SYRACUSE, N.Y., May 5, 2005—Today, former graduate student Scott McConnell filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, because it expelled him from its education master’s program based on his personal beliefs. In January 2005, administrators summarily dismissed McConnell because he had expressed views that opposed “multicultural education” and had stated in an academic assignment that “corporal punishment has a place in the classroom.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) took up McConnell’s case, reminding Le Moyne, a Jesuit college, that its actions breached its own promises to respect students’ academic freedom and due process. When Le Moyne refused to address these concerns, FIRE publicly exposed Le Moyne’s repressive actions. McConnell is represented in the suit by New York civil rights attorney Samuel A. Abady and by the Center for Individual Rights in Washington, D.C.
“Le Moyne has had multiple opportunities to right this wrong,” remarked David French, president of FIRE. “If Le Moyne College had followed its own policies and procedures regarding freedom of expression and due process, it would not only have done the right thing but also would have saved itself a lot of time, money, and embarrassment.”
During the Fall 2004 semester, Scott McConnell submitted a paper advocating strong discipline in the classroom for a course taught by Professor Mark J. Trabucco. Trabucco gave the paper an “A-” and wrote a cryptic note to McConnell that his ideas were “interesting” and that he had shared the paper with Cathy Leogrande, the graduate education department chair. Then, without any warning, Leogrande expelled McConnell from the graduate education program in a January 13, 2005, letter, in which Leogrande stated that she had “grave concerns” about a “mismatch” between McConnell’s “personal beliefs” and “the Le Moyne College program goals.” At the time of his expulsion, McConnell had earned a 3.78 grade-point average for the fall semester and an “excellent” evaluation for his work in a Syracuse elementary school classroom.
FIRE wrote Le Moyne’s president, Rev. Charles Beirne, on February 3, 2005, explaining that the actions taken against McConnell undermined the college’s own standards, and that such arbitrary censorship would chill free speech on campus. Le Moyne’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, John Smarrelli, Jr., responded to FIRE, stating that it was “inappropriate” to engage in a public debate with FIRE about Le Moyne’s actions.
FIRE then took the case public, and during the ensuing mass media coverage of McConnell’s battle with Le Moyne, McConnell wrote the college in March to appeal its decision. Smarrelli’s March 30 response to McConnell claimed that because McConnell had only been “conditionally accepted” into its program, the college would not grant him an opportunity to appeal, and that Leogrande’s January dismissal letter “constituted the College’s final action” on McConnell’s “admission application.” Despite Le Moyne’s stated commitments to academic freedom, Smarrelli also indicated that “Dr. Leogrande’s decision took into account the fact that you appear to reject the values of the program.”
McConnell’s lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in the County of Onondaga, asks for McConnell’s reinstatement to Le Moyne’s graduate education program and for millions of dollars in damages for violations of civil rights laws and New York state law.
“As we said before, 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,” commented Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. “FIRE, along with Scott McConnell and his attorneys, will pursue this issue in the court of public opinion, and now in the courts of law, until Le Moyne College honors its own commitments and this injustice is corrected.”
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.
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
Reverend Charles Beirne, President, Le Moyne College: 315-445-4120; firstname.lastname@example.org
John Smarrelli, Jr., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs: 315-445-4312; email@example.com
Cathy Leogrande, Education Department Chair, Le Moyne College: 315-445-4375; firstname.lastname@example.org