Censorship at Syracuse, Part I: School Expels Student Over Facebook Comments (VIDEO)

By May 9, 2013

With three FIRE cases in the last three years, Syracuse University has been on FIRE’s list of serial violators of student and faculty free speech rights for some time now. In fact, in 2011 and 2012, the school was featured prominently on our annual Huffington Post "Worst Colleges for Free Speech" list. FIRE’s next few videos will chronicle Syracuse’s abysmal record protecting rights on campus by revisiting two of the school’s most headline-grabbing cases. We start this week with the case of Matthew Werenczak, a School of Education student who was expelled over comments he posted on Facebook: 

"I was expelled from Syracuse University for comments that I posted on Facebook." 

Syracuse University School of Education graduate student Matthew Werenczak was just trying to finish his masters degree early when he decided to take a summer course that involved tutoring at a local middle school. But after a comment he posted on Facebook about an experience he had at the school caught the attention of the Syracuse administration, Werenczak would be lucky if he graduated at all. 

On the first day of Werenczak’s tutoring program at Danforth Middle School, he and another Syracuse student were introduced to their students by a member of the Concerned Citizens Action Program (CCAP). They happened to be the only two white people in the room. Shortly after the introduction, in the presence of Werenczak and the other white student teacher, the CCAP member, who is black, said that he thought that the city schools should hire more teachers from historically black colleges.

"This [comment] offended me, as well as the other student teacher in the room," says Werenczak in FIRE’s latest video. "It just seemed inappropriate considering that the two student teachers happened to be from Syracuse and a not a historically black college."

So Werenczak took to Facebook to write about the incident.

"Just making sure we’re okay with racism," wrote Werenczak. "It’s not enough I’m … tutoring in the worst school in the city, I suppose I oughta be black or stay in my own side of town."

"I was kind of trying to see if my friends or other peers, classmates would have a similar reaction to what I had," says Werenczak about the reason for his posting the comment.

The reaction Werenczak didn’t see coming was an expulsion from the School of Education for the Facebook comments, which the school described as "unprofessional, offensive, and insensitive." The school told Werenczak he could avoid expulsion by voluntarily withdrawing, or he could fulfill several requirements, including mandatory "anger management" counseling, just to gain a chance of "re-admittance."

When Werenczak fulfilled the requirements and was still not readmitted to the school, he contacted FIRE for help.

"Hours after FIRE took the case public, Syracuse University backed down and I was brought back [into the program] and later graduated."

For a complete transcript, please visit: http://thefire.org/article/15780.html 

For more details on this case, please visit: http://thefire.org/case/887.html

Produced by Ted Balaker. Edited by Matt Edwards. Music: "Tape Arp Cutter" & "Gold and Honey" by Daniel Knowler; "Blues" by Dobroide

Schools: Syracuse University Cases: Syracuse University: Education Student Expelled over Facebook Comments