Lawsuit challenges student's dismissal for personal beliefs

Washington, D.C.– A LeMoyne College graduate student dismissed because of his traditional beliefs concerning effective teaching techniques in elementary school classrooms today filed suit seeking reinstatement and monetary damages.

The student — Scott McConnell — was summarily dismissed from the schools Master’s degree program in January on the basis of a paper he had submitted on the topic of classroom management. McConnell, a former member of the U.S. Army, wrote that classroom managment is “based upon strong discipline and hard work.” He added that students should be taught “personal responsibility and respect for authority.” In passing, the paper mentioned that “corporal punishment” might play a role in classroom managment and that “multiculturalism” had no legitimate role in the classroom.

McConnell received an “A-minus” for the paper. His teacher then passed the paper on to the Chair of the Graduate Education program, Cathy Leogrande. Without warning, Leogrande sent a note to McConnell on January 13, 2005, dismissing him from the program. Leogrande wrote that she had “grave concerns” about a “mismatch” between McConnell’s “personal beliefs” and “the LeMoyne College program goals.” Despite widespread publicity by FIRE, a noted campus free-speech organization, college officials refused to reconsider Leogrande’s decision.

In reported comments, LeMoyne’s Provost John Smarelli attemped to justify McConnell’s ouster on the grounds that New York state law prohibits corporal punishment and “requires one to have a multicultural classroom.” Therefore, Smarelli said, the school concluded it “could not certify Scott to teach in New York.”

However, at no point did McConnell say or write that he would violate state law in any respect regarding his obligations as a teacher. Using state law to punish an individual solely for expressing a controversial point of view violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and comparable provisions of the New York State Constitution.

“School officials must respect the constitutional rights of students and faculty to express a wide variety of points of view. Using state law to selectively punish individuals merely for expressing a point of view is poisonous to academic freedom and to a free society generally,” said Terence Pell, President of CIR.