Robert Shibley of The FIRE reports that Syracuse University has such a poor record on free speech that the mere mention of its name draws attention at FIRE’s office.
Syracuse’s Troubled Relationship with Free Speech
Syracuse University can be a real puzzler. Renowned for its journalism school and home to the Tully Center for Free Speech, one would think that Syracuse, while private, would be a safe haven for freedom of expression and for the marketplace of ideas. One would be wrong.
In fact, Syracuse has become a watchword around FIRE’s office for horrendous abuses of students’ rights to free expression. When we get a case submission from Syracuse, we all think, “oh great, not again.” The cases of Matthew Werenczak (kicked out of the education program for complaining about racism on Facebook) and law student Len Audaer (persecuted for contributing to a satirical blog in the style of The Onion) are so bad that they are fated to live in infamy for a long time. Syracuse public safety chief Anthony Callisto’s 2010 statement that Syracuse cops would remove “offensive” Halloween costumes is also preposterous.
This year, Syracuse was once again rated a “red light” school in our annual Spotlight on Speech Codes report, in which we annually rate over 400 colleges and universities by determining whether campus policies infringe on or respect the right to free speech. Syracuse earned its red light because of a troublesome electronic communications policy that prohibits online harassment by banning “annoying, abusive, profane, threatening, defamatory or offensive” messages. Red light policies are policies that both clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech. (Syracuse has five other “yellow light” policies too. Yellow light policies are policies that could ban or excessively regulate protected speech.)