Things have moved quickly at Syracuse University since FIRE issued its press release yesterday calling out Syracuse’s appalling treatment of graduate student Matthew Werenczak. As we reported, Werenczak was effectively expelled from Syracuse’s School of Education (SOE) after posting a comment on his Facebook page in response to a racially tinged remark made by a local official visiting a school where Werenczak was working as a tutor. When the SOE got wind of this, it removed him from his student teaching assignments and gave him two unappealing choices to avoid expulsion: withdraw immediately from the program, or submit to a roster of remedial exercises that, even upon completion, would not guarantee him readmission. When the SOE dithered on considering his bid for reinstatement even after he fulfilled all of his requirements, FIRE got involved.
Only hours after issuing yesterday’s press release, Werenczak and FIRE were informed that Werenczak will indeed be readmitted to the program. We’re working on a press release right now, and several outlets have picked up on this quickly developing story.
In an excellent report by local ABC affiliate WSYR, FIRE’s Robert Shibley points out:
"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 [in Education] Robert Shibley.
Here’s the video accompanying this story. It’s well worth watching:
Rachel Barillari also covers the story for The Daily Orange, Syracuse’s student paper, for which FIRE’s Adam Kissel comments that "Werenczak came to FIRE because the School of Education had severely violated the free speech and due process rights that Syracuse promises its students, and he wanted to complete his education."
Robert was also quoted in coverage from The Chronicle of Higher Education:
"It’s a pretty clear-cut case of someone being punished for their off-campus speech," Robert L. Shibley, the group’s senior vice president said Wednesday before the school had reinstated Mr. Werenczak. "He was effectively suspended without any real due process. There was no disciplinary hearing."
For his part, Werenczak told the Chronicle, "You don’t always have to agree with the material presented to you in a college class … I had differing opinions. It’s disappointing that freedom of expression at Syracuse only extends to certain people, or it only goes so far."
Werenczak also told the Daily Orange:
"I want people to know what Syracuse tried doing to me, that they tried railroading me out of this program without due process because of my speech and my opinion … Other students should be troubled that this is now two incidences within the same year of Syracuse trying to clamp down on free speech."
As for Syracuse’s public response? For now, the university seems to have left that to Kevin Quinn, Syracuse’s Senior Vice President for Public Affairs, who, in an email statement, replied that "the matter was handled in accordance with the school’s standard process by a group of the faculty members involved in the program and with the student’s participation and consent."
One might ask: What kind of ‘standard’ process’ involves unilaterally removing a student from classes for five months, without due process, on the basis of his protected expression? And one would be right to ask that question. We’re glad Syracuse has reversed itself so quickly here, but if it thinks it can so simply wash its hands of this affair so easily, it is sorely mistaken.
FIRE will have more on these developments at Syracuse throughout the day.