A law professor at Syracuse University said the school “betrayed” its duty to uphold free speech and slammed its “scripted” kangaroo court after Syracuse gave 15 students one or two-year suspensions for videos deemed offensive.
Syracuse law professor Gregory Germain said the school appointed him as a “procedural adviser” to some of the accused students during hearings, but that he could not speak during the hearings, according to The Washington Post.
“I asked, but the university never explained, how these skits could constitute physical violence, harassment or threats when the only response of the audience was laughter,” Germain said.
A student unearthed videos posted to the private Facebook page of the since-suspended Theta Tau chapter at Syracuse. One video features an unidentified student forcing another unnamed student onto his knees, where the second student pretends to suck a bottle of alcohol that the first student places in front of his crotch and swear an oath to “have hatred in my heart for n**gers, sp*cs and most importantly the f*ckin’ k*kes.” Students pretend to perform sexual acts on a “wheelchair retarded Yankee” in the second video. (RELATED: Free Speech Nonprofit Calls Out Syracuse For Suspending 16 Students After ‘Extremely Racist’ Video)
“The skits were crude: masturbation jokes; a politically conservative member was made to be an alt-right bigot who formed a competing fraternity to spread racism; a skit about sexually assaulting a fraternity member who was so controlled by his girlfriend that he could not move (patterned after a viral Brandon Rogers YouTube video),” Germain explained in WaPo. “They were making fun of themselves and each other in outlandish ways using very crude language.”
Syracuse’s suspended Theta Tau chapter also called at least one of the sketches portrayed in the videos “satirical” and free speech nonprofit the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) lawyer Ari Cohn said that calling “this obvious satire ‘harassment’” undermines actual harassment and wastes resources.”
“The hearings were nothing like American court proceedings in which an independent judge or jury hears both sides and renders a decision,” the law professor said. “The university was both the complainant and in complete control of the process. The office bringing the charges appointed administrative employees to the panel, hired a lawyer paid by the university to instruct the panel and scripted the proceeding.”
Germain also commented on the impact the case could have on free expression at Syracuse in the future.
“This [incident] will create a climate of fear that prevents the free exchange of ideas and learning,” Germain said. “It also sends a strong message to students that they are disposable if they unintentionally embarrass the administration.”
“The chancellor has put the university on a course toward censorship of the worst kind: undefined censorship that can be punished after the fact, even though not foreseen. Anyone who cares about our university should be very worried about this result.”
Syracuse senior vice president and chief communications officer Dara Royer stood by the university’s decision in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“The University recognizes that reasonable people may have different views as to the appropriate response or punishment for those involved in this incident,” Royer told TheDCNF. “No student conduct case is easy, and the University approaches the process fairly and professionally. This matter has been handled no differently.”
The spokeswoman went on to comment on the competing interests of free expression and maintaining a campus environment free from harassment.
“The Theta Tau videos have had a significant impact on the well-being of students, faculty and staff on this campus and in the greater University community,” she said, without elaborating on the nature of the impact. “The videos contain language, even if offered under the guise of satire, that is sexist, racist, ableist, anti-Semitic and demeaning to the LGTBQ community. That the videos were extremely offensive does not appear an issue of debate. Moreover, speech or conduct can be harassing in nature based on its effect on others, even if it that was not the underlying purpose or intent.”
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