Syracuse sent students from the tech fraternity Theta Tau for a private, satirical skit that roasted their fellow members in 2018.
FIRE files amicus letter urging New York court to hold Syracuse accountable for expelling Theta Tau students
by Zach Greenberg
April 20, 2021
On April 13, FIRE filed a amicus (friend-of-the-court) short to the New York Court of Appeals on behalf of Syracuse University students wrongly suspended about their private, satirical sketch. Our letter, and the lawsuit against Syracuse, show how private universities in New York continue to violate students' rights with impunity – a practice FIRE is calling on in court to rectify this.
The Court of Appeals – New York's highest court – need look no further than Syracuse to see the deterioration of students' rights when they are repeatedly violated without consequence.
The Court of Appeals – New York's highest court – need look no further than Syracuse to see the deterioration in students' rights when they are repeatedly violated without consequence. Although this dispute originated in 2018 when Syracuse punished the students, members of the Theta Tau fraternity, for their role in a toasting of their fellow fraternity members, the university's disdain for freedom of speech goes back to 2005, when it close down a student-run TV show because it didn't like the programming. As FIRE described in our "grant" of Syracuse Lifetime Censorship Award over the past year, the university has punished students for their social media remarks, their satirical blogs, and for words they didn't even say.
For the Theta Tau trial, a few students fought back after Syracuse summarily expelled students for their protected expression, to sue in court in New York in 2018. Although the court ruled that the students' expression was protected by the First Amendment, it is inexplicable enforced the punishment by noting that the university's failure to follow its own policy is 'rational' used to be. The students did not do better to appeal to the Appeals Department, Fourth Division in 2020, where FIRE is also located archived a amicus letter urging the court to keep its own promises of free speech. Instead, the majority detained that Syracuse does not really promise students freedom of speech – despite his numerous Transparent and written policy guaranteeing students' expressive rights in accordance with the First Amendment.
Now, in 2021, with the students' final appeal to New York's highest court, FIRE has again weighed with today's letter, reinforcing the appellants' argument that Syracuse has violated its own policies. In our letter, we explain how private universities across the country – and especially in New York – routinely ignore the promises they make to protect the rights of their students.
We explain how Long Island University Post examined a student who allegedly owned flyers critical of the university, how Fordham University refused to recognize a student group about its views, and how Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, another Lifetime Censorship Award receiver treated outspoken students as criminals. Each of these universities promises freedom of speech but exercises censorship, enticing prospective students to enroll by guaranteeing expressive freedoms, but to throw them under the bus when it comes time to honor these rights.
After a few FIRE letters to Syracuse, Press releases, three years of litigation and two court rulings, this appeal to the Supreme Court represents the last chance for these students to hold Syracuse liable for violating their rights.
Misbehavior that is rewarded will be repeated. FIRE is urging New York's Supreme Court to indict Syracuse for blatant violation of its students' rights.