Syracuse University: Students threatened with expulsion for satirical fraternity ‘roast’; fires professor who defended free speech

Category: Cases, Due Process, Free Speech
Schools: Syracuse University

A Syracuse University engineering fraternity was dismantled and several of its members suspended after videos of a private satirical “roast” — performed for members of the fraternity — leaked from a private Facebook page. The traditional annual roast, written and performed by pledges, lampooned current members of the fraternity. One such skit satirized a fraternity member perceived as racist by portraying him founding a racist fraternity and initiating new members. After someone leaked the private videos without the fraternity’s permission, Syracuse charged the students with a wide array of disciplinary infractions based solely on the effect their private expression had on the university community, despite the fact that the expression was not directed at anyone outside the fraternity. A former adjunct faculty member who criticized Syracuse’s response was informed that he was no longer eligible to teach at the university as a result.

On May 4, 2018, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud to demand that Syracuse respect students’ expressive rights and drop the investigation. On May 9, 2018, Syracuse University General Counsel Daniel J. French replied to FIRE, broadly asserting that “the rights of others to a safe and welcoming learning environment” overrode the fraternity members’ expressive rights. After the university’s disciplinary board handed down suspensions to 15 students, FIRE again wrote to Syracuse on June 13, explaining that the board violated the procedural rights of the students and misapplied basic principles of freedom of expression.

There is currently no media coverage for this case.
  • Syracuse slams students with multi-year suspensions for satirical fraternity roast

    June 8, 2018

    Fifteen students who “roasted” each other in private were suspended for up to two years after a video of their skits leaked to Facebook several weeks later They were found guilty of “an immediate breach of the peace” (which did not occur) and expression that went “beyond the bounds of protected speech” (it didn’t) SYRACUSE, N.Y., June 8, 2018 — Syracuse University should know what is “protected speech.” It emblazoned the words of the First Amendment on the facade of its school of public communications. It hosts a prestigious journalism program and is a private school that promises its students robust […]

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  • Syracuse University threatens to expel students for satirical fraternity ‘roast’; fires professor who defended free speech

    May 7, 2018

    SYRACUSE, N.Y., May 7, 2018 — A Syracuse University engineering fraternity has been dismantled and its members face possible expulsion after videos of a satirical “roast” leaked from a private Facebook page last month. An adjunct professor who questioned the university’s response to the incident was also dismissed. On Friday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud to demand that Syracuse respect student and faculty expressive rights and drop the investigation. The roast, an event at which new members were invited to lampoon other fraternity members, consisted of several recorded skits. One video shows […]

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