Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, a non-profit education-focused organization at Vanderbilt University, said that harassment and intimidation charges are often handled on a case-by-case basis rather than based broadly on law.
"Because the law on harassment comes from protection of person who is hearing the speech, it can be a complicated factor," Polcinski said.
"Just because something is offensive doesn't mean that it is a criminal act,'' Polcinski said. "I think the First Amendment protects a wide range of freedom of expression. We're free to express even repellant ideas, but what grade he received is an academic -- not a legal -- question."
If the disciplinary actions are not dropped in the appeal, Corlett plans to file a lawsuit against the university, Vincent said.
"He suffered damage to his reputation," said Vincent. "He wants to be made whole for his attorney fees and wants to be reinstated to the university so he can finish his education, which he has a Constitutional right to do."