Professor who shut student’s laptop acquitted, fired.

Professor who closed the laptop of a student surfing the web during class acquitted of battery–and fired.

Four months ago, I posted about the case of Frank J. Rybicki, a college professor at Valdosta State who was sued, arrested for battery, and suspended from teaching after he took it upon himself to shut the laptop of a student who refused to stop surfing the web during class.

A couple of days ago a Georgia jury found Rybicki not guilty of battery. To the surprise of no one—including, I’m fully confident, the student in question—“nobody was able to offer evidence that he intended to hurt his student’s finger.” In response to the “customer is always right” argument made by some RBC commenters the first time, Rybicki

said he thought the real issue in the case was the right of a professor to maintain the classroom as a learning environment. He said that he realizes that some students disagree, and tell him things like “I paid for this class so I should do what I want.” But Rybicki said that what a student pays for is “for me to teach,” and that means setting some standards in the classroom.

It sounds as if the vast majority of Valdosta State students backed Rybicki, a popular teacher.

This is not, however, a happy ending. Given the acquittal, Rybicki will now be free to teach in 2011-12. But the university told him in June that he wouldn’t be welcome after that. (Rybicki doesn’t have tenure—but unless the reporting is very bad indeed, it sounds as if he’s been fired well before his tenure review.)

As I said the first time, if your opinion on this resembles mine, a certain college president needs to hear it. And now that opinion will enjoy the backing of twelve duly empaneled citizens.


Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

9 thoughts on “Professor who shut student’s laptop acquitted, fired.”

  1. Well, their president is Nosferatu. That’s probably part of their problem.

    Note to self: stop complaining about own institution. Insane and screwed up as my university is, it’d never do something this insane and screwed-up.

  2. Actually, it never got past the grand jury.

    The student, Krista Bowman sounds like an over-pampered twit with an absurdly high opinion of herself. I suspect mom & dad have the right connections otherwise this decision makes no sense whatsoever. She has apparently graduated and probably felt she had little to lose and it might actually help her career. She seems to think she’s CNN-bound. Her education may just be getting underway.

    Perhaps the good news is that, with her out of the way and a new interim president, maybe the university can revisit their decision. Your emails would go to

  3. The only way I could be more sympathetic to the professor would be if the finger injuries had been intentional.

  4. Something that’s always been unclear to me is the rationale for putting wireless internet into lecture halls in the first place. It makes sense to have internet access in libraries and communal spaces and perhaps in conference rooms, but what’s the educational justification for equipping rooms where people should be paying attention? (And this isn’t just a case of spillover – lots of university lecture rooms have routers deliberately installed.)

  5. What’s never been clear to me is why professors feel like they should be monitoring their students’ attention-paying. It makes sense in high school, but college students are adults and we should let them decide to ignore everything and fail the class if they want to.

  6. “we should let them decide to ignore everything and fail the class if they want to.” Agreed, except then they come back with, “I paid for this course and showed up for every class, so I deserve at least a B.”

  7. Ah, I realize that may have sounded meaner than I meant it to–I meant, if the administration won’t let you continue to ignore them, that’s a really sad situation.

  8. The issue is that her actions were distracting to others who were actually there to learn.

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