First Amendment

Judge Rules Against Syracuse University Students' Free Speech Rights

A shortsighted decision that makes little sense.

|

SU
Idawriter / Wikimedia Commons

A judge has dealt a significant blow to the free speech rights of students at Syracuse University, a private school in New York.

James McClusky, a justice of the New York Supreme Court 5th Judicial District, ruled earlier this month that Syracuse may suspend several members of the Theta Tau fraternity for private, offensive behavior—despite the promise, contained within the university's student code of conduct, that students generally have the right to express themselves freely.

Syracuse first took action against the students in June after video footage of them privately roasting one another—making immature and demeaning but satirical comments about each other—were leaked to the student newspaper. The language used by the students was offensive, and Syracuse's administration was right to describe it as "extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities." Note, though, that this was a private, comedic event, and the hurtful language was aimed at willing participants.

In any event, the student code of conduct states that students "have the right to express themselves freely on any subject provided they do so in a manner that does not violate the code." Administrators characterized the speech as harassing and threatening, and thus outside the protection of the code.

McClusky disagreed, writing that he could imagine some on campus feeling threatened "after a debate on abortion, a debate on the support of Israel, or a debate on the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, issues upon which one would think an institution of higher education would encourage debate."

But despite outlining a rationale for overturning the punishments, the judge ultimately sided with Syracuse. "The Court will not overturn this finding," he wrote.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Zach Greenberg characterized the decision as "contradictory" and reckless:

FIRE is disappointed that this court refused to apply one of the most basic principles of our legal system: Institutions must generally adhere to the promises they make, especially the clear, written policies advertised by a university in its student code of conduct and similar policy materials. Just as a college cannot take a student's tuition and then refuse to provide any sort of education, SU may not purport to uphold its students' expressive rights and then suspend them for speech protected under First Amendment standards.

FIRE has called out this hypocrisy again and again at SU, a university that has the words of the First Amendment emblazoned on its school of communications, yet continually displays a disturbing disregard for freedom of speech. From SU's expulsion of an education student for his Facebook post to its investigation of a law student over his satirical blog, the university has made it clear that its stated commitment to student rights is worthless.

This court ruling will only encourage private schools like SU to create, advertise, and then refuse to enforce illusory promises of free speech. Based on the logic of this ruling, students at private colleges can be expelled for flaunting universities rules, but these colleges should fear no consequences for defaulting on their obligations. SU students should know that their expressive freedoms are determined not by university policy, but by the arbitrary whims of university administrators, who may defy student's rights with impunity.

The students plan to appeal the decision, and for good reason. Universities that make free speech guarantees must keep their promises, even when the speech in question embarrasses or offends the campus.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

56 responses to “Judge Rules Against Syracuse University Students' Free Speech Rights

  1. Wash their mouths out with soap.

    1. Jail would be a far more requisite punishment. The notion that American students, who are subjects of the state like anyone else, have “the right to express themselves freely” is dangerous baloney. No one, for example, has the right to “express himself” with inappropriately deadpan “parody” emails aimed at damaging (no matter how truthfully) the reputation of an academic department chairman. We have gone to considerable length to make this clear here at NYU, calling in security forces, including the police, when necessary, and our view of this matter has been fully confirmed by the courts. See the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

      https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    2. Judges like this have to go.

  2. I like that the judge at least mentioned “a debate on the support of Israel” as an example of protected speech. Not sure why he eventually ruled against the students in this case. Hopefully it will be overturned. I think part of the problem is that students themselves need to promote free speech and not assume mid level administrators have their best interest at heart.

  3. McClusky disagreed, writing that he could imagine some on campus feeling threatened “after a debate on abortion, a debate on the support of Israel, or a debate on the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, issues upon which one would think an institution of higher education would encourage debate.”

    You’d think so, but you’d be wrong.

    1. Some could feel threatened riding It’s A Small World at Disney. Doesn’t mean anyone has to do anything about it. Muh feelings.

  4. The judge cited precedents calling for broad deference to private colleges – leaving their disciplinary decisions alone unless they failed to substantially comply with the colleges own rules, or irrationally interpreted the rules, if I recall correctly.

