Victory for Freedom of Speech at Binghamton University Department of Social Work

November 17, 2008

I reported last Thursday and Friday on the case of Binghamton University (formerly SUNYBinghamton) social work master’s student Andre Massena, who faced suspension or expulsion after he put up posters challenging the Department of Social Work. The department had ordered that he leave the program for one year with no guarantee of return, required him to apologize, and demanded that he publicly disavow his own views after his pseudonymous posters challenged the department for having hired the executive director of the Binghamton Housing Authority (BHA)an agency Massena thought was responsible for social injustice. When Massena appealed, the department’s chair, Laura Bronstein, added entirely new allegations and recommended his expulsion. The department dropped the charges late Friday in a one-sentence e-mail, just one day after FIRE took the case public.

For more details about the case, see today’s press release.

Here is what Bronstein wrote on November 14, shortly after Massena’s appellate hearing with the College of Community and Public Affairs Ethics and Integrity Committee: "Due to procedural misunderstandings, the case pertaining to you is no longer being pursued."

What kind of "procedural misunderstandings" is Bronstein referring to? Does she mean that her department has finally realized that students in her department actually have First Amendment and due process rights? We certainly hope so. Since Massena has signed a waiver of his privacy rights with respect to FIRE, the school is free to explain to us at length what these "procedural misunderstandings" really were. We would be very, very interested to hear any kind of explanation, but we won’t be holding our collective breath for one.

We wrote Binghamton University President Lois B. DeFleur on October 29 about the numerous, serious violations of Massena’s rights to freedom of expression, pseudonymous speech, due process, and freedom of conscience. We insisted that the school acknowledge Massena’s right to freely criticize public officials, public entities such as the BHA, and even Binghamton University itself without punishment or roundabout allegations intended to punish Massena by other means. DeFleur so far has not directly responded, despite the black eye this has given her university. But since FIRE took this case public (and even before), we have been hearing from other students and former students in the Department of Social Work who agree that it is time for Binghamton University leaders to take a close, hard look at what’s going on in the department.

Schools:  Binghamton University, State University of New York

Cases:  Binghamton University: Student Suspended for Posters Criticizing Department of Social Work and Government Agency