SYRACUSE, N.Y., February 15, 2005—Administrators at New York’s Le Moyne College, which claims to protect academic freedom, have summarily dismissed an education student for writing a paper advocating strict discipline for students. The chair of Le Moyne’s education department expelled master’s student Scott McConnell because of a “mismatch” between his personal beliefs and the goals of the college’s graduate education program.
“Le Moyne College says it respects academic freedom, yet it has dismissed a student purely for expressing personal beliefs that are different from those espoused by administrators,” stated David French, president of FIRE. “This shows a profound lack of respect for the opinions of its students. Le Moyne must not promise freedom and then allow extensive and arbitrary censorship on an administrator’s whim.”
In November 2004, McConnell submitted as part of an assignment a paper expressing his personal views on classroom management, including various ideas for attaining a classroom environment that is “based upon strong discipline and hard work” and that allows “corporal punishment.” The paper received an “A-,” with his professor noting that his ideas were “interesting” and that she had shared the paper with the department chair, Cathy Leogrande. McConnell ultimately received an “A” as his final grade in the course.
Yet in January 2005, with no prior warning, Leogrande dismissed McConnell from Le Moyne. In the dismissal letter, Leogrande stated that she had reviewed McConnell’s grades for courses he took during the summer and fall semesters and had “discussed” his work with his professors. Leogrande wrote, “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 [Master of Science for Teachers] Program.” At the time he was dismissed, McConnell had achieved a grade-point average of 3.78 for the fall semester and had received an “excellent” evaluation for his work in an actual classroom.
“Scott McConnell is being kicked out of school for an ‘A-’ paper,” noted FIRE’s French. “It appears that at Le Moyne, ideological uniformity trumps any other ideal.”
McConnell soon contacted FIRE for assistance. On February 3, FIRE wrote Le Moyne President Charles Beirne and reminded him that dismissing a student based solely on his expression would undermine the college’s own standards, which state that students who interfere with others’ expression are subject to “the maximum penalty of suspension or dismissal.” FIRE noted that making an arbitrary administrative decision to censor expression “sends the message to the campus community that official censorship is acceptable and that those with controversial ideas should keep silent or risk being deemed a ‘mismatch’ and summarily dismissed.” Furthermore, FIRE pointed out that Le Moyne’s acceptance letter to McConnell stated that his academic performance, not his personal beliefs, would be the determining factor as to whether he was allowed to continue with the master’s program.
On February 8, Le Moyne responded to FIRE, stating that “the College does not believe it is appropriate to enter a public debate with your organization concerning the College’s admission decision concerning any particular student.”
“The fight for the academic freedom of Scott McConnell and for all Le Moyne students will not end just because administrators don’t feel like addressing the issue,” remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. “Le Moyne College administrators must learn that the freedom to dissent is everyone’s business.”
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. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
Reverend Charles Beirne, President, Le Moyne College: 315-445-4120; firstname.lastname@example.org
Cathy Leogrande, Education Department Chair, Le Moyne College: 315-445-4375; email@example.com