SU grad student expelled, then readmitted over Facebook comment

By January 18, 2012

Syracuse (WSYR-TV) — Last summer, a Syracuse University grad student was expelled from the SU School of Education after making a comment SU deemed "unprofessional, offensive and insensitive." 

SU grad student Matthew Werenczak was student teaching at Danforth Middle School last year when something was said inside that he didn’t particularly like, so he made his feelings known on Facebook and two months later he was temporarily removed from the program

What Werenczak took offense to was a comment made by an African American community activist inside Danforth — "We need to start hiring out teachers from historically black colleges." 

In response to the comment, Werenczak posted on his Facebook page, "Mind you, two white tutors were in the room. I’ll let you take your own inference from that."

He goes on to say he was working hard in a difficult school "but it kind of offends me that I’m basically volunteering this summer at Danforth, getting up at 6:30, with no AC, to help tutor kids and that’s not enough. Sorry."

Syracuse University took exception to the post. In September, it sent him a letter that he could be administratively removed for his actions. The Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) recently came to Werenczak’s defense.

"Syracuse promises free speech to its students and in this case it delivered the exact opposite of that. You know all Matt wanted to do was express his concern about his job prospects after he thought that someone was suggesting that he should be discriminated against due to his race," said Senior VP of Foundation for Individual Rights Robert Shibley. 

SU gave Werenczak two options: Immediately withdraw, or to help him learn from the situation, he could get anger management counseling, complete a course on cultural diversity and write a reflective paper on it.

A committee would then decide whether to re-admit him.

A local attorney says student discipline is a complicated area and while SU is charged with enforcing its code of conduct, they may have gone too far in this case.

"It does seem to me both ironic and wrong that a student is somehow being disciplined for expressing his own particular point of view when the school institutionally is supposed to encourage that," said attorney Edward Menkin. 

Werenczak did complete those three requirements and had been awaiting word from SU Wednesday afternoon. FIRE put out a press release telling of Werenczak’s experience. Within two hours, Werenczak received an email from the school saying he had been accepted back into the program.

He didn’t want to go on camera, but did tell NewsChannel 9 he thinks the school went a bit too far and hopes other people will learn from his story. 

A spokesperson for SU says that before FIRE issued its press release, there was a process already underway between the student and the School of Education to resolve the matter. 

The spokesperson also says the school was not monitoring Facebook pages, rather it was brought to their attention by another student.

The school says it’s limited as far as what it can say because it is a confidential student matter.    

Schools: Syracuse University