    Or in short, it’s the college’s rules and they can have rules which are overbroad and infringe free speech. Rules which a public college couldn’t have.

    The court upheld the convictions on two of the three charges, finding enough evidence for a reasonable person to convict, and struck one charge where the college was totally out there and didn’t even have a reasonable decision.

    The lesson might be for colleges to have better rules.

    1. “despite the promise, contained within the university’s student code of conduct, that students generally have the right to express themselves freely.”

      The school is in violation of its student contract despite it being private.

  5. McClusky disagreed, writing that he could imagine some on campus feeling threatened “after a debate on abortion, a debate on the support of Israel, or a debate on the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, issues upon which one would think an institution of higher education would encourage debate.”

    Somebody hasn’t been paying attention to what “institutions of higher learning” have been doing lately.

    1. Some of what Liberty University has been doing lately is fascinating.

      1. But that’s just a goober factory which nobody who is anyone would ever attend, so why do you care? You’re “content,” remember?

        1. Liberty’s president and chief technology officer are both up to their hypocritical hipsockets in sketchy conduct, and both are involved in public affairs.

          Do you deny it’s a nonsense-teaching, censorship-shackled, third-rate goober factory?

          1. To make sure I used only reliable liberal/libertarian news sources, I consulted the Huffington Post, and they say their IT officer tried to rig online polls during the Presidential election so as to favor Trump.

            This *is* a scandal, that after all that rigging the polls still gave Trump such low chances of winning. Sad!

            1. That is, Liberty’s IT officer tried to rig the polls.

              Fortunately, our liberal/libertarian media wasn’t fooled and gave Trump the low numbers he deserved. If only the Russians hadn’t boosted his vote numbers, those polls would have been accurate!

          2. Do you deny that you’re a mendacious retarded cunt that most of the world would love to see murdered in an extremely brutal manner?

      2. Why are you here RALK? You must be the most bored woke person on earth.

        1. I am here to defend libertarianism from right-wing malcontents and faux libertarian bigots.

          I also enjoy jousting with the Conspirators and encouraging readers to disregard their claims to be libertarians.

          1. And mistakenly believe that anyone thinks of you as anything other than socially retarded twat.

  6. “The language used by the students was offensive, and Syracuse’s administration was right to describe it as “extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities.” Note, though, that this was a private, comedic event, and the hurtful language was aimed at willing participants.”

    How the hell can language be “offensive” if the “targets” of the extremely horrid language took it all as joking? Does that mean if I refer to myself as a “dumb guinea” I am harassing myself and can sue myself for damages? Or I can be punished for creating a hostile environment for myself?

    1. If someone else were to hear the language, they might take it as offensive….

    2. If you insult yourself, it absolutely could be considered harassment.

      Don’t you remember the story here in Reason about the teenager who took photos of HIMSELF naked and was charged with “production of child pornography?”

      It’s up to prosecutors, it seems. Maybe one day they’ll consider getting rid of some of your belongings as theft and doing things that are bad for your health, like smoking or overeating, to be attempted murder.

  7. It appears that the word ‘motherfucker’ is de rigeur with the people-perpetually-behind.*

    * non-libertarians

  8. Did anyone ask what the retarded gimp faggot Jew thought of all this?

    1. Tony, I’ll ask your dad tonight when he visits me for a “Shabbos nap”. You two really should develop a direct line of communication. Your mom said she’s also tired of being the go between. By the way, she owns me $20. My lovin’ is not free when I’m with clients.

      1. Whatever floats their boat man.

    2. Didn’t know you were Jewish. You’ve got the other grounds covered well even if you left out “brainless cunt” from your autobiography.

  9. In related news, a few hours ago in Paterson, a White woman called me a N!gger. My bandanna must have confused her.

    1. Is that in Kalahari? I’ve never been able to make that click noise.

  10. The language used by the students was offensive, and Syracuse’s administration was right to describe it as “extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities.”

    Toxic masculinity is to blame.

    1. It is known.

  11. Based on the logic of this ruling, students at private colleges can be expelled for flaunting universities rules, but these colleges should fear no consequences for defaulting on their obligations.

