Syracuse reverses course after expelling student for Facebook post

Syracuse drew public criticism for expelling a graduate student.

College students and activists on Twitter and Facebook this week dubbed Syracuse University a campus “where free speech goes to die” after the school’s second social media controversy since 2010.

Syracuse readmitted a graduate student Jan. 19 after a free-speech organization publicized the university’s punishment for posting racially tinged comments on Facebook.

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Matthew Werenczak, a graduate student in Syracuse’s School of Education, was a student teacher at a local middle school in July when he heard a representative from the Concerned Citizens Action Program (CCAP) say that the school should hire student teachers from historically black colleges, not Syracuse.

Werenczak complained on his own Facebook page about the representative’s comment, and was later called to a meeting with Syracuse administrators to discuss the social media exchange.

No action was taken at the time, but in September, Werenczak received a letter saying he would be expelled from the school unless he took anger-management counseling, completed diversity training, and wrote a paper on his growth “regarding cultural diversity.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit group that tracks free-speech issues in higher education, sent an open letter to Syracuse officials Jan. 18 on Werenczak’s behalf. The school readmitted him less than 24 hours later.

Syracuse did not respond to interview requests from eCampus News.

“Syracuse kicked a student out of school for complaining on Facebook about comments he thought were racist, and only reversed its decision in the face of public outrage,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “It’s long past time for Syracuse to live up to its promises of free speech and stop treating its students as second-class citizens.”

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