CNN NewsNight Aaron Brown

By CNN News, March 15, 2005

A. BROWN: Still to come tonight, is the question of spanking kids in school so radioactive that simply asking the question can get you in trouble?

A break first. From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.


A. BROWN: Scott McConnell has been studying for his masters in teaching at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. But, recently, the school told him he can’t continue his studies there. That decision came after he wrote a paper that, among other things, advocated corporal punishment in schools.

It’s fair to say that spanking in the classroom is controversial in this country. In New York, it’s against the law. But Mr. McConnell didn’t spank anyone. He simply spoke his mind.

We talked to him the other day.


A. BROWN: Well, let’s start with what seems to me the most basic question here. As far as you know, is there any other reason the school asked you not to come back other than this reference in the paper you wrote to being supportive of the idea of corporal punishment? SCOTT MCCONNELL, FORMER LE MOYNE COLLEGE GRADUATE STUDENT: No, I do not. As outlined in my dismissal letter, it was my mismatch of personal beliefs regarding teaching and learning and the Le Moyne College program goals.

A. BROWN: Up to that point, how have your grades been?

MCCONNELL: I have a 3.78 GPA. I have three A-minuses, one A and a B-plus.

A. BROWN: So, your grades are fine.

MCCONNELL: Yes, they are.


Did anyone ever say to you, these are core beliefs here at this college and we only want people here who have this set of core beliefs?

MCCONNELL: No, they did not.

A. BROWN: If the policy of anyone who hired you was that, no matter how strongly you believe in corporal punishment, we don’t allow it, as an employee of that school district, you’d follow that policy, correct?

MCCONNELL: That is a correct answer.


MCCONNELL: I would not break the law.

A. BROWN: OK, or break the rule?


A. BROWN: Forget the law for a second. This is — school districts, depending on the state, might have different policies, and I’m just trying to establish here that you understand that management has the right to set policy and that our job as employees is to execute policy, even if we don’t always agree with it, correct?

MCCONNELL: That is a correct answer.

A. BROWN: OK. Final question, are you going to sue them?

MCCONNELL: I am just hoping that Le Moyne will follow their guidelines about academic freedom. I’m keeping my options open. I’m not going to say I’m going to sue them or anything like that. I’m actually trying to…

A. BROWN: Are you trying to work it out with them?

MCCONNELL: I am. I’m in the process of writing an appeal letter. is reviewing that appeal letter. I would like to go back to this school, because I feel like I can add something to Le Moyne. But Le Moyne refuses to let me in there, I will consider other options.

A. BROWN: Scott, good luck to you. We wish you nothing but the best.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

A. BROWN: Thank you.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

A. BROWN: Appreciate your time.


A. BROWN: Well, as you can imagine, the officials at Le Moyne College in Syracuse see it all differently. We also spoke to John Smarrelli, who is the provost at the university.


A. BROWN: Scott says that the reason he was asked — or told — not to come back, continue his education at the school, is because in a paper he wrote that he was supportive of the idea of corporal punishment. Is that the reason that the school asked him, told him not to come back?

JOHN SMARRELLI, LE MOYNE COLLEGE PROVOST: Mr. McConnell did write this particular paper for a particular course that he enrolled in last semester.

He expressed his views about his teaching philosophy. At that point, we collected this as one piece of evidence. And, in fact, the paper was graded on the merits of the paper itself. Subsequently, however, this paper was part of the portfolio that was evaluated by various professors at Le Moyne College in a very systematic way. And in doing so, we felt it was our responsibility, the responsibility of Le Moyne College, that we could not certify Scott to teach in New York state.

A. BROWN: Beyond the question of corporal punishment, can you tell me what other views are incompatible with the law?

SMARRELLI: New York state requires one to have a multicultural classroom. In Mr. McConnell’s case, there was strong evidence that he did not support a multicultural classroom, a second violation of New York state laws.

A. BROWN: I can imagine that people, that many people, whether they agree with corporal punishment or not, are going to get a little uncomfortable at the idea that, in a university, merely holding a belief could get you removed from a program.

SMARRELLI: That’s an issue I’d like to clarify. Mr. McConnell was not expelled from Le Moyne College. Mr. McConnell was not admitted to Le Moyne college. I think that difference has got to be made clearly.

A. BROWN: Finally, do you think there’s any way, realistically, that you and he, you, the university, and he, can work this out, can negotiate your way through this, so that this decision might be reversed, or are we in that uncomfortable area where lawyers start getting involved?

SMARRELLI: When this case first broke, probably nearly two months ago now, I called Mr. McConnell and asked him, would he like to come to meet with me to present his case? I was told by Mr. McConnell that, under his own legal advice, he did not want to come and see me.

So, I have put the ball in his court.


SMARRELLI: And, at this point in time, I will meet with him if he is willing to come and present his case to me.

A. BROWN: We appreciate it. Thank you, sir. Nice to meet you.

SMARRELLI: Thank you.


A. BROWN: Just, on the paper the kid wrote, he got an A.