FIRE’s Peter Bonilla has written an excellent letter to the editor appearing in The Daily Orange about our ongoing case at Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL).
We have written extensively about the astonishing case of SUCOL student Len Audaer here on The Torch recently, so I don’t need to do much in the way of introduction. In a nutshell, Audaer has now been under investigation for two months (and counting) for allegations of "harassment" due to the content of an anonymous, satirical blog, SUCOLitis. Though SUCOLitis explicitly states that it is a satirical fake news site, and though the speech on the blog is clearly protected, SUCOL has continued its investigation of Audaer.
Despite all the time SUCOL has had to investigate Audaer for harassment, it has not presented him with any evidence to back up this claim.
One perfectly good reason why SUCOL has failed to present Audaer with evidence of harassment is that it has none. SUCOLitis is a fake news blog and is not harassment. That’s plain and simple. It does not count as harassment either under Supreme Court standards or Syracuse’s special, extralegal definition of the term.
Extrapolating from there, Peter writes:
In Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the Court ruled that to rise to the level of peer harassment in the educational context, offending behavior must be "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit." This decision draws a crucial line between protected speech and extreme, unprotected harassment.
SU, for its part, still strictly defines harassment as "beyond the bounds of protected free speech, directed at a specific individual(s), easily, construed as ‘fighting words,’ and likely to cause an immediate breach of the peace."
The SUCOL investigators should be ashamed to keep this prosecution going. Can SUCOL really say with a straight face that satirical blog posts—making clear to readers that the content is farcical—meet a harassment standard? Good luck.
Unfortunately, as Peter’s letter points out, even if the school ultimately vindicates Audaer, too much damage has already been done:
The message here is that if you annoy the wrong faculty member, administrator, or student, Syracuse will keep up an investigation against you for months, while you writhe under the magnifying glass. This ordeal could follow Audaer throughout his academic and legal career for no better reason than that people like Germain want Syracuse to abuse its power and punish Audaer’s protected expression.
All of this rings too true, sadly. Be sure to read Peter’s letter to the editor in full here.