Sunday, November 11, 2012

SUNY Oswego Journalism Student Suspended for Emails to Hockey Coaches

by Peter Bonilla
for FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)

As FIRE has copiously documented in recent years, universities around the country have shown a dangerous tendency to conflate protected speech with unprotected true threats. The latest case in point comes from the State University of New York College at Oswego (SUNY Oswego), which leveled charges against a journalism student for writing a few short emails. Even with the low bar many other universities have set, SUNY Oswego's shocking decision to pursue threat charges stands out.

The student at the center of the latest storm is Alex Myers, an exchange student from Australia who worked as an intern in SUNY Oswego's Office of Public Affairs (OPA). Myers was also enrolled in an advanced-level course in SUNY Oswego's journalism department. For one of his class assignments, Myers was given the task of writing a feature on a public figure. Myers chose SUNY Oswego men's hockey coach Ed Gosek, and on October 17, Myers sent the following email to the hockey coaches at Cornell University, Canisius College, and SUNY Cortland:



  1. This story is not only scary but also DISGUSTING.

    I have had the (mis)fortune of teaching journalism students in the past, and the sort of "mistake" this student made is all too common: mis-stating credentials (or exaggerating them). Students seem to think journalism assignments are creative writing exercises where they get to play fast and loose with the truth. It's sometimes hard to get them to take the truth seriously, and I am not so sure the real phenomenon of plagiarizing and fabrication journalists at high-profile newspapers is not related to what I saw in those courses. But other than that...


    He filed a complaint about an e-mail?

    He thought it was "offensive" to be asked to be candid????

    Seriously? He's probably better paid than any prof at that school, and he can act THAT unprofessionally??????

    I hope that student gets a good lawyer and gets a big settlement for harassment from that fucking school. The administration should be ashamed of itself.

    Good lord, lots of us who teach have had repeated harassing phone calls, stalkers, real threats, repeated defamation in anonymous evals, etc. and our students don't get tossed...not even from class, let alone school grounds!

    But THIS nonsense gets a students tossed? Seriously???

    Hell, I am more concerned that he sent the e-mail and used "coaches" instead of "coach's" in his second sentence!

  2. So, based on this logic, I could sue my students for harassment when they say horrid things in my evals, or if they complain about assignments to other faculty???

    How this situation was handled makes little sense to me.

  3. I wonder if it would have turned out the same had the whole matter involved a faculty member rather than a coach. But very scary.... as is the journalism student's crappy English.

  4. While I'm ambivalent about FIRE's overall mission (I'm a firm believer that, in the larger public realm, the best reply to offensive speech is more speech; in a classroom, there may need to be a few more rules), in this case I think they've got it right. Perhaps the students deserved some sort of mild discipline for giving his correspondents the impression he was writing the profile as part of his internship; otherwise, I can't see that he did anything wrong. I'd also completely understand if his correspondents ignored his email (email is a really lazy way to try to conduct an interview), but that's very different from treating his inquiries as a threat.

  5. What struck me as particularly odd is that it was a hockey coach. In the pugnacious, lunchpail machismo of the hockey culture, freaking out over an email would likely be seen by the players as seriously wimpy, and diminish the coach in his own players' eyes.

    Which suggests to me this over-reaction is rooted in something we're not hearing about. Either the coach has something bigger to hide, or someone else got the ball rolling based on some other hidden agenda.

  6. If one hockey coach talks about another in any disparaging way, others will retaliate. This could reveal unpleasant details that could result in one of the being sanctioned or worse. Maintaining the fraternity of coaches and the good image of their sport is too important.

  7. Sort's makes you wonder what 'they' are covering up. Maybe the national media needs to check them out? Can't threaten a real journalist with expulsion, or maybe the latest sex scandal is more important?

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