes the culprit was a vindictive fellow student who altered the post—dropping the important "a smile tomorrow" caveat—when reporting it to university authorities:

The post was up for five minutes when it was flagged by another user and removed. Schultz thinks former MTU student Ryan Grainger took a screen shot of the post before flagging it.

Grainger then "tweeted" the screen shot to Les Cook, vice president of student affairs and advancement and said, "@LesPCook this is what your students think about the Mizzou terror threats," the lawsuit said.

After no discernible response, Grainger allegedly sent an email to MTU's Deputy Police Chief Brian Cadwell. It showed only, "Gonna shoot all black people," with the phrase, "A smile tomorrow" and the smiley face emoji, removed, the lawsuit said.

Other tweets with the altered post were sent to Cook and other MTU officials.

The university should have quickly realized its mistake. Instead, Michigan Tech organized a march to the prosecutor's office to pressure the authorities to file charges. After the legal battle fizzled, the university conducted a secretive hearing—neither Schultz nor his attorney were allowed to attend—and placed him on probation for 18 months. Schultz appealed: the university then simply expelled him. He had no right to appeal this decision.

I'll be following this lawsuit closely. It sure looks like Schultz is entitled to a massive settlement.