Syracuse, NY —— SUNY Oswego went overboard last month when it threatened to suspend a journalism student over an e-mail he sent to three college hockey coaches as part of a class assignment, says a national campus free speech group.
“It was certainly a severe over-reaction,” said Peter Bonilla of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “It was just a no-brainer.”
The incident began Oct. 17 when Alexander Myers, an international student from Australia, e-mailed the hockey coaches to ask about SUNY Oswego coach Ed Gosek, whom Myers was profiling for a journalism class. At the bottom of the e-mail Myers urged the coaches to “be as forthcoming as you like, what you say about Mr. Gosek does not have to be positive.”
An hour later, Cornell hockey coach Mike Schafer e-mailed Myers back and said he found that statement offensive. Myers apologized 45 minutes later, according to documents posted on the FIRE website.
The next morning, Myers was called to the public affairs office and asked about the e-mails, Bonilla said.
Later that day, he was charged under the student conduct code with using campus resources to “defame, harass, intimidate or threaten another individual.” College President Deborah Stanley sent him a letter suspending him and ordering him to move out of his dorm room by the following day. A copy of Stanley’s letter to Myers was sent to the campus police chief.
That charge was later dropped, and a judicial panel found Myers guilty of misrepresenting himself in the e-mail. He had told the coaches he worked for the college public affairs office, where he was an intern, instead of saying he was asking the questions as part of a class assignment.
The college Office of Judicial Affairs on Oct. 31 ordered Myers to write a letter of apology to the coaches and an article for the college newspaper or his professor. He is still a student at SUNY Oswego.
After the suspension notice, Myers contacted FIRE, and Bonilla wrote a five-page letter to Stanley charging SUNY Oswego with trying to stifle free speech. He said the college had no evidence that Myers had threatened anyone or made defamatory statements.
“Speech at SUNY Oswego will be dramatically chilled,” Bonilla wrote, “as students will have very real reason to refrain from being too critical of their professors, university administrators, or fellow students for fear that their words may find their way back to the administration.”
Bonilla, FIRE’s associate director of individual rights defense program, said it’s not clear how the college administration found out about the e-mails. The statement of charges against Myers, however, quotes the reply from Schafer, the Cornell coach. Schafer could not be reached for comment.
Myers declined to talk to The Post-Standard, saying in an e-mail that “I’m really just trying to put this whole situation behind me and move on with my studies.”
SUNY Oswego officials said federal law prevents them from talking about student judicial cases. Stanley issued a statement saying that the college “honors the First Amendment and has vigilantly undertaken to protect students, faculty, staff and others against suppression of First Amendment rights.”
Contact Glenn Coin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 470-3251.