FIRE supporters know that we’ve roundly criticized the State University of New York at Oswego’s troubled relationship with the First Amendment. Not only does SUNY Oswego earn a “red light” rating in FIRE’s Spotlight database for its unconstitutional speech codes, but the university was responsible for one of the more shocking abuses of free speech we’ve seen in recent years. Of course, I’m referring to the suspension of student Alex Myers, who found himself ordered to leave campus after writing an email to a Cornell University hockey coach for a journalism class assignment. It’s a shocking story, and it earned SUNY Oswego a place on our annual “Worst Colleges for Free Speech” list over at The Huffington Post. SUNY Oswego’s spot on our list generated significant campus commentary, as administrators sought to defend the school’s reputation by describing Myers’ suspension as an isolated incident. SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley characterized the incident as “such a misrepresentation of who we are and what we stand for,” despite the fact that Stanley herself signed Myers’ suspension. Happily, a new editorial published by the student newspaper The Oswegonian yesterday calls on students to turn the page at SUNY Oswego by exercising their right to free speech. The editors write:
Could the school do more to present itself as a facilitator of free speech? Absolutely. They currently have a red ranking, indicating laws that interfere with free speech or expression, on FIRE’s yearly report. Seeing a green ranking would be a great sign for the school.
What was also striking in the conversations following FIRE’s ranking was the opinion from many students and staff that Oswego State students generally are not active in protests, demonstrations or other activities that would take advantage of First Amendment rights.
Student Association struggles to meet quorum, student slots on campus committees are left empty and other student forum events are generally low attended.
Before students take to Twitter or Facebook to call out the school for not respecting free speech, they should ask themselves if they do too. The school will have to spend the next couple of years rebuilding its reputation to prove that Oswego State is a university that has strong respect for free speech. Perhaps it will. The question is whether students will test the university along the way.
FIRE fully supports The Oswegonian’s call, and we look forward to students at SUNY Oswego putting their First Amendment rights to use. Of course, we stand ready to assist if they experience any problems in doing so.
Image: Sheldon Hall, SUNY Oswego – Wikimedia Commons