More drunken pirates, fewer teachers

Should a personal photo on a MySpace page cost you your degree?

Published May 8, 2007 3:57PM (EDT)

By this point in time, most people realize that if you post a photo on MySpace, it's probably going to be seen by the person you least want to have looking at it (a sort of Murphy's Law of the Internet). But should you be punished for posting one?

That's the question Stacey Snyder's asking. The 27-year-old was aiming for a teaching degree from Millersville University. But when the university found out she'd posted a picture of herself on MySpace wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup that presumably held alcohol -- above the caption "Drunken Pirate" -- administrators decided not to award her a teaching certificate or an education degree. Instead, she was given a degree in English and was accused by administrators of promoting underage drinking, according to the International Herald Tribune. Now Snyder's suing.

OK, fine. If you're trying to be a schoolteacher or otherwise work with children professionally, it's probably not a good idea to post a picture of yourself under the caption "Drunken Pirate" anywhere -- not even on your own refrigerator. But should you be denied your degree over it?

I'd argue no. First of all, as the site's name suggests, most MySpace pages are not designed to be reflections of people's professional lives. (Somehow, "" just didn't take off.) Obviously, that's where the danger lies -- Snyder, for example, thought of her MySpace page as personal, but anyone with an Internet browser could find it. That's why you have to be careful about what you post. But it's not as if Snyder was sending in her drunken-pirate pic with her résumé.

And second, I don't quite buy the idea that this is an endorsement of underage drinking. Our society is full of images of people and alcohol. But more important, Snyder herself was well over the drinking age when the photo was taken (it was shot in 2005). As far as I can tell, she's not doing PowerPoint presentations for fifth graders of herself as a drunken pirate. (And if we continue with this logic, wouldn't the picture mean that she is also endorsing underage pirating?)

What I'm saying is, I don't understand why an administrator didn't take Snyder aside, pull up her MySpace page and ask her whether it was something she'd want potential bosses and students to see. The embarrassment of having to look at something so obviously unprofessional in a professional setting would likely have made her want to take it down herself and be more cautious in the future -- without messing up her chances as a teacher. (She scored "superior" or "competent" in all areas except "professionalism" on her final student-teacher evaluation.) After all, it's not as if she took off her shirt for a Playboy video while in law school.

Snyder's lawsuit seeks at least $75,000 in damages (which seems a bit high but, hey, she's a pirate). Regardless of what the court decides, though, at least one person out there thinks that Snyder's capable of caring for kids: Having been denied her teaching degree, she's now working as a nanny.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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