SYRACUSE, N.Y., January 19, 2006—A New York appeals court has determined that Le Moyne College wrongly removed graduate student Scott McConnell from its education program for endorsing corporal punishment in class. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) first brought McConnell’s case to public attention last year.
“This is a great day for all those who believe colleges should keep their promises to students,” said FIRE Interim President Greg Lukianoff, hailing the ruling. “Le Moyne College has learned that it cannot promise freedom and fairness but deliver repression and injustice.”
McConnell’s ordeal began with a November 2004 assignment in which he advocated, as part of an ideal classroom, an environment “based upon strong discipline and hard work” and that could include “corporal punishment.” McConnell earned an “A-” for the paper. But in January 2005, Education Department Chair Cathy Leogrande summarily dismissed McConnell, citing a “mismatch between [his] personal beliefs regarding teaching and learning and the Le Moyne College program goals.” At the time he was dismissed, McConnell had achieved a grade-point average of 3.78 and had received an “excellent” evaluation for his work in an actual classroom.
At McConnell’s request, FIRE wrote Le Moyne’s president, Charles Beirne, to ask him to honor Le Moyne’s commitments to academic freedom and due process. FIRE also pointed out that McConnell’s acceptance letter made no mention of a requirement to hold certain personal beliefs. Le Moyne responded by refusing to discuss the issue with FIRE, so FIRE took the case public, creating months of negative media attention for Le Moyne. After the college still refused to move, McConnell filed a lawsuit with the help of the Center for Individual Rights.
When a trial court refused to step in to require Le Moyne to follow its own rules, McConnell appealed. On January 18, 2006, the Supreme Court of New York’s Appellate Division rejected Le Moyne’s claim that McConnell was not officially a matriculated student. The court agreed with FIRE that McConnell’s acceptance letter from Le Moyne stated that academic performance, not personal beliefs, would govern whether he officially matriculated. Since McConnell fulfilled the standards laid out for him, the court said, McConnell was a fully matriculated student and Le Moyne was therefore wrong to dismiss him without due process.
“President Beirne should be ashamed that his administration ignored its own rules, spent students’ tuition money fighting litigation it invited, and cost one of its students a year of education simply because it did not like what he said in a theoretical paper,” noted FIRE’s Lukianoff. “It is sad that Le Moyne College has shown such commitment to its ‘right’ to censor students and ignore fundamental fairness.”
McConnell is currently attempting to re-enroll at Le Moyne. FIRE is watching to make sure the college complies with the court’s order.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities.