Student disciplined for his unusually loud sneeze during conservative speaker’s lecture

The disruptive student was escorted from the hall during the lecture.

Image By: Patrick Hoeppner

Maintaining that he had absolutely no intention of disrupting discourse, junior Nicholas Mullen found himself reprimanded by the University of Wisconsin-Madison due to an allegedly voluntary sneeze that he had during the lecture of Dr. Gordon Biederman.

Biederman, a professor at the University of Alberta, was invited to give a talk on “owning liberals” by campus conservative group Young Americans for Prosperity (YAP). Originally specializing in cartography, Biederman has found recent acclaim in conservative circles for his outspoken views on the silencing of free speech on campus by those unfriendly to conservative views.

Mullen describes himself as a liberal, but says he went to Biederman’s talk to hear views from a different side of the spectrum other than his own. By his own account, he was seated near the front of the audience and listening quietly and respectfully until he sneezed.

“I don’t know what exactly made my sneeze so powerful, but it was loud enough for some members of YAP to hear it.” Mullen said. “I guess they filed a misconduct report.” 

A few days after Biederman’s talk, Mullen received an email from the Dean of Students notifying him that they would be following through with an investigation into his alleged disruption.

A spokesman for YAP had this to say regarding the incident.

“Look, I was near him when he says he sneezed. That was no sneeze. His facial expression was completely off, and it was way too loud. I’ve seen dozens, probably hundreds of sneezes in my lifetime and not a single one even slightly resembled what he did. It was an intentional disruption and I applaud the University for having the courage to prosecute such egregious threats to free speech on campus.”

After a thorough investigation and an extremely contentious hearing, the University decreed that Mullen was indeed purposely disrupting the lecture. They ruled that he must attend a training seminar on respecting different beliefs, in addition to writing an essay on appropriate times to sneeze. 

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