Category: Free Speech
Schools: Binghamton University, State University of New York
In 2009, Binghamton University graduate student Michael Gutsell was expelled by the Department of Social Work following two incidents where his classroom speech drew complaints from fellow students. Despite the fact that the speech was relevant to the class and broke no university or department rules, the hearing panel recommended his dismissal. After appealing the decision, however, Gutsell learned that these two incidents were “not the primary basis” for his expulsion, and that BU may have determined that he was unfit for social work because he was not conforming to others’ subjective expectations about individuals’ proper conversational style, even outside of the professional context. The appeals panel upheld his expulsion without explaining to Gutsell what other factors it may have considered or giving him an opportunity to defend himself against them. Notably, the department had forced Gutsell to sign a contract earlier in the semester, one of the conditions of which was that the department could never hear that he had made any fellow students or instructors “uncomfortable.” Gutsell had to leave the United States and return to his native Canada as a result of his expulsion. Binghamton did not respond to FIRE’s letter detailing our concerns and asking the university to respect Gutsell’s rights.