Tuesday, December 21, 2010

FIRE Defends To-be-expelled Syracuse Student

Stories like this cause me to marvel--do they really think they can get away with this? They must think so, and I sincerely hope they lose and face not only public scorn, but public recriminations:

A Law student at Syracuse University is facing possible expulsion for "harassment," but he doesn't know who his accusers are or even why he's in trouble.

The source of all the trouble is a fake news blog called SUCOLitis. It's like The Onion, but it focuses on making fun of life in law school. In one post, the "Faculty Committee on Aesthetic Standards" names the Class of 2013 "Most Attractive in History." In another, a beer bong is elected class president...

Nobody has taken responsibility for the anonymous blog. But one student, Len Audaer, appears to be facing prosecution anyway.

Law professor Gregory Germain (the "prosecutor" of this case in the school's judicial system) began investigating Len two months ago, and has kept Len completely in the dark for the whole two months. Who are the accusers? Which blog post was harassing? Len doesn't know. How could he even start to defend himself?

Knowing that universities can't defend in public what they try to do in private, Len sought to draw attention to these abuses. But Germain is now seeking a gag order that would severely hurt Len's efforts to publicize his situation. Germain wants to require any journalist reporting on the case to sign away the right to publish any case document unless the document is published whole. No excerpts, no quotations.

Germain knows full well that this would essentially prevent Audaer from appealing to the court of public opinion, leaving him no choice but to silently accept the findings of a campus judiciary that seems determined to get him...

It's fundamentally unfair to threaten a student with expulsion for his protected speech for months while refusing to give him any of the evidence or name his accusers. We've asked Syracuse's chancellor, Nancy Cantor, to honor Syracuse's promises -- but thus far she has done nothing.

The mind-blowing part is that this is happening at the Syracuse law school.

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