A Neo-Jesuit Education

February 25, 2005

Mainstream higher academia claims to worship “academic freedom” and “free
speech” as its highest goods. Alas, Larry Summers is probably preparing his
resume while Ward Churchill hits the speaking circuit. Now comes Scott
McConnell, an Army veteran and until recently a graduate student in education at
Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. For advocating a conservative policy, he
has learned firsthand where academic freedom draws the line.

On paper,
McConnell performed well at Le Moyne. Last March, he was conditionally accepted
in the Master of Science for Teachers program, grades 7 through 12, for the
summer and spring semesters. Upon earning at least all “B’s” in his first four
courses and completing course deficiencies from his undergrad work, McConnell
would be a full student. In his five classes at Le Moyne, he received one
B-plus, three marks of A-minus, and one A. Across the board, his supervising
teacher at Franklin Elementary School judged him “excellent” and wrote, “Scott
has been a joy to have in the classroom.” McConnell met all the conditions set
forth in his provisional acceptance letter.

So how did McConnell merit
rejection from Le Moyne, a college run by the Jesuit order of priests, who are
notorious for tolerating nearly any opinion? He dared to write in his “Classroom
Management Plan” last November that multiculturalism has no place in his
classroom and that he will firmly discipline his students, including using
corporal punishment when appropriate, if legal, and the child’s parents are
involved. He wrote that, unless situations dictate differently, he would treat
all students alike. He would positively reinforce good behavior, heavily involve
parents, and build respect instead of self-esteem. The paper earned an “A-minus”
from instructor Mark Trabucco, and a note, “Interesting ideas — I’ve shared
these w/ [Education Department Chair and Director of the Graduate Education
Program] Dr. [Cathy] Leogrande.” Trabucco wouldn’t discuss with McConnell why
he’d “shared” McConnell’s paper with Leogrande.

Less than a week before
spring classes began last month, McConnell received a letter from Leogrande. She
informed McConnell that he would not be allowed to register for the spring
because she had “grave concerns regarding the mismatch between your personal
beliefs regarding teaching and learning and the Le Moyne College program goals.”
McConnell told TAS that when he tried to learn from Leogrande what the
specific mismatch was, she acknowledged that his classroom philosophy as
described in his paper was the only reason for his rejection.

Legally,
Le Moyne was probably within its rights. College Director of Communications Joe
Della Posta said that since Le Moyne expects litigation and is bound by student
privacy laws, he could not specifically discuss McConnell’s case. The college
has issued a statement asserting its “right to accept or reject — based on a
variety of criteria — an individual for acceptance as a matriculated student.
If we believe a student is not suitable for the classroom based on, among other
things, his or her educational philosophy, we have an obligation as an
institution to act in a matter that is consistent with the college’s mission and
that upholds New York State law and education regulations.” Certainly Le Moyne,
like any other private institution, is free to determine its membership and
terms thereof.

Politically, however, Le Moyne’s education program is now
exposed as little more than thought camp. McConnell had never voiced such
beliefs in class other than the “Classroom Management Plan.” There was no
pattern of an intractable extremist resisting Le Moyne’s pedagogical wisdom.
Rather, McConnell was unpersuaded by Le Moyne’s philosophy of letting the
students run the classroom and treating children as equals. Leogrande never
asked McConnell about his views. It was enough for McConnell to express himself
once for Leogrande apparently to conclude that he would be a poor candidate for
ideological conformity. Leogrande did not return TAS‘s call to her
office.

In response to TAS‘s inquiry about academic freedom at Le
Moyne, Della Posta released a new statement from the college affirming its
commitment to academic freedom and First Amendment rights. Reiterating the
themes of the college’s previous statement, it argued that it must consider
whether “students subscribe to the values of the College’s mission, and
willingly accepts the professional and legal responsibilities of a member of the
relevant profession.” Le Moyne said such values guiding the teaching profession
are “treating all students with respect and dignity, and creating learning
environments that nurture self-confidence in the context of diversity. Le Moyne
believes it is obligated to take into account whether a potential teacher…
rejects those values.”

Surely Le Moyne’s grand tradition of academic
freedom could have room for McConnell and his philosophy. The college handbook
states that “Le Moyne shares the ideals of academic freedom found in American
institutions of higher education.” And the college’s “peer discrimination”
policy is blanket liberal tolerance dogma. Furthermore, most Jesuit schools
allow nearly any viewpoint and Le Moyne is no exception. Professor Fred Glennon,
Chair of the Religious Studies Department, readily endorses gay marriage. Last
year, Le Moyne hosted Jesuit moral theologian Edward Vacek to lecture on “The
Meaning of Marriage.” He has written that homosexuality “may even be a form of
authentic Christian spirituality” and has also endorsed gay marriage. If this
Catholic college’s academic freedom allows supposed theologians attacking church
teaching, why not McConnell, who merely believes in firm discipline?

As
for McConnell, he’s seeking legal advice and will consider action against the
college. For now, he has enrolled at the State University of New York at
Oswego.

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Schools: Le Moyne College Cases: Le Moyne College: Dismissal of Student for Dissenting Views