In response to our recent release describing the outrageous violation of academic freedom at Le Moyne College, dozens of FIRE friends and supporters have written the college to urge it to readmit Scott McConnell. One of FIRE’s great friends, Dr. David Ross, received a response from Joe Della Posta, Le Moyne’s director of communications. Here is the relevant portion of the college’s official statement:
As an independent institution, Le Moyne has the right to accept or reject—based on a variety of criteria—an individual for acceptance as a matriculated student. If we believe a student is not suitable for the classroom based on, among other things, his or her educational philosophy, we have an obligation as an institution to act in a manner that is consistent with the College’s mission and that upholds New York State law and education regulations.
After he received this statement, Dr. Ross replied—and since his comments are perfect, I’ll reproduce most of them here:
Of course, you’re absolutely right. Le Moyne clearly has the right to accept or reject any applicant on whatever basis it chooses. This case is slightly trickier than your comments suggest, however. Scott McConnell was accepted conditionally. If he met the conditions of full acceptance agreed upon when he was so accepted, then failing to accept him is not your right. So the questions are: What were the conditions of full acceptance? and, Did Mr. McConnell satisfy them?
Here at RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology], in the math department, we do things differently. Call us educational radicals if you will, but here’s what we do: we teach and grade our courses so that students unfit for the field of study fail! Only those who appear to be qualified to pursue the field get high grades! We actually get experts in the field to structure the courses so that it turns out this way! That’s right, we use grades to grade students’ skill in a field of study! WOW, eh? Maria Montessori, MOVE OVER!
At FIRE we have learned through long and bitter experience that private colleges routinely ignore their own promises and guarantees regarding academic freedom whenever it suits them. They do this secure in the knowledge that courts can be notoriously reluctant to “intrude” into what are seen as “academic” matters. Yet a violation of a written agreement is a matter of contract, not academics, and it is only a matter of time before courts wake up to the fraud in higher education.
Putting aside the law for a moment, how can the college morally justify its broken promises? Do these schools not feel an obligation of good faith and fair dealing with their students? FIRE supporters, please keep writing Le Moyne. Perhaps the school can be persuaded to do the right thing—before the issue lands in court.