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At Syracuse, Expelling a Student without Charges or a Hearing is ‘Standard Process’

Today, FIRE announced a free speech victory at Syracuse University, whose School of Education (SOE) expelled a graduate student due to his expression of concern on Facebook over a city leader's comment about hiring teachers from historically black colleges versus Syracuse University. SOE never filed any charges against the student, Matt Werenczak, and never gave him a disciplinary hearing. But when SOE expelled him, the school gave him two unappealing choices: he could withdraw and never be seen again, or he could undergo anger management counseling and a special cultural sensitivity course and write a paper demonstrating growth "regarding cultural diversity." If he met the requirements, a committee might let him return.

And then, yesterday, a Syracuse representative told The Chronicle of Higher Education that this is SOE's "standard process." Really? Take a look at the disciplinary letter that Syracuse sent to Werenczak, and see if it in any way matches what Syracuse outlines in its various handbooks. It looks like SOE cooked up a new process from scratch, one lacking any semblance of formal charges, a hearing, or an opportunity to appeal.

Also quite problematic is Syracuse's decision to blame SOE's accreditor, NCATE (the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education), for its treatment of Werenczak. In a letter sent to FIRE yesterday from the law firm that represents Syracuse, NCATE's professional standards are blamed for SOE's outrageous actions.

But did NCATE really require Syracuse to treat Werenczak in this way? Is this really the process that NCATE thinks education schools should use? 

Nope. Here's what NCATE has to say about throwing someone out of school for a mere three Facebook comments posted within 10 minutes of each other:



Decisions about continuation in and completion of programs are based on a single or few assessments. The unit has not examined bias in its assessments, nor made an effort to establish fairness, accuracy, and consistency of its assessment procedures and unit operations.

In other words, NCATE regards an education school as failing to meet its accreditation standards if that school makes decisions about a student's continuation based on a single assessment—which is precisely what SOE did with Werenczak, if you can even call this an assessment.

I think FIRE is going to ask NCATE about this case and see if NCATE is willing to take the fall for the ordeal imposed on Werenczak by Syracuse's School of Education.

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