False Promises Of Academic Freedom

By May 5, 2005

If you want to get a real glimpse of the thought-tyranny of the academic Left, you should look at the case of Scott McConnell, who was recently expelled from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., because his personal beliefs didn’t fit within the school’s indoctrination grid.

The Left, through an extraordinary process of self-deception, routinely congratulates itself for its enlightenment and open-mindedness, but the slightest scrutiny of its behavior in academia alone puts the lie to its claims. Sadly, the Left has even sunk its tentacles into Jesuit colleges like Le Moyne.

McConnell was pursuing a masters in education at Le Moyne. He achieved a 3.78 grade-point average for the fall semester and an “excellent” evaluation for his outside classroom work at a Syracuse elementary school when he made the mistake of relying on the university’s promise to honor students’ academic liberty and due process.

In its handbook, Le Moyne boasts, “As a comprehensive college, accredited by the State of New York and the Middle States Association, Le Moyne shares the ideals of academic freedom found in American institutions of higher education.”

Among McConnell’s unforgivable sins were his audacious dissent from the university’s dogma extolling multicultural education and his gross insubordination in asserting in a paper that “corporal punishment has a place in the classroom.”

Notably, McConnell received an A- on his blasphemous paper from Prof. Mark J. Trabucco, who also wrote him a note saying his ideas were “interesting.” But when Trabucco forwarded the paper to the department chair, Cathy Leogrande, McConnell got his academic head served to him on a platter.

On Jan. 13, 2005, in an act of compassion that liberals are so famous for, Leogrande sent McConnell a terse letter summarily ejecting him from the graduate program. In the introductory paragraph, Leogrande reminded McConnell, conveniently, that he had been “accepted to the Le Moyne College Graduate Education program on a conditional basis.”

In the second paragraph, Leogrande slapped him in the face with this lightening bolt: “I have grave concerns regarding the mismatch between your personal beliefs regarding teaching and learning and the Le Moyne College program goals. Based on this data, I do not believe that you should continue in the Le Moyne M.S.T. (Masters of Science for Teaching) Program. You will not be allowed to register for any additional courses. Your registration for Spring 2005 courses has been withdrawn.”

Note that Leogrande did not list McConnell’s academic performance as a reason for his dismissal, merely that his personal beliefs weren’t in synch with the school’s propaganda. Note also that Leogrande didn’t give McConnell any opportunity to respond prior to kicking him out on his ear. She merely told him, perfunctorily, that if he wanted to discuss the matter further he could contact a certain person to schedule an appointment. How touchingly sensitive!

McConnell then wrote a letter to Dr. John Smarrelli Jr., Academic Vice President, informing him that he wished to appeal the decision to expel him. He reminded Smarrelli that in expelling him, the college had violated its own mission of academic freedom and that nothing in any information provided by the college indicates that a student’s “personal beliefs would or could play a part in my ultimate acceptance to or continuing involvement with the program.”

Smarrelli, rather than responding directly to points McConnell raised in his letter, copped out, repeating that McConnell would not be permitted to appeal because he had only been “conditionally accepted.”

Fortunately, McConnell is not taking this injustice sitting down. He has filed a lawsuit seeking reinstatement and damages for wrongfully expelling him. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (F.I.R.E.), a nonpartisan civil liberties organization dedicated to defending individual rights in higher education, is assisting McConnell with his case.

I contacted FIRE’s president, David French, who told me, “This is one of the most brazen examples of censorship and summary expulsion for the expression of dissenting views I have ever seen.”

French made two other excellent points. First, it’s fine for a private school to make up its own rules, but it ought not to be permitted to hold itself out as a bastion of academic freedom and then deliver censorship. Second, if the school chooses to recognize only one educational philosophy, it is honor bound to notify its applying students in advance so those who run afoul of it don’t end up wasting serious amounts of money and a year of their lives, as in the case of Mr. McConnell.

McConnell’s mistake is that he dared challenge politically correct dogma concerning corporal punishment and multiculturalism. Here’s hoping he prevails in his lawsuit, and, in the process, exposes Leftist academic tyranny, censorship and hypocrisy for what it is.

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Schools: Le Moyne College