SU ranks among worst universities for free speech for second consecutive year

By Casey Fabris

Staff Writer

Syracuse University was ranked as one of the worst colleges for free speech for the second year in a row by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

FIRE’s ’12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech in 2012′ was released in the Huffington Post Tuesday, citing SU as the second worst school. But according to FIRE, the schools are not necessarily listed in order from worst to best.

‘Nobody wants to be known for that, especially those of us who are involved in free speech issues,’ said Roy Gutterman, communications law and journalism professor and director of the Tully Center for Free Speech. ‘It’s certainly nothing to be proud of, but I don’t think we’re in a situation that’s different from most other private universities in the United States.’

In 2011, SU was listed as the worst school for free speech.

‘Any sort of ranking, whether it’s best school, best party school, best weather, no ranking is going to be entirely legitimate,’ Gutterman said.

FIRE’s website said SU made the list as a result of Matthew Werenczak’s expulsion. The School of Education student was expelled after he complained on his personal Facebook page about a comment someone else made that he thought was racist.

‘Last semester’s issue of the School of Education comes on top of some other high-profile conflicts over the last couple of years,’ Gutterman said. ‘These things tend to be cumulative rather than one or two incidents. The thing at the School of Education was just the latest in a string of high-profile conflicts.’

Werenczak was student teaching at Danforth Middle School when he heard a black member of the Concerned Citizens Action Program make a comment about how the school should hire more teachers from historically black colleges.

Werenczak found the statement to be offensive and posted a comment on his Facebook that read: ‘Just making sure we’re okay with racism. It’s not enough I’m … tutoring in the worst school in the city, I suppose I oughta be black or stay in my own side of town.’

In September 2011, Werenczak was expelled and then readmitted to the program in January 2012. He had to complete an anger management class, an additional course and write a paper about the incident to be considered for readmittance to the program.

‘It’s not that easy to just slap a ranking on it. A lot of stuff goes on, on campus,’ Gutterman said. ‘At every college campus today, especially the private colleges, it’s a precarious situation when it comes to free speech. That transcends colleges, not just Syracuse.’

Other schools on the list include the University of Cincinnati, Harvard University, Yale University, Michigan State University and Johns Hopkins University.

‘I haven’t seen the rankings,’ said Kevin Quinn, senior vice president for public affairs, ‘but any unbiased look at the facts will show that Syracuse places a high value on free speech and also fostering an environment for students that is supportive and welcoming.’


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