N.Y. appeals court orders college to reinstate student

NEW YORK — Ayear after a graduate student was kicked out of his school’s education programfor writing a paper advocating strict classroom discipline, including spanking,his punishment could be over.

A New York appeals court on Jan. 19 ordered Le Moyne Collegein Syracuse, N.Y., to reinstate Scott McConnell to its graduate educationprogram.

McConnell was not allowed to enroll in the Spring 2005semester after Le Moyne officials found out he wrote a class paper supportingcorporal punishment in the classroom, according to an article by InsideHigher Ed, an online publication.

On Jan. 13, 2005, Cathy Leogrande, the chair of theeducation department and director of the graduate education program at Le Moyne, wrote that she did not think McConnell shouldcontinue with the program.

Leogrande wrote she had “grave concerns regarding themismatch between [McConnell’s] personal beliefs regarding teaching and learningand the [program’s] goals.”

In its written decision, the appeals court pointed out thecourse catalog at Le Moyne states that the university’s programs are open tothose “whose personal goals match the selected program,” but that does not meanthe program is closed to those with different views.

McConnell’s registration for the spring semester waswithdrawn. He sued the school for not following standard due process rightswhen he was denied enrollment.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the college said McConnell was never a full-fledged student becausehe was in the program contingent on his academic performance in the fall 2005semester. Although he received good grades, he was never technicallytransitioned from a provisional student to a permanent student. The schoolargued that its due process rights did not apply to provisional students.

The court disagreed. Citing an earlier case, the court wrotein its decision, “[When] a university has adopted a rule or guidelineestablishing the procedure to be followed in relation to suspension or expulsionthat procedure must be substantially observed.”

One of McConnell’s attorneys, Daniel O’Sullivan, said thisruling scores a victory in free expression rights for college students and willhopefully set new standards in colleges.

“I hope it will encourage professors and administrators totake a second look at their policies and whether their policies are fair andequitable,” O’Sullivan said.

He added that such policies that do not allow room fordiffering views run counter what should be a school’s major goal.

“The purpose of the university is to make students thinkdifferently” not uniformly, O’Sullivan said.

University officials would not comment on whether theschool would implement stricter standards on future class paper topics.Although McConnell did successfully enroll in classes at Le Moyne on Jan. 19,the college has already begun to appeal the court’s decision, said Joe DellaPosta, director of communications at Le Moyne.

–by Emily Walker, SPLC staff writer