[00:00:01] Syracuse University tried to derail my legal career simply because of a blog that satirized life in law school. My name is Len Audaer and I’m a third year law student at Syracuse University of Law. I started writing an online blog. The idea was the stories would be fake news stories about goings on in the College of Law. They were clearly satirical. There was a disclaimer explaining that everything was fictional and didn’t intend for anyone to be offended.
[00:00:32] We welcomed people to email us if they wanted to have their names removed since we were using some real names, but attributing fake quotes. They were extremely frivolous in nature and there was nothing malicious about the posts. They were designed to just lampoon everyday life. We had one about our class president being elected out and being replaced by a beer bong. It was very popular with a lot of students at the time. People liked that it was a little break in the monotony of what’s a pretty dull experience at times at law school.
[00:01:02] They were very light in nature most of them. Very few of them had anything of any real substance. I mean, they weren’t even the best comedy, but unfortunately that was all it took to offend the administration. The first we knew that people were unhappy was when I was informed by email a student had made a complaint about their name being used with a fake quote attributed to it. I received the email from Professor Greg Germain who was the appointed faculty prosecutor.
[00:01:32] I met with him and the Dean of Student Life. I sat down and he said we’re here to talk about your blog. I said what do you mean my blog? He said this blog that you’re writing. I said what blog am I writing? He said oh, are you saying this isn’t anything to do with you? I said I’m not saying anything right now. What are you saying? He said oh, if you deny that you’re involved with this blog; this whole thing will go away. I said I’m not going to deny I’m involved with anything, but I’m not going to admit in being involved in anything either.
[00:01:58] I don’t think anyone should have to admit to complicity with something that you have no jurisdiction to prevent nor any legal abilities to try and interfere with since it has nothing to do with the school. He didn’t take too kindly to that. He said well, we have reason to believe you’re involved and we intend to investigate this. That was the beginning of around 120 day investigation. I received an email from a lawyer who’d graduated from the school.
[00:02:30] He practiced criminal defense a few miles away. He offered to represent me pro bono which is fine because at the time I just needed the legitimacy of someone there at my side who is a licensed attorney in the state of New York to tell them what I was telling them already which was that they couldn’t do anything. They convened the panel of three faculty and two students. That would be a hearing panel that would hear motions prior to a trial. They would eventually sit and hear evidence.
[00:02:58] I asked repeatedly if I could be told who the accusers were and what the evidence was. I was denied consistently. They were worried for the safety of the students who complained which didn’t make much sense to me. I don’t think they thought I was physically a threat. I don’t think they thought my supporters were physically a threat to them, but they hid behind this. So they proposed a gag order. The gag order ended up becoming quite strange. The first thing that I did when they sent me the proposed gag order was tell everyone I could because that’s what you do when someone tries to silence you.
[00:03:32] I was a little familiar with FIRE’s work because of some friends of mine’s case when I was an undergrad at Boston College. FIRE were very helpful there. I got some email addresses and got in contact with FIRE. That was really when it turned around. Having a real lawyer made a real difference in terms of my legitimacy and complaining and putting up a fight against the administration, but it was nothing compared to what happened once FIRE got involved.
[00:04:00] But when mediation seemed to be failing, we came to an agreement on a statement that they would release to the media saying that we’d concluded the entire affair. Then FIRE had an article published in the Huffington Post naming the worst violators of free speech in schools in America and Syracuse was number one on the list. I don’t know where in the organization it came from, but somewhere high up in the real communications office not just the College of Law.
[00:04:28] A statement was released that was actually not the pat down version that we’d agreed to the language of. It was actually the original far more incendiary statement, but they’d actually beefed it up for the purpose of what I thought was revenge. They said will you sign the agreement? I said how could we possibly still have an agreement after you’ve just released a statement that vastly exceeds what we agreed to. That was really it. That was the turning point of the case. Once that came out, I think they realized they had nowhere else to go.
[00:04:57] About a week after that, I received an email while I was in class. It was very short. It just said we’ve completed our investigation and decided not to bring any charges. We hope this will be an end to the matter. Because of FIRE, Syracuse University College of Law stopped prosecuting me for exercising my right to free speech.
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Duration: 6 minutes