    This is a good lesson about bureaucracy for students to learn.

  12. despite the promise, contained within the university’s student code of conduct, that students generally have the right to express themselves freely.

    Define “generally”

    1. Anytime at all, except when they can’t.

      1. That’s what it looked like to me.

  13. Sue Syracuse et al for fraud…

  14. We are, or soon will be up to our necks “administrators”, individuals who seem to be a law unto themselves, beyond recall.Is this really the sort of thing you are willing to put up with?

  15. “Based on the logic of this ruling, students at private colleges can be expelled for flaunting universities rules, but these colleges should fear no consequences for defaulting on their obligations.”

    Classic bait and switch.
    RICO their asses for fraud, return of all tuition, granting of a degree, and triple damages.
    Of go all sixties and burn the place down.

    1. Or get that machine the Weathermen used to inflict tornados and massive storms on their enemies in the 70’s.

      That was why they were called the Weathermen, right?

  16. Small incident, big issue. About 40 years ago, I picked up a visiting analyst, recent graduate of Syracuse University, and was driving her from the airport to our office in Dallas. Having just met her because she was only temporarily assigned to my unit, the small talk was light and polite.

    But seeing a common road sign “Don’t Mess With Texas” sent her into a vicious diatribe about how boorish the state was to threaten its people and visitors from other states. When I mentioned the 1st Amendment, she mockingly sneered at how Texas always bullies and belittles everyone, even on its road signs and “there ought to be a law.” When I explained it was part of the state’s anti-littering campaign, she said, oh.

    Later that year, at the end of the college football season, she called and asked if I’d find a reason, any reason, to bring her back for a few days because SU was playing in the Cotton Bowl. I re-explained company travel policy and she never spoke to us again. Perhaps tolerance and assuming the best of people is anathema to New England culture while serving oneself at other’s expense is acceptable.

    1. It’s bad enough that New Englanders have to put with neighboring New Yorkers. Now you’re giving people the impression that New York is part of New England?

  17. The problem here was the standard of review dictated by how the case came before the court. Bring a direct action in Federal District court and see how that flies.

  18. The students learned a very important lesson.

  19. A great victory comrades !

    Let us put on our Handmaid’s Tale outfits and eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s #Resistance !

  20. That’s actually breathtaking blog because i found there lot of expensive Information and i am very glad that you share this blog with us? http://photographyclassesnearme.com/

  21. That’s actually breathtaking blog because i found there lot of expensive Information and i am very glad that you share this blog with us? http://photographyclassesnearme.com/

  22. That’s actually breathtaking blog because i found there lot of expensive Information and i am very glad that you share this blog with us? http://photographyclassesnearme.com/

  23. That’s actually breathtaking blog because i found there lot of expensive Information and i am very glad that you share this blog with us? http://photographyclassesnearme.com/

  24. I essentially started three weeks past and that i makes $385 benefit $135 to $a hundred and fifty consistently simply by working at the internet from domestic. I made ina long term! “a great deal obliged to you for giving American explicit this remarkable opportunity to earn more money from domestic. This in addition coins has adjusted my lifestyles in such quite a few manners by which, supply you!”. go to this website online domestic media tech tab for extra element thank you……
    http://www.geosalary.com

  25. Start working at home with Google. It’s the most-financially rewarding I’ve ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $8699 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $96, per-hour. visit this site right here……www.mesalary.com

  26. The language used by the students was offensive, and Syracuse’s administration was right to describe it as “extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities.”

    Do rap next…

    That is going to be an issue at some point. You cannot sit there and say “What these kids is saying is horrible” if the same school allows people to listen to rap which tends to have equally problematic lyrics.

    1. It’s perfectly fine if the rappers are black. At least in in the mind of a progtard

    2. It’s happening already

      (from vibe.com)

      https://bit.ly/2ASONe3

  27. Orwell,Orwell! Paging George Orwell.

  28. Start working at home with Google. It’s the most-financially rewarding I’ve ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $8699 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $96, per-hour. visit this site right here…………… http://www.mesalary.com

  29. Too many butthurt sissies in this cuntry!

  30. Way too many butthurt sissies in this cuntry!